As Kevin Durant and LeBron James trade points and wins in pursuit of their NBA championships, the differences between the top two MVP vote getters is glaring. Durant is the low-key, small market superstar with the thin body frame and elite shooting touch. On the other hand, James is the muscle-bound three-time MVP, who hopped off the small-market bandwagon to take his talents to South Beach during a live television event and still struggles with his shooting touch.
However, there also similarities. While both of them have earned the obligatory comparisons to Michael Jordan from time to time, they also share similarities to another NBA star of yesteryear. When he was drafted out of high school, James was described as a blend between Magic Johnson and Jordan. However, Jordan and Johnson have 11 championships between them.
Nine years into his career, James is struggling to win his first title despite having a pair of All-Stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at his disposal. James' plight is eerily similar to Lakers legend Elgin Baylor.
Like Baylor, James seemed like one of those star-crossed superstars who would forever chase a ring. Before Baylor became captain of the Clippers' Titanic, he was the first Lakers superstar after their move from Minneapolis. Although, he's become more infamous for his disastrous tenure as general manager of L.A.'s other franchise over the last two decades, Baylor was arguably the most dominant small forward in the league's pre-Jordan era and played alongside Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West for much of his career. Moreover, he had a very similar skillset as James.
In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals James posted 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. Only one other player in NBA history has ever posted a 40/18/9 stat line in the playoffs. The other was Baylor.
Elgin had incredible strength, former Lakers teammate Tommy Hawkins told the San Francisco Examiner. He could post up Bill Russell. He could pass like Magic [Johnson] and dribble with the best guards in the league.
Over his 14-year career, Baylor averaged 27.5 points per game, 13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. In his second season, at age 24, he scored a career-high 71 points and the next season, he tallied 61 points in Game 5 of the 1962 NBA Finals.
However, for all of Baylor's accolades, a championship ring eluded him but because of his lack of rings and the NBA's 80's boon, Baylor is often forgotten. He was the NBA's embodiment of Fran Tarkenton and the Buffalo Bills' Jim Kelly wrapped in one. Combined Tarkenton and Kelly went 0-7 in Super Bowls. Baylor made eight trips to the Finals and was denied every time. A loss in the 2012 NBA Finals would make James 0-3 in the championship round.
Durant is only 23, and the only connection he shares with Baylor is that they both hail from Washington, D.C. He'll likely have many chances to win a title with the baby-faced core around him. James will as well but with each passing season, Wade's body deteriorates and more challengers rise.
After taking a 2-1 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder, James has his best shot at a championship ahead of him.
However, Baylor's Lakers lost a 2-1 lead in the '62 Finals and lost the 69' Finals after taking a 2-0 lead in the '69 Finals. The Heat lost four straight after taking a 2-0 lead through two games of the NBA Finals and Durant's Thunder recently overcame a 0-2 hole against the previously invincible San Antonio Spurs, so James can't breathe easy yet. There's still work to be done if he wants avoid the path of Elgin Baylor and chart a new course for his career.