Published June 11, 2012
LeBron James and Kevin Durant are dismissing the widely held perception that whoever wins the NBA Finals and earns their first championship ring will be hailed as the best player.
The best-of-seven series between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder beginning Tuesday could feature the most enticing personal duel since Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
But the players involved insist it is all about winning the National Basketball Association (NBA) title.
"Everybody is going to make the most out of the matchup or me versus LeBron, but it's the Thunder versus the Heat," said the Oklahoma City's Durant, the NBA's reigning three-time leading scorer. "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."
James is a three-time league Most Valuable Player and widely considered as the NBA's premier player. But he is still looking for his first ring, while players like Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has five of them.
Despite his enormous talent, until James wins a title - or perhaps several of them - it will be a glaring omission on his resume.
James, playing in his second season with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami following seven years with the Cleveland Cavaliers, said he does not care about be labeled by the public as the NBA's best player.
"I don't really get involved (in being considered) the best player in the game," he told reporters on Monday. "It doesn't matter to me, really. When I go out on the basketball court each and every night, I want to be the best player in the game.
"I want to be the best player on that floor, and that's just how I approach the game. So I don't really care what people say at the end of this series if KD or LeBron is the best player in the league."
James is 27 and playing in his ninth NBA season, while Durant is only 23, with just four years of pro experience. It is just a matter of time before torch is passed anyway, says James.
"It has to happen at some point anyways," said James, set to play in his third NBA championship series. "I won't be the best player in the league, KD will be. And then KD won't be the best player in the league at some point.
"It happens all the time. It doesn't really matter, so I don't care."
The soft-spoken Durant said he understands the "LeBron vs. KD" hype, calling it a "sexy match-up, I guess." But he refused to get drawn into the fray.
"I know everybody in here is worried about the one���on���one matchup, but I can't really control that," he said. "All I can control is how hard I play and how we play as a team.
"I don't read newspapers, I don't get on Twitter anymore, I just focus on what I need to do and what we need to do as a team."
Durant said he is prepared for some long nights guarding James, an eight-time All-Star and former NBA scoring champion.
"He can score at will, he's strong, he can shoot it," said Durant, playing in his first championship series. "But it's got to be a team effort. I've got to play my hardest every possession, no possessions off.
"He's really good in transition. I've just got to do my work early, and we'll see what happens."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks insists the series will ultimately be won by players other than Durant and James. He concedes however, as a fan, it is a cool pairing.
"It's a matchup that definitely will be enjoyable to see and see how it turns out," he said. "They're both very driven, hungry basketball players."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)