Throughout his time in the NBA, people have been looking for the perfect rival for LeBron James. At first, it appeared that Kobe Bryant would fit this mold. Then, the media was quick to build up a potential rivalry with Kevin Durant as Durant was developing into one of the league’s best players. Of course, the matchup between the two in last year’s NBA Finals played into this.
With this being said, a clear cut rival hasn’t quite emerged for LeBron. This is fine, and part of this is certainly the media trying to create hype.
This makes sense, as the Boston Celtics for a little while were the team that LeBron could never seem to get by, particularly while he was a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Also, James and Pierce had an epic battle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals the year the Celtics won the championship. James is clearly the better player, but Pierce has always found a way to step up his game when the two square off.
Is LeBron right here?
Obviously, players such as Durant and Bryant are closer to being on LeBron’s level. However, LeBron has never faced Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs, thus making it hard for them to be true rivals. Prior to last year, the same could be said with LeBron and Durant. The Miami Heat clearly dominated Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the process of winning a championship, making it hard to call Durant a true rival.
It’s probably safer to say that the Boston Celtics as a whole were LeBron’s greatest rival in the earlier parts of his career, including Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo along with Pierce. Even as recently as last year, it took LeBron’s Heat a full seven games to knock Boston out of the playoffs. With Pierce being the leader of most of these teams, it’s not too much of a stretch to indirectly call him LeBron’s closest rival.
Looking forward, one would have to believe that Kevin Durant is the most likely candidate to become LeBron’s rival. The Thunder and Heat look fit to arrive in the NBA Finals multiple times over the next few seasons, possibly setting up some more battles between the two. Additionally, it appears that James and Durant will be the top two players in the league for the foreseeable future.
For now, this is a huge compliment for Paul Pierce. When the best player in the world talks about you like this, you must be doing something right.
By Gaashaan Yusuf