The NBA has seen plenty of rivalries over the years. In the league’s early days, players like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain provided fans with great matchups. As the years went on, more rivalries began to sprout up, including those between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, as well as Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas. In this piece, we’ll take a look at the rivalry that has developed between Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
Rightfully so, Durant and James are viewed as two of the greatest players in NBA history. They’re said to be friends off the court, and they are Olympic teammates. However, when it’s time to suit up against one another, the two stars go all in.
The rivalry that exists between Durant and James goes back quite a while — all the way back to when LeBron and the Miami Heat defeated Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. After losing Game 1 of the series, Miami went on to win four straight.
In the summer of 2016, Kevin Durant decided to join the Golden State Warriors, leaving the Thunder after eight seasons of service. Notably, the Warriors had just been defeated by James and the Cavs in the 2016 Finals by way of an epic 3-1 comeback.
Durant received loads of flak from Thunder fans for his decision to join the 73-win Warriors. In fact, fans showered the former No. 2 overall pick with “cupcake” chants during his first return to Oklahoma City, and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith called it “the weakest move he had ever seen.”
Thunder fans chant 'cupcake' at Warriors' Kevin Durant as Russell Westbrook shoots free throw @SI_LeeJenkins pic.twitter.com/s3UJUXh7rh
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) February 12, 2017
Rather than taking this criticism the wrong way, Durant used the cupcake fodder as fuel for his competitive fire. In fact, he embraced the slander, even going as far as wearing a cupcake-themed hat after winning his first championship with the Warriors.
Kevin Durant's hat has a cupcake and ring on top of it. pic.twitter.com/FXjkiggWpT
— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) June 24, 2017
With Kevin Durant aboard, the Warriors went on to claim back-to-back championships, defeating LeBron’s Cavs in the 2017 and 2018 Finals.
It must be noted that LeBron left the Cavs in a similar fashion following the 2010 season, joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as part of a “Big 3” for the Miami Heat. James, however, eventually returned to his hometown team in 2014.
Of their 35 head-to-head matchups, James has won 20 (15 in the regular season to Durant’s six), according to landofbasketball.com. However, Kevin holds the advantage in the postseason, with nine wins to LeBron’s five. Average stats between the two stars in these matchups have been extremely close. At 29.8 points per game, Durant holds a slight lead over LeBron, who has averaged 29.6 points. Rebounds, assists and steals go to James, while Durant is ahead in blocks.
NBA fans like to debate about who should be viewed as the best player in today’s game. Some hold fast in their belief that James is still The King, while others feel that Durant has taken the proverbial throne. Unfortunately, though, the two stars haven’t faced one another in some time, as Durant is still recovering from an Achilles injury he suffered in Game 5 of the 2019 Finals. According to several reports, his rehab process is going well.
In terms of championships, LeBron has three to Durant’s two. James is also leading in Finals MVP Awards, 3-2. In overall scoring, the two players hold a nearly identical mark for their careers (27.1 and 27.0 points per game). Facilitating is where James shines, though. In fact, The Akron native (7.4 assists per game) has averaged three more assists than Durant (4.1 per game) thus far. Conversely, Durant has been a bit more accurate from beyond the arc (38.1 percent to James’ 34.4), and a lot better from the free-throw line (88.3 percent to 73.5).
So… who are you taking in this debate? Would you pick the strength and power of The Akron Hammer, or would you favor the scoring finesse of Kevin Durant?