Itís Superman & Batman. Notorious B.I.G. & 2Pac. Michelangelo & Raphael. Amir Khan & Shah Rukh Khan. Jay-Z & Nas. Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier. Jean-Paul Sartre & Albert Camus. Robert De Niro & Al Pacino. Picasso & Modigliani. Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal.
Itís the two most talented individuals in their fields at the height of their talents. Itís the biggest stage for their particular art.
Itís Chamberlain & Russell. Bird & Magic.
Itís LeBron James & Kevin Durant.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals tipped off today Ė the biggest stage in NBA Basketball Ė and was broadcast live across 215 countries in 47 different languages. This is the stage where the best in the NBA collide to emerge as immortals. While it is true that the two best teams are the ones facing each other in the Finals each year, the two absolute best players rarely meet at the Final stage. The last time that the players who finished at first and second place in MVP voting met in the Finals was back in 1997: Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz, Michael Jordan vs. Karl Malone.
15 years later, weíre about to see the rarest of match-ups again. Number 1 vs. Number 2. The two top MVP choices are colliding against each other in the 2012 Finals. They arrive at this stage with strong playoff showing to justify their status as the NBAís best and they carry behind them two of the best teams in the league. Whatís more, unlike Jordan and Malone or Bird & Magic before them, these two players play the same position and will be face-to-face throughout the series, literally and figuratively.
The NBA Finals is going to be decided between No. 1 & No. 2. A best-of-seven fight between the two most talented basketball players in the world. The championship belt Ė the NBA trophy Ė waits in the end for the one who survives.
Itís the battle of the three-time MVP (including this year) and the three-time scoring champion (including this year). Itís the battle between two players with unlimited prodigious talent, two stars who came into the league with otherworldly skillsets to blow away their opponents. Itís a battle between two stars who, despite their individual successes, have yet to taste championship glory, and will be both hungry to etch their names amongst legends.
LeBron and Durant carried their momentum as the gameís two best players from the regular season into the playoffs. For every time LeBron had a massive 40-18-9 night versus the Pacers, Durant answers with big shots and commanding leadership to beat the tricky Lakers. For every time Durant scores 16 consecutive points to shock the Spurs, LeBron drops 45 and 15 in a do-or-die game against the Celtics. Both LeBron and Durant have upped their scoring averages with each series in the playoffs, and now enter the Finals as the two most unstoppable players in the NBA.
But if no one has been able to stop them so far, can they stop each other? Playing at Small Forward, LeBron and Durant are likely to face each other many times down the floor, taking into account the occasional switch on defensive assignments. To be the best, one of them will have to look the other in the face and defeat him. There is no other way.
Round 1 of the fight went to Durant. KD dropped 36 points and 8 rebounds as the Thunder beat the Heat in Game 1. LeBron had 30 points and 9 rebounds, but it was Durant who came up with all the big plays in front of his home crowd in the fourth quarter. But there is still a long way to go; how LeBron responds to Durant, and how Durant responds to LeBronís response (ad infinitum!) will go a long way in determining which team will win the championship, which player will win the Finals MVP award, and finally, which player will go into the summer break as the best basketball player in the world.
Of course, the efforts of All-Star level sidekicks Ė Wade, Westbrook, Harden, and Bosh Ė and the unheralded supporting crews Ė Ibaka, Perkins, Fisher, Sefolosha, Battier, Haslem, and Chalmers Ė shouldnít be overlooked. But throughout this playoff run, while the inputs of the supporting players has come and gone, LeBron and Durant have been the two most consistent players in the NBA. They have played well in every game, and now, itís time for one of them to play better than the other. In a long series, the performance of the supporting casts will provide the spark, but the performance of the LeBron vs. Durant matchup will decide the result.
So sit back and enjoy the clash of the titans. And know that, regardless of what happens, this series could just be the beginning of an epic rivalry. LeBron (27) and Durant (23) both have several years left in their prime and are in teams that could remain contenders during their prime. Like Magic & Bird, LeBron & Durant could be No. 1 & No. 2 for many more years to come.
But as the famous 2008 NBA Playoff Commercials used to sayÖ There can only be one. Which one will that be?