Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at 7:51 AM

Players Like LeBron and KD Can Never Be Among the Greatest…

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

And Clyde the glide takes my side. (That’s Frazier … with apologies to Drexler.)

I took a lot of flak for pooh-poohing LeBron James’s (presumed) greatness after he made that fateful decision totake his talents to Miami.”

Here is how I explained my disappointment and cast my judgement in “LeBron Abandons Cleveland for Miami,” July 13, 2010.

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It’s important to bear in mind that James’s all-consuming ambition to win a championship is the same ambition that motivated (and still motivates) all great NBA players: winning really is everything to them.

And he will surely win in Miami. For the triumvirate of James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade has the same potential to dominate during the playoffs as other championship triumvirates like Magic, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Michael, Bill Cartwright, and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls.

The only question for LeBron is: what price victory?

After all, finally winning on a team with which they suffered years of playoff frustration is what made winning a championship so sweet for superstars like Dr. J and Michael. Not to mention the unbridled pride and joy they brought to long-suffering fans in cities that, in the case of Dr. J’s Philadelphia, had not won an NBA championship in almost two decades, and in the case of Michael’s Chicago, had never won at all.

By contrast, I fear that winning for LeBron will be bitter sweet. Not least because, instead of being hailed as a basketball savior in Miami, where the Heat won a championship just years ago (in 2006), he’ll be regarded as nothing more than a hired gun – who they brought in to help them win a few more.

Even worse, no matter how many championships he wins in Miami, he’ll be forever haunted by the fact that he abandoned not just his team but his childhood home to do so.

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Again, the seminal point is that the Miami Heat was already a championship team. Therefore, it was hardly surprising when LeBron helped it win repeat championships in 2012 and 2013.

But he learned soon enough that even the sweet taste of repeat NBA championships could not erase that bitter taste of abandonment. Only this explains him returning home to Cleveland … to do the right thing.

Sure enough, it was back there, not in Miami, where he finally became a little more like Mike – the modern-day hallmark of NBA greatness. I duly hailed him for leading the Cavaliers to their first NBA championship in “NBA Finals: LeBron Delivers on His Promise to Cleveland, Finally,” June 20, 2016.

But the die was cast on his greatness. Indeed, which of these do you think is more worthy of being hailed as great:

  • a player who stays with his struggling team until he leads it to a championship; or
  • a player who abandons his struggling team to join a championship team (for a guaranteed championship ring) – even if he returns to that abandoned team and finally does what he should have stayed and done in the first place?

I mean, can you imagine Boston’s Larry Bird taking his talents to Los Angeles for a guaranteed shot at a championship ring?  If he did, even that notorious betrayer, Benedict Arnold, would have nothing on him in the contempt files of Bostonians.

Which brings me to Kevin Durant.

He is the reigning MVP of the reigning NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors. Except that Durant abandoned his team, the Oklahoma Thunder (OKC), in 2016 to join the Warriors – who had just won its latest NBA championship in 2015. Therefore, it was hardly surprising when KD helped it win repeat championships in 2017 and 2018.

This is why he is more like LeBron, and can never be like Mike. Donald Trump is creating all kinds of new norms in politics, where leaders pursue personal glory at all costs, the welfare of the country be damned. Arguably, LeBron created a new norm in professional sports, where players pursue championship rings at all costs, loyalty to any team be damned.

The excerpt above makes clear how I feel about this if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them route to NBA championships. But I’m sure the flak I got for daring to pooh-pooh LeBron’s greatness stemmed from the fact that I had no standing – neither as a player nor as an analyst.

This is why I was so gratified last week when no less a person than NBA Hall of Famer and TV analyst Walt “Clyde” Frazier pooh-poohed KD’s greatness. Not least because, in doing so, he echoed what I said about LeBron eight years ago:

Durant, as great a player he is, I would still hold back because man, he joined a team that really didn’t need him. … [F]or him doing that I still don’t give him the full credit that he probably would’ve deserved if he stayed with OKC and won a title with that team.

(NBC Sports, August 30, 2018)

The only question now is whether Clyde would change his opinion if KD fully emulated LeBron by returning to OKC and finally delivering that championship he promised. Of course, that would mean abandoning it again for greener pastures if the struggle resumed – just like LeBron who has now taken his talents the Los Angeles Lakers.

Incidentally, Clyde stayed with his struggling New York Knicks until he led it to its only two NBA championships (1970, 1973). Unfortunately, the team thanked him by trading him out to pasture in, of all places, Cleveland.

In any event, having aped LeBron by selling his basketball soul for a championship ring (or two), the die is cast on KD’s greatness too. Accordingly, just as an asterisk should be placed next to LeBron’s name on the scroll of NBA greats, one should be placed next to Durant’s too.

LeBron abandons Cleveland
LeBron wins for Miami
LeBron delivers for Cleveland

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