MIAMI -- LeBron James has been battling Kevin Durant for MVP votes this season, but he came to the Oklahoma City star’s defense Friday over a newspaper headline that called Durant "Mr. Unreliable." The headline ran after the league’s leading scorer struggled late in a Game 5 home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
James was asked after Friday’s Heat practice for his thoughts on the headline controversy.
“I don’t think that was a great idea,” James said. “Not your hometown paper. Not with a team you helped to get to the NBA Finals, [and will] potentially be an MVP, a multiple scoring champ and have led his team to a place it’s never been before.”
James then paused briefly before referring to Durant’s potential decision to play elsewhere after his contract ends with the Thunder following the 2015-16 season.
“K.D.’s got to be a free agent at some point,” said James, who rocked the league when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers after seven seasons to sign with Miami as a free agent in 2010.
James immediately knew his comments about Durant’s future would cause a stir. After he answered the final question during his media session after practice, James turned back toward reporters, joked that he had provided them a national headline for the day and shouted ESPN’s ‘Da-da-da’ "SportsCenter" jingle.
The Oklahoman newspaper’s sports editor Mike Sherman has since issued an apology, saying the headline “missed the mark” and had referred only to Durant’s up-and-down play in the series. It wasn't meant to call into question his overall character or production in Oklahoma City, he stated.
Durant shrugged off the controversy and finished with 36 points and 10 rebounds in Game 6 on Thursday to force a decisive seventh game Saturday in Oklahoma City.
James, who has been a close friend as well as an elite rival of Durant for years, said Friday that Durant has been nothing short of remarkable over the course of the season and throughout his career with the franchise that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2007.
With the Heat in the midst of a weeklong break after their first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats, James has had plenty of time to make headlines with his statements instead of his play. He was at the forefront of the league’s rebuke of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist comments that were allegedly recorded without his knowledge during a conversation with his mistress.
James also reiterated Friday that players have not yet had any discussions about potentially boycotting the start of next season if Sterling was not removed from ownership in addition to the lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine the league imposed earlier this week.
What proved to be a productive day for James also featured his return to action on the practice court after sitting out much of the week to recover from a thigh bruise he suffered Monday in the Game 4 series-clinching victory against the Bobcats.
“It’s better today,” James said of the bruise. “I went through every contact drill, so that was a plus. We’re close to playing again, so I’m glad to get back into it. I’m very antsy, and it was great to have what we called a 'Hunger Games' practice today. We went at it.”