Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Duel in Finals Could Turn into a Rivalry for the Ages ; James vs. Durant Has Potential to Run for Years, Just like Bird vs. Johnson

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Duel in Finals Could Turn into a Rivalry for the Ages ; James vs. Durant Has Potential to Run for Years, Just like Bird vs. Johnson

Article excerpt

The two most dynamic and versatile players in the league -- LeBron James and Kevin Durant -- will face off as the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder start their series Tuesday.

Just before LeBron James sat in a director's chair, with his checkered shirt and his impassive gaze, and made the declaration that torpedoed his standing in the eyes of many, another young National Basketball Association superstar quietly tapped out his own intentions on a keyboard.

"Extension for 5 more years with the Thunder," Kevin Durant wrote on his Twitter account on July 7, 2010. He thanked God. He called it a blessing to stay with Oklahoma City.

The next night, James commandeered a television network to announce that he would "take my talents to South Beach" with the Miami Heat.

The contrast was vivid and irresistible, a gift to the growing LeBron James demonization industry and fodder for screaming pundits everywhere. At that moment, James embodied all the worst traits of the modern athlete: detachment, self-absorption, egomania. Durant represented virtue, humility, subtlety.

It was a cheap, easy narrative that had some basis in reality but was too eagerly stretched into an overwrought morality play: Durant vs. James, for the soul of the game.

They were not truly rivals then -- in morality or basketball -- but the comparisons today are now unavoidable, and so much more relevant and compelling. Durant and James will meet in the N.B.A. finals beginning Tuesday night in Oklahoma City, in a dream matchup for the ages.

They are the two most dynamic and versatile players in the league -- scorers who love to pass, forwards who play like guards, each thoroughly committed to defense and teamwork and all of basketball's best virtues. Either one can take over a game, and will when necessary, but neither one craves it or demands it.

Durant has won three straight scoring titles, narrowly beating James in two of the three years. James has won three of the last four Most Valuable Player trophies, beating Durant for the award this year.

They even play the same position, small forward, which means that more often than not James and Durant will actually guard each other as they wrestle for the championship over the next two weeks.

Several other young stars will have a say in this series: Russell Westbrook and James Harden for the Thunder, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the Heat. But at the core of this series will be Durant -- lanky, long-limbed and sleek, at 6-foot-9, or 2.06 meters, and 215 pounds, or 97.5 kilograms; and James -- broad, bruising and powerful at 6 feet 8 inches and 240 pounds.

Rivals by necessity, the two share a friendship and a mutual respect that contradicts all of the caricatures. In the dark, drab days of the lockout last summer, James invited Durant to join him for workouts in Akron, Ohio, his hometown. …

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