Respect for the game and an appreciation for basketball in its purest form. These are the kinds of things some might say when describing Brooklyn Nets (29-19) superstar Kevin Durant’s approach to the sport.
He has spoken openly of being past the pursuit of a championship – not that he does not want to win or won’t do everything in his power to do so.
But Durant says he is more concerned with continued development over anything else. That mindset showed this season as Durant, at age 34 and in his 15th NBA season, was arguably playing the best basketball of his career while guiding the Nets to a 12-game winning streak before suffering a sprained MCL.
It also shows in his respect for Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.
Kevin Durant Praises LeBron James’ Longevity
“The longevity is inspiring,” Durant said of James’ performance in his 18th NBA season as he hawks down Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s all-time scoring record that has stood for 40 years. “When you look up and you see 30 points a night at 38 years old, still making plays on both ends of the court, man, it’s truly, truly inspiring.”
Durant was appearing on ’NBA HooperVision’ on NBATV during the Cleveland Cavaliers-Oklahoma City Thunder tilt. OKC – where Durant spent eight of his first nine professional seasons helping lead an NBA Finals run in 2012 and winning MVP in 2014 – won 112-100.
This is not the first time Durant has shown an appreciation for James this season
But Durant is known to give detailed analysis when discussing basketball – he gave ESPN’s Tim Bontemps a systematic breakdown of how he got injured and how he could have avoided it, for example.
And his breakdown of what it is that makes James’ season so special – 29.9 points on 58.7% true shooting with 8.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.0 steals per game – was no exception.
“He cradled a lob the other night,” Durant said. “’How are you still doing this?’ He running up the court fast, he still explosive…he inspiring. He set the bar for what an athlete wants to be. Not everybody can do this. But this is like the greatest that you can get. You’re seeing it. And having that clear example is something that – especially in our era of basketball – to have somebody that accomplished something like that is inspiring to see and it’s going to set the precedent for basketball players for a long time.”
Durant, who the Nets say is slated to be reevaluated in a little under two weeks, was referring to players being prone to load management compared to yesteryear. To his point about James’ longevity, he has been a part of both groups in his illustrious career.
There was one thing that Durant did not agree with, and it is something James himself has declared time and time again.
Kevin Durant: LeBron James ‘Always Was a Scorer’
“See, I ain’t never really fall for that ‘pass-first’ type stuff because LeBron always was a scorer, it felt like, that could pass. I think he was a scorer first. When you can get 50 [points] like that and average…27 [points] for your career, I really think you a scorer in my opinion. And, on top of having longevity, that’s what brings you to being the No. 1 scorer of all-time. I just think he a scorer first that can make plays passing. So, I think that’s underselling him by calling him a pass-first player in my opinion.”
Again, LeBron might disagree with Durant’s assessment.
“When I say I’m not a scorer, I say it in a sense of, it’s never been the part of my game that defines me,” James told ESPN‘s Dave McMenamin. “But there’s an argument to it. When you look at how long this record has stood and the great Kareem, being able to accomplish something like that […] But it won’t be for me to discuss because I’ve never felt that way.”
It does not take away from the feat or the show of respect from one all-time great to another.
Durant mentioned missing out on playing against James when the Nets host the Lakers on January 30 as something “I look forward to”.
That will be the last time the two teams meet up this season after James’ Lakers won the first meeting 116-103 without him in the lineup. Durant had 31 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks in that game.
Looking Back and Ahead
James has the all-time edge over Durant 15-6 in the regular season. But Durant is 9-5 against James in the postseason. James won his first championship when he was with the Miami Heat in 2021 against Durant’s Thunder while Durant won back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs with the Golden State Warriors against James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017 and 2018.
It has been five years since they last shared the court in a game that matters.
Still, Durant probably has as good of an assessment of what exactly James is as anybody outside of James himself.