Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson said Kevin Durant deserves “a lot of praise” for making world champion LeBron James an even better player this season.
“Because a lot of times your rival or the guy you go up against will bring the best out of you,” Johnson told the Miami Herald off the air on Thursday morning. “Larry Bird definitely did that for me.”
Johnson said winning the NBA championship will have a significant impact on James.
“I think everything changes,” Johnson said. “He can now feel, 'You know what? I'm the best player in the world because I've won a ring. The ring says so, not the media, not the marketing says so. But my game actually says so.'
“We're judged by championships, and LeBron will be bigger across the world with a championship. I think all the naysayers go away and I think it's only going to make him better, too. Michael Jordan got better after his first championship, and I think the same thing happens for LeBron. His popularity will grow. The NBA benefits from that. … It's going to be LeBron-mania like we've never seen before.
“Thank God he's in the NBA, that we have a chance to see him every day. And thank God he's going to play in the Olympics, and that the world will get the chance to see this unbelievable dominant player on the biggest stage.”
If it has this significant for James, it stands to reason it will have a significant impact on Durant and his Thunder teammates, should they ever win the title.
It took James nine seasons to win an NBA championship. Durant just finished his fifth season.
A list of players and how many seasons it took to win their first crown:
17 — Jason Kidd (Dallas)
15 — Gary Payton (Miami)
12 — Jerry West (LA Lakers)
11 — Oscar Robertson (Milwaukee)
10 — David Robinson (San Antonio) and Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston)
9 — James (Miami)
8 — Shaquille O'Neal (Lakers); Isiah Thomas (Detroit); Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia)
7 — Michael Jordan (Chicago)
HARD ON HARDEN
Sixth man of the year James Harden struggled throughout the Finals and finished the series shooting 37.5 percent from the field, 31.8 percent from 3-point range and averaging 12.8 points — all well below his regular-season averages and his playoff averages in the first three rounds.
Afterward, Harden expressed no regrets.
“We're not too far away … but definitely a learning experience for us, how hard you have to work, and how much work it takes to get to this point,” Harden said.
Is there anything Harden would have done differently in the Finals?
“No,” Harden said. “We fought our hearts out.”
VALUE OF EXPERIENCE
Much was made of the value of Miami's experience, having lost in last year's Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.
“It definitely helped them being here last year,” Harden said. “They kind of knew what to expect. Same as last year, being in the Western Conference Finals, we knew what to expect (against San Antonio) and how to win games.
“As a team, we stuck together through tough times. We're family. We're brothers. We just have to get better.”
James was named MVP of the Finals, becoming the 14th player to win the regular-season MVP and Finals MVP awards in the same season. … Miami was 14 for 26 from 3-point range in Game 5, tying the record for most 3-pointers in a Finals game previous set by Houston and Orlando, both in the 1995 series. … Heat president Pat Riley now has won eight NBA championships — one as a player with the 1972 Lakers; one as a Lakers assistant coach in 1980; four as the Lakers' coach (1982, 1984, 1987, 1988); one as the Heat's coach in 2006; and one now as president. … Miami coach Erik Spoelstra now has two rings. He was an assistant on Riley's 2006 staff.