Kobe Bryant has won five NBA championships. He's had a different victim each time: Indiana, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Orlando, Boston.
Tim Duncan has won four NBA championships. He's had a different victim in each Finals: New York, New Jersey, Detroit, Cleveland.
Hard to find an Ali-Frazier without repeated trips into the ring. Hard to replicate Nicklaus-Palmer if they're not in the final group on Sunday. Hard to get fired up about Connors-McEnroe if they keep playing in the quarterfinals.
Which brings us to LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
The NBA has found its great white whale. A quarter-century search finally has struck oil. The mother lode.
A sport built on the backs of Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell in the ‘60s, and Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird in the ‘80s, has a marquee matchup for the 21st century.
LeBron vs. Durant.
They certainly delivered in the just-concluded NBA Finals. LeBron shrugged off the demons of past failures and played basketball as well as it can be played. Durant, in defeat, was historically excellent.
Now, if their teams can cooperate, and both the Thunder and the Heat appear on track to do so, the next great NBA rivalry has arrived.
“I would enjoy that,” Durant said Saturday. “That would be fun … Heat-Thunder rivalry. But we'll see. There's so many great teams in this league, you never know what will happen.”
Rivalries thrive in the playoffs. Wilt and Russell met in eight series in the ‘60s. Bird and Magic combated in three NBA Finals. John Havlicek and Jerry West went at it in five Finals. Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas battled four straight years in the playoffs.
The Thunder and Heat figure to be conference favorites going into next season. Make the Finals again, or better yet several times over the next decade, and we're looking at a classic American rivalry.
“They're going to be a team to be reckoned with for a lot of years because they're young, and they're going to use this experience as motivation,” LeBron said after the Heat ended the Finals with a Game 5 victory Thursday night.
“You know, this is not the last time we'll see Oklahoma City. This won't be the last time we see them in the Finals.”
Here's what makes the LeBron/Durant rivalry so appetizing. Both were phenomenal in the Finals. Durant was great. LeBron was better.
LeBron had a series-clinching triple double — 26 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists — and for the series averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists. He shot 47.2 percent from the field.
Durant, hounded incessantly by LeBron or fellow defensive demon Shane Battier, averaged 30.6 points a game while shooting 54.8 percent from the field. Few players ever have had such an efficient NBA Finals.