“That’s a sexy matchup, I guess,” said Durant, the District native. “It’s not going to be a one-on-one matchup to win the series. It’s going to be all about the team. It’s going to be fun.”
The first Finals meeting between the three-time MVP and the youngest three-time scoring champion grew organically, unlike the force-fed, James-Kobe Bryant rivalry that never came to be — despite the best wishes of Nike and those trash-talking puppets. The relationship developed over the years, as Durant shot up the ranks as a highly touted high school basketball recruit and James offered some guidance. It solidified, ironically, as the lockout allowed both players to fester longer than usual about losing to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks last postseason.
They hooked up in August on the campus of Morgan State for a supposedly meaningless charity exhibition in which Durant dropped jumpers over James and fans begged for, and often got, James to respond.
And, as the players’ union and owners continued to squabble over revenue sharing and luxury taxes into late November, James eventually invited Durant to his home town of Akron, Ohio, for a four-day workout session he called “Hell Week.”
Through lunges, sprints, pool work and shooting drills, followed by burgers at Swenson’s, Durant and James studied how hard each other worked and pushed each other to improve. James said he could envision during those workouts how both players would eventually put their teams on the cusp of a championship.
“Two guys wanted to get better, and that’s what we did,” said Durant, who later played James in a flag football game in Akron. “I knew as a team, if we were going to continue to grow, I had to get better. I just kept out in the summer as hard as I could, and hopefully the day will come that I get an opportunity to bring home a championship.”
They both play small forward but physically couldn’t be more different: Durant is long and wiry; James is more brawny. And, ever since July 2010, when James took his talents to South Beach and Durant signed a five-year extension to keep his talents in a small market, the two players have been cast, almost unfairly, on opposite ends of the likeability spectrum. James was cast as the narcissist too consumed by how his every step was scrutinized to perform well under pressure situations; Durant, is seen as the humble assassin who ignores the pecking order and takes what he assumes belongs to him.