If you watch the NBA often, you must be already familiar with LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. LeBron and Kawhi rivalry had always been there in the past, however this season it has gained more prominence.
2013 NBA FINALS
LeBron(who played for Miami Heat in 2013) and Kawhi(who played for the San Antonio Spurs in 2013) faced off in the NBA finals for the first time in 2013. San Antonio Spurs would have won the series in 6 games had Kawhi Leonard not missed the 2nd free-throw. Ray Allen saved the Miami Heat from loosing to the Spurs after he hit the 3 pointers to tie the game with 95-95. The Miami Heat went on to win game 6 and game 7 thus winning the NBA Finals. Kawhi Leonard in this series was only in his second year and not yet considered a superstar.
2014 NBA FINALS
The next NBA finals happened between the same 2 teams and this time the San Antonio Spurs ended up winning the championship with Kawhi Leonard becoming the finals MVP. While him winning the finals MVP was a big deal, his stat line was pretty average (17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2 assists) and he was yet to solidify himself as a star player. LeBron James averaged 28 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4 assists in this series.
Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James have never played in the finals since 2014. LeBron James went to the NBA finals 4 more times after their last encounter. Kawhi Leonard did not make the finals since then. LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Golden State Warriors for 4 times in a row in which he was able to win once in 2016. With the addition of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors in 2017, the Warriors were a pretty formidable team and LeBron’s legacy was not really at stake considering Kevin Durant and Steph Curry were on the same team.
Kawhi Leonard was gaining recognition as a star player meanwhile. He was always known for his defensive prowess and had developed an offensive game too over the years. In 2017, Kawhi Leonard(with San Antonio Spurs) faced Golden State Warriors in Western Conference Finals and the Spurs were winning with a lead of 23 points in Game 1 until Kawhi went down with an injury. The game afterward changed since Kawhi Leonard was the key player the Spurs had. Kawhi Leonard did not play after that injury for the series and the Spurs lost to the Warriors. The next season(2017-18), Kawhi had some issues and played only 9 games for the Spurs asking for a trade.
Kawhi traded to Toronto Raptors in 2018
The San Antonio Spurs decided to trade Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors in 2018 who ended up winning the championship in NBA Finals 2019. After this series, the basketball world-recognized Kawhi Leonard as a big superstar and some even went on to say that he was the best player in the NBA. Beating Golden State was a big thing even though their best player Kevin Durant played only for one game after suffering the injury. LeBron James who went to Los Angeles Lakers this season was not in this playoff series as he had suffered a groin injury.
So, some people still had doubts about whether Kawhi was actually better than Kevin Durant and LeBron James(considered to be the 2 best players of the NBA) as they didn’t really compete in the playoffs.
CURRENT SEASON 2019-21
This season, Kevin Durant is still recovering from the injury however LeBron James is playing with the Lakers alongside Anthony Davis who is also a top 10 player. Lakers have a good roster and LeBron James now does not have much of an excuse for not winning a championship this year.
Kawhi Leonard who now plays for the LA Clippers(Raptors traded Kawhi to the Clippers this season) has faced LeBron James twice in this season and both of the games have been won by LA Clippers. This happened despite Kawhi calling out LeBron James in subtle ways like the New Balance commercial where he was playing with the crown, calling Los Angeles his city etc.
Analysts have started to think that Kawhi Leonard might actually be better than LeBron James after Lakers lost to the Clippers twice this season.
So, Kawhi Leonard may pose a serious threat to LeBron’s legacy. It depends on who wins the championship this year. If Kawhi Leonard beats LeBron James in the playoffs this year and goes to win the Finals 2020, then Kawhi Leonard will be recognized as a better player than LeBron James.
This rivalry is quite similar to Michael Jordan vs Magic Johnson in 1991 finals. Magic and Jordan had a rivalry even though one hardly mentions it. Had Magic beat Jordan, the world may have recognized Magic as the greatest player of all time. Magic was already a 5 time NBA champion and Jordan was yet to win a championship. Michael Jordan went on to win 6 rings solidifying himself as one of the greatest if not the greatest player of all time.
LeBron James has a similar style to Magic Johnson while Kawhi’s playing style is similar to Michael Jordan. So, in some way it does have some relation to Magic vs Jordan in 1991. The debate between who is the better player among Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James is quite heated. Let us see who wins between the two, when both these players play against each other in the playoffs.
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