It happens right around this time every year. Multiple media outlets rank the NBA's players in some form or fashion — some from 1 to 10, some from 1 to 50, some from 1 to 100, and one, absurdly, from 1 to 500 — with the express intent of having people argue about them. This player's too high, this player's too low, you're out of your mind if you think X is better than Y ... the point is to keep you checking for something pro hoops-y to read at a time when college football and the NFL are tightening their national stranglehold, MLB pennant races are unfolding and NBA training camps haven't yet started. It happens every year.
In one of this year's big ol' rankings, the top-100 list compiled by pals Rob Mahoney and Ben Golliver of SI.com's The Point Forward, the Sports Illustrated blog duo gave Dwyane Wade a slight edge over James Harden, slotting the Miami Heat shooting guard in at No. 8, three spots ahead of the Houston Rockets All-Star, who finished just outside the SI team's top 10. (Nestled between the two at No. 9? Fellow two-guard Kobe Bryant, who took All-NBA First Team honors last season while Wade and Harden shared the Third Team backcourt.)
Shockingly, an Internet ranking decision has not met with total agreement. During an interview on Tuesday, CineSport's Noah Coslov read SI's top-10 list to Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (No. 2 behind only LeBron James, in case you were wondering) and asked him to identify a player whose name he didn't hear that he believed should be included in that top-10 group. Durant quickly pulled the name of his good friend and former OKC teammate.
"I think you're missing James Harden," he said.
"All right, so if you're missing Harden, who do you take off the list?" Coslov asked.
"Dwyane Wade," Durant answered, without hesitation.
News of Durant's assessment didn't take long to reach Wade, who posted this internal-fire-stoking Post-It on Instagram on Tuesday night:
And that essential missive quickly drew the attention of Durant, who followed up with this:
Show me don't tweet me..
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) September 25, 2013
(Harden, for his part, hasn't responded to any of this on Twitter ... which is reasonable, because at this point, he's only appeared as a name coming out of someone else's mouth.)
So we've got Durant taking up for his friend and former teammate, Wade putting his thoughts on paper and in pixels with an implied reminder ("... again ...") of what happened the last time his Heat and Durant's Thunder squared off for all the marbles, and Durant subtweeting on some Scott Hall stuff. It's exactly how all the truly great feuds throughout history have begun!
Unless, of course, it isn't a feud at all, but rather a preseason-pump-priming for a new installment of the Wade/Durant Gatorade commercial series. At least one person more in tune with hoops marketing and the principals involved thinks that's not the case, but I'm not ready to rule anything out. Not in this post-@Horse_eBooks art project social media landscape.
The simulated feud offers one potential explanation, but Occam's razor offers another: Maybe Durant really thinks that his longtime friend, a 24-year-old monster on the rise, is just a better basketball player right now than Wade, who'll turn 32 in January and has struggled mightily with injuries over the past two seasons. Surely Durant's not the only person who feels this way; maybe he's just the only one who got asked about it in an interview yesterday, and he decided to let his opinion fly freely like a quick-release 3-pointer or the matter-of-fact statement that he's "tired of being second" in NBA life. (I'm surprised he didn't take issue with his own positioning, come to think of it.)
And it's not like Durant hasn't had words for Wade on the floor before, if you'll remember:
Reasonable people can differ as to whether they believe Wade or Harden to be the superior player at this particular stage in their respective careers, but then again, the folks who freak out over lists aren't generally all that reasonable. To whatever degree this situation is anything more than a stray opinion or a marketing gimmick, it'll only actually wind up mattering when Durant's Thunder and Wade's Heat wind up meeting on the court this season, which will happen first in Miami on Jan. 29 and next Oklahoma City on Feb. 20 (and, maybe, a few times after that come June).
It's just nice that we've now finally got a reason to pay attention to those games, because, y'know, the presence of a handful of the best basketball players in the world wouldn't have been enough of a draw. Thanks, Dwyane and Kevin!