LeBron James vs. Tim Duncan. Not as nostalgic as Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain, nor as charming as Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, but as special as any.
In James, you have the flash and athleticism as opposed to Duncan’s quiet substance and solid fundamentals.
You have what many consider the most dominant player on the planet in LeBron squaring off against the most-decorated champion in the last two decades in Duncan. While many can argue that LeBron is not Jordan and that Duncan is not Shaq, both players have a personal rivalry that few know off, yet is truly special with the 2014 NBA Finals setting up the climax for a truly great third—and final act.
Eleven seasons into his career, James believes he has no rivals. But the rematch between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs cements Duncan as James’ only true adversary. While some have tried to prop up Kevin Durant and Paul George as worthy challengers to James’ throne, it is Duncan that staked a legitimate challenge to the King’s claim of hoops supremacy.
And as in any great rivalry, both opponents are both evenly matched.
In terms of rings, Duncan leads four to two and in NBA Finals MVP’s three to two, while LeBron has the edge in NBA MVP’s four to two. In terms of head-to-head Finals meetings, it’s a draw—until now.
When James took a mediocre Cleveland Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007, Duncan’s Spurs demolished the young star in a sweep. Back then, Duncan told James the league would soon be his. Fast forward to June 2013 and the two superstars met yet again in one of the best one-on-one rivalries in postseason history.
Miami won its second consecutive title in seven games after being down 3-2 in the series and trailing by five with 30 seconds left in Game 6. Immediately after the Spurs 112-107 Western Conference finals series-clinching victory in Oklahoma City, Duncan made a bold and uncharacteristic statement, “We’re going to do it this year.”
According to Elias Sports, James and Duncan are the first former MVPs to square off in the championship round for a third time since Bird vs. Magic and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,which further sets up the narrative of the rivalry. James responded to Duncan’s comments by saying the Spurs don’t like the Heat and his team will be ready for the challenge. The Spurs are coming for the King’s crown posing more of a threat than any Kobe Bryant Nike puppet commercial or media-driven strife over Durant winning the MVP over LeBron.
Much discussion has been made about if James is the greatest small forward of all-time. It is fitting that he will have an opportunity to better support the arguments in barber shops and basketball gyms across the nation by defeating the greatest power forward of all-time in Duncan and breaking the proverbial deadlock, one and for all.