For the second consecutive summer, the Miami Heat superstar LeBron James and the Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant are engulfed in “Hell Week,” a collaborative and intense two-a-day workout series near James’ hometown in Akron, Ohio, in preparation for the forthcoming NBA season.
On the basketball court, they’re rivals. Off the court, the pair shares a bond unlike any other elite athletes have in sports. Last year, the two coined the process “Hell Week” and attributed the grueling summer sessions –facilitated by James’ trainer, Mike Mancias– with helping them reach last June’s NBA Finals to square off against one-another. “We pushed each other every day,” James told ESPN’s Brain Windhorst. “At the time, I envisioned us getting to (the Finals) against each other.”
Last season, James went on to win his third NBA MVP award and earned his first NBA title. On the way to leading OKC to its first Finals appearance, Durant added a third consecutive league scoring title to his mantle. Without a doubt, both parties have reaped magnificent rewards from their off-the-court friendship, elevating their respective games to new heights, while nestling into the number one and number two best player ratings in the game, respectively. Yet despite their recent accomplishments (including joining forces this summer on Team USA to successfully defended the U.S. gold medal at the Olympics in London) many experts and fans alike have cried foul about their friendly rivalry, with majority of the onus falling on KD for potentially waving the white flag first, when he asked LeBron to train during the NBA lockout last summer.
Earlier this week, ESPN analyst Skip Bayless called out Durant on First Take, ranting, “Durant is falling right into LeBron’s trap again… I say once again to Kevin Durant, “congratulations,” once again you are owned by LeBron James. Have fun in next year’s Finals, finishing second, again.”
While some people might have cringe or even disparaged the two superstars for their offseason training regiment, Bayless took a personal shot at Durant that was unequivocally over the line. It’s one thing to cite the Thunder losing in the NBA Finals 4-1, or the fact that LeBron carried Team USA to their second consecutive gold medal, that KD just might be losing his competitive edge. But to say that James owns Durant is completely inaccurate and false.
KD took to Twitter on Wednesday to respond to Bayless’ erroneous assertion, retorting, “@RealSkipBayless u brainwashing these people out here, they think since you on ESPN you know what u talkin about…please, nobody owns me.” Before his message was retweeted a million times, Durant –being the stand up guy that he is– later deleted the tweet from his account.
Despite the backlash from the superstar duo’s workouts, the three-time consecutive NBA scoring champion has a valid point. Nobody owns him. What many fail to realize is that Durant’s measuring stick begins with LeBron. In two years time, the NBA Finals MVP completely transformed himself into the best basketball player on the planet, while repairing his public persona simultaneously. What athlete wouldn’t want to train, absorb tips and learn from an individual who has competed and succeeded at the highest level? Albeit, Durant is narrowing the gap between he and James– the Miami Heat All-Star is still King James.
After their workout on Tuesday, the two each took to Twitter to report on “Hell Week 2”: @KingJames: Just finished a great workout with @KDTrey5. On court work, ran the hill and finished running the football field. #StriveforGreatness”
Durant tweeted, “I got better today! That’s all that matters!! Move em.”
And improving one’s game is all that matters. The NBA is not an archrival driven league anymore. Long gone are the days when Isiah Thomas and the Pistons had it out for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The era of Magic and Bird has evolved into the age of James and Durant. Sure, you still have fierce competitors such as Kobe Bryant, who would never phone a rival to share tips, but as we saw during the Summer Olympics in London, even the Black Mamba had to defer and offer advice to the younger generation. Like the old adage reads, team work, makes the dream work. LBJ and KD are both living theirs.