If you had the opportunity to watch the United States defeat Spain in the gold medal game earlier today, you might have noticed something without necessarily actually noticing it. When it came down to the last five minutes of the game and the Americans needed plays to be made, Spain threw a box-and-one defense at Kevin Durant, which led to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James making plays to close out the game with Chris Paul having a hand in it as well.
And once the game was won, Craig Sager interviewed a trio of players together, and not so coincidentally, it happened to be LeBron, KD and the Mamba.
At times, we can look for things that aren’t there, hoping to help make sense of what we fail to comprehend. But in this case, that was the group that had to be interviewed.
Before explaining why, let’s look to the past for a moment.
When the Dream Team hit Barcelona at the 1992 Olympics, the faces of the team and of basketball for that matter were Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. And really, it made perfect sense.
Magic and Bird had saved the NBA with their brilliant talent as well as their rivalry that started in the NCAA national championship game and then followed them to the professional ranks where they met on multiple occasions in the NBA Finals.
Michael Jordan benefitted from the accomplishments of both Bird and Johnson and capitalized off of them to take the league to new heights. By the time the 1992 Olympics started, Jordan wasn’t just the best player in the world but he was the sport. At a time when the internet did not yet exist, Jordan may have been the most well known athlete in the world given how dominant, charismatic and marketable he was.
Thus, with Michael Jordan hitting the prime of his career and Magic Johnson and Larry Bird well past theirs, the world wanted to see them. The Dream Team had other superstars, but nothing quite like those three; who even today enjoy an iconic and even almost mythic reputation that few can touch.
Fast forward to the present, and although the current trio pales in terms of accomplishments to their predecessors, they certainly hold a great level of respect and even prestige with fans and the rest of the league.
Indeed, Kobe Bryant is obviously still a great player, and also a contemporary to other superstars in the league, but in many ways, he represents the recent past of the NBA. His five championship rings , two Finals MVP trophies and four NBA All-Star Game MVPs are a reminder of his high level of play but also validate his legacy as not only one of the all time greats but also the face of the last decade of NBA basketball.
LeBron James would undoubtedly have to represent the present. He has consistently risen to the challenge and performed to a standard that has led many to bestow the title of best player in the game upon him and rightfully so. The former Cavalier just collected his first NBA title this past June and earned himself a Finals MVP to go along with his three league MVP trophies and his two All-Star Game MVPs.
James has for the longest time been known as the do it all player but took it to another level during the 2012 playoffs as he played and defended every position on the court on his way to a title. That versatility was exhibited during games with USA basketball as the 6’8’’ forward duplicated feats he displayed while playing with the Miami Heat. Between his passing, scoring, rebounding and defense, one could argue that he is the perfect prototype for a basketball player and the league stands to capitalize off of his talent and what he does for his teammates and his teams.
And then there is Kevin Durant.
If Kobe Bryant represents the past, and LeBron James is the present, Kevin Durant is clearly the future of the league. The Texas product has already captured three scoring titles, won an All-Star Game MVP, been named an All-NBA 1st teamer three times and led his Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals this past June. And he only turns 24 in a little over a month.
Kevin Durant has grabbed the torch from Kobe Bryant and become the NBA’s most prolific scorer but he is much more than that. The Thunder forward is a matchup nightmare, good rebounder, emerging defensive player and is now developing as a playmaker thanks to his improved ball handling. There will be a time when the league is his and that may be sooner rather than later given that as we speak, he has already arrived.
Despite coming up second to LeBron James in MVP voting as well as being considered as the de facto second best player in the league, the long-armed forward is an all world talent and he showed that during the 2012 playoffs but more importantly during the Olympics on a team of NBA stars and superstars.
Indeed, in the biggest game this current crop of athletes had to face in the Olympics, Kevin Durant showcased his impressive repertoire with a couple of 3-pointers, some shots at the rim and also by driving hard to the hoop and getting fouled. And when Spain decided to throw a box-and-one at KD, instead of fading into a corner or just pouting and demanding the ball, he became a ball screener, which created havoc for the opposing defense and even allowed LeBron to get an uncontested dunk late in the game.
The trio represents where the league was decade ago, where it is today and where it will be heading into the next few years and it certainly seems to be a great place.
Magic, Larry and Michae revolutionized the game of basketball and made it what it is today; but Kobe, LeBron and Kevin might just be the new wave to take it to another level, and that’s fine with me and should be fine with the rest of the basketball world.
The game is in great hands.
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