LeBron James and Kevin Durant have both been very open about their friendship. The two superstars started working out together during the lockout last year, in preparation for the season. There were several videos of them working out on the football field, in the pool and on the basketball court. After competing against each other in the 2012 NBA Finals, and winning gold for team USA at the Olympics, their friendship seems to have gotten even stronger.
A person that really took issue with the two friends working out together in the off-season was the always outspoken Skip Bayless of ESPN. Bayless claimed that by working out with LeBron James, Kevin Durant is allowing James to ease into a comfort zone and enable to him to outplay Durant when the two meet on the court. Bayless also thought that by being friends with Durant, James “owns” Durant psychologically, a statement that Durant responded to through twitter. Durant later deleted the tweet, but was clearly upset, saying that Skip Bayless doesn’t know what he is talking about and that no one “owns” him.
Skip Bayless is notorious and prone to making bold and somewhat exaggerated statements, but is there a legitimate point in what he says? He is right in saying that James has previously come up short in big moments, most recently in the 2011 NBA finals against the Dallas Mavericks. Being arguably the most scrutinized player in the history of the game, James has constantly carried excruciating pressure on his shoulders. He carried this pressure for 9 seasons, until he finally got to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy and call himself a champion.
But did James manage to leave his struggles behind him just because Durant had too much respect for James and their friendship? No. First of all, Durant isn’t the kind of player that talks a lot of trash, or plays dirty – that is not his personality on or off the court. James had more experience, going into his third NBA finals, while Durant and Oklahoma City reached the finals for the first time. Durant is an amazing player, but he is as of yet not as complete of a player as LeBron James. James is stronger than Durant as well as a better playmaker and defender.
The 2011 NBA Finals were a struggle for James not only because he still worried about his critics, but because the Mavericks made adjustments in order to limit his efficiency. Even though James mostly made the right decision and the right basketball play, the Miami Heat as a whole didn’t have enough weapons to make the Mavs pay for focusing on stopping James. LeBron went into the off-season with more determination than ever, and worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon in order to improve his post play and become a more complete player. The Mavs exposed LeBron’s weaknesses and James made sure to work on them. He changed his pre-game routines, and gained more focus on the task at hand. He let his play do the talking.
Durant might very well be the best player in the league in a couple of years, but he isn’t yet. Both players have been through a lot together, and to claim that Durant is letting James “own” him psychologically is not only absolute nonesense, but also disrespectful towards James. LeBron has worked extremely hard in order to reach his goal, and to just brush all of that work away, claiming that he won the NBA championship just because of his off-court relationship with Durant is insulting and contemptuous.