The NBA rookies are enjoying life right now. Signing endorsement deals, doling out autographs and just preparing for the glamours of what lie ahead prior to the grueling NBA season that tips off in a few months. But they’re also making their voices heard by virtue of the annual rookie survey.
To the surprise of many, LeBron James wasn’t atop the list for favorite player by the rookies. That spot was held by Kevin Durant, who received 21.2 percent of the vote. Kobe Bryant was second with 18.2 percent. James finished third with 15.2 percent.
Maybe it’s the fatigue aspect. At some point, people might decide they’re just tired of hearing about the King and all of his accomplishments. He’s a four-time league MVP and a two-time champion, and it isn’t really arguable that he’s the best player on the planet to anyone with intelligence. With his yearly dominance that sees him ascend on that list of all-time greats, his name is all over the place. And recently, he was in the movie Trainwreck, so that garnered attention as well.
But while there’s no denying his greatness, there’s a chance the 2-4 record in the Finals attached to his resume might be a part of the reason. Although we’ve customarily dismissed two of the losses, and some may have even ridden him of three, perhaps these rookies won’t deviate from the notion that your win-loss record in the Finals can’t be overlooked regardless of the circumstance.
No one is holding James responsible for his Cavs getting swept in ’07 by the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs. They were a bunch of kids going up against three future Hall of Famers and a team ripe with unbelievable talent spearheaded by one of the greatest coaches in basketball.
Then in ’14, it was the same song with James doing all he could to keep his team afloat, but in the end nothing was slowing down that well-oiled machine that was the Spurs. In that series, James averaged 28.2 points. 7.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists and shot 57 percent from the field and 51 percent from downtown. And with that, his team still managed to lose in five games by a record margin in terms of points.
And this past June, we all know what happened against the Golden State Warriors. LeBron was a one-man show without his teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Every possession was so critical because the Cavs were devoid of any depth and scoring threats. James had to do everything from scoring, rebounding, setting up teammates, playing defense and running the team. They eventually lost the series in six games, which was a direct testament to James’s excellence and willpower, and some actually had him as the series MVP.
The lone loss on his resume that’s universally looked upon as his worse performance is the debacle against the Mavs in ’11. The Heat were the favorite, but James simply disappeared and cost himself and his team a title.
Although it’s difficult to get into the heads of these rookies to examine just what caused them to anoint Durant and Bryant, two players who had their seasons end early because of injury, over James, the only real explanation would be the mere annoyance with hearing his name so frequently, even when he loses. Furthermore, they’ve most likely been groomed with the idea that a career will ultimately be judged by your record in the Finals, so that might play into account.
Bryant is liked because he’s considered the greatest player of his generation and many people model their game after his, illustrated by the name being yelled as individuals throw paper balls into garbage cans. His desire to win is admirable. That thirst and hunger for success at the highest level has resulted in seven Finals appearances and five titles. What he did for the city of Los Angeles in the shadows of Magic Johnson, who’s looked upon as a godsend, is something worth marveling at.
Then you have Durant in OKC, who many are hoping has a bounce-back season this year as he returns from multiple foot surgeries. He’s cool, calm and collected on the court, but that surely doesn’t obscure how dominant he is, especially as one of the best scorers the game has ever seen. Many aspire to be able to shoot from distance with such ease and handle the basketball with that height…it’s remarkable.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with Durant and Bryant being your favorite players, and it’s not necessarily a knock on James either. Is LeBron unfairly criticized at times? Sure. Is there an exorbitant amount of sympathy aimed in his direction at other times? Of course. But whether or not these played into the rookies’ favorite player picks, it’s a bit interesting that two injured players, whose teams didn’t even make the playoffs, were ahead of James on this list.