It started last season, with an early December declaration that should now be viewed as the first verbal lob that turned friends into foes.
We didn't know it at the time, but it foreshadowed the recent and relentless rhetoric coming out of Miami.
“I know there is someone, somewhere, trying to take my spot,” LeBron James said. “And I know where he is, too. He's in Oklahoma. He's my inspiration because I see the direction he's headed, and it's the same direction I'm headed. I know his mindset, and he knows mine. It's a collision course. We're driving one another.”
James was talking about Kevin Durant.
We thought then, “How nice?” A form of flattery, it seemed.
The last month couldn't feel more different.
First, it was an arcane reference by James to Durant's shot attempts.
“I get jealous sometimes when I look over at KD and he's like 16-for-32 (from the field) and then 14-for-34. Man,” James said.
Next, it was a debate-inducing discussion about which four NBA players would be on James' fictitious Mount Rushmore. He listed Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.
He then said someone would need to get bumped.
“Because I'm going to be one of the top four to ever play this game, for sure,” James said. “And if they don't want me to have one of those top four spots, they better find another spot on that (mountain).”
And finally, James concluded by talking about when Durant would truly feel championship pressure.
“When I retire,” James said. “They're still talking about, ‘Am I going to win a third?' You know?”
Nearly each time James speaks, Durant is now being asked for his reaction.
He had to check a Los Angeles-area reporter last Thursday when the reporter inquired about the “back and forth.”
“There's been no back and forth,” Durant said. “I haven't said anything. Just him talking.”
Durant was asked at the start of All-Star Weekend to rank, on a scale of one to 10, how sick he is of being asked about James and the rivalry that's brewing between the two.
“About 25,” Durant exclaimed. “I mean, it's every day.”
Interestingly, James had a different reaction when posed the same question about Durant.
“I don't mind,” James said. “I'm a truthful guy. I don't sugarcoat nothing. I speak the truth. If you ask me a question, I give it to you the truthful way. That's how I keep you guys happy. You guys want the truth and nothing but the truth.”
But what is the truth?
There's a widespread belief that James is manipulating the media, strategically sounding off about all things Durant out of desperation. This, you see, has been the year of Durant and with the passing of each eye-popping performance by Durant, it's LeBron who is losing ground, LeBron who is losing his stranglehold on the league's Most Valuable Player Award, his reign as a two-time champ and maybe even his status as the world's best player.
Many feel that James, by sending subtle and not-so subtle messages aimed at and centered on Durant, is reminding everyone of who he is and what he's done.
That he has a hidden agenda behind all these comments.
“Obviously he gets asked about him a lot,” said Miami guard Dwyane Wade of his teammate being asked about Durant. “When you've got two players like that, obviously they've been in MVP talks the last couple of years so he's going to get asked about him a lot. But at the same time, he sees what this young guy is doing as well. And the competitor in him wants to be just as great. So it's kind of a combination of both.”
“LeBron, for a few years, has known Kevin Durant has been coming as a player,” Wade said. “He's at that point, he's 25 years old, I mean, he has all the talent in the world. (LeBron) was a Kevin Durant before, gaining on a Kobe Bryant.
“We don't really take words or too much of what people say and put that as the main motivation throughout an NBA season. It's more so you're just trying to be the player that you want to be, and he wants to be the best, one of the greatest of all time. And he knows this young guy is coming. And he's trying to protect his turf.”