One day, last month, the two best players in the NBA worked out with each other. Friends for years, Kevin Durant and LeBron James decided to hook up near James' birthplace in Akron, Ohio and trade elbows just a month after pairing to lead Team USA to a gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, and nearly three months after James' Miami Heat downed Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. To a few people — the types that appear on and are desperate enough to watch daytime cable television programming — this was astonishing news.
To Kevin Durant, it was just one workout that created a whole lot of needless nonsense. He said as much to Darnell Mayberry at the Oklahoman recently:
"A lot of people blew (it) out of proportion," the reigning three time scoring champion said. "It was just one day.
"I'm a competitive guy," Durant said. "I'm sure you guys have seen that in me. I just wanted to work out. That's what it was all about. I'll work out with anybody. I would have worked out with Kobe Bryant. I would have worked out with Carmelo (Anthony). I just wanted to work out and get better."
This year's visit, unlike last year's lengthier trip that was dubbed "Hell Week," was unplanned. Durant said he took two to three weeks off following the Olympics and James reached out to him.
"He was the first guy that called me and I said 'Hey, why not?"
Mayberry's feature goes on to note that Russell Westbrook has also worked out with Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose during a few offseasons, news that set nobody off to hand-wring in front of cameras. Workouts that no doubt took place near Rose's offseason home in Los Angeles, a location that is possible news to those who think the Chicago native starts each morning with three slices of deep-dish pizza, washed down by three Old Styles before he heads off to get in line at Hot Doug's.
It just fits the same needless mythology that sports stars who happen to play for different teams are never allowed to interact, save for the odd steely glare from across half-court just before tip-off. And, in actuality, that mythology has been more or less dismissed by a couple of generations at this point. It's probably been dismissed by the producers and hosts on daytime sports TV, as well, but the brains behind those operations don't mind overcoming their own smarts and instincts because they are led by a hopeless goon in Skip Bayless that, lest you forget, has no soul.
It's a non-story that we're putting to rest now. A "story" we won't even revisit even if LeBron James individually shuts down Kevin Durant while averaging a triple-double as his team sweeps the season series against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then tops Durant's squad 4-0 in the 2013 NBA Finals.
Eight days of workouts between the two, spread out between summers in 2011 and 2012, won't have made a lick of difference in a one-sided outcome such as that; because James is that good. If the most talented and fearsome physical presence to come along in decades absolutely dominates Durant from here on out, it's because LeBron is fully capable of establishing such a length between the NBA's Number One and Number Two. It's not because they worked out in Ohio once in early September.
Magic Johnson hooked up with Larry Bird during the summer of 1986, famously, just months after Bird's probable high point as a pro following his team's 67-win championship season. These two met each other at Bird's ranch in Indiana not to work out or bust each other's new moves, but to shoot a commercial for a shoe company. No deep-summer workouts, following an exhausting Olympic turn. No sweating away from the cameras, as was the case with James and Durant. No, these two shot a commercial, joked around in full view of anyone that wanted to report about it, and then ate a delicious lunch as served by Bird's mother. All of which has been happily recounted by both in the decades since.
Durant and James? They went at each other, hard, in an area of the Midwest that is hardly a desirable destination spot for wealthy twenty-somethings in their ostensible offseason. For one day, on top of that; creating several days worth of pathetic fodder for ESPN. Fodder that, we're happy to report, we thought of as such a non-issue that we've ignored it until now. And I'm the guy that writes about Enes Kanter eating a lot of eggs.
Things change. Wilt Chamberlain could only call Bill Russell on a landline in a house that Russell was probably inside for about one-third of his day. LeBron can text or Direct Message Durant in an instant, even if Kevin's cell phone is still in his gym bag, with the clear knowledge that the message will be waiting for Durant when he returns. And, by the way, Russell and Chamberlain routinely dined out with each other the nights before their teams squared up. Not "worked out," like LeBron and Durant. "Dined out."
Again, none of this means anything to anyone relevant save for a few television staffers that would cheer someone falling down the stairs if it meant a newfound ability to talk up a quarterback controversy. This workout means nothing — to Durant, LeBron, and their teammates and coaches on either side. The games? They mean everything.
Don't take your stories from those that are too uninterested in sports to watch the actual games.