Spoiler alert: you can’t quantify a player’s path to greatness, or GOATness, as the case may be. Look no further than the game last night– a good old-fashioned Texas tilt between the Rockets of Houston and the Spurs of San Antonio. The necks were red, the firearms were concealed, and the stars were out.
This is a marquee matchup, of course. El Classico. Mono e mono between two of the best ballers on hardwood – James Harden and Kawhi Leonard – and it didn’t disappoint. It was won in the final seconds, by a 2-point margin, with the stars both touching the ball as the clock ran out. It was perfection.
But here’s why you can’t quantify that whole path to greatness thing. James Harden and Kawhi Leonard both showed up. They’re both perennial MVP candidates and they behaved as such. Both finished with 39 points and the fans got their money’s worth. Here’s what I saw. One of the best players in the NBA put up 39 points among other gaudy numbers in noteworthy stats. The other, one of the best players ever, won the game for his team. For one of them, you checked the box score after the game, and for the other, you simply didn’t need to.
Shea Serrano of The Ringer wrote a piece earlier today which reads like an ode or, more appropriately, a love letter to Kawhi Leonard. It lists, at gratuitous length, many of life’s sweetest pleasures that compare to watching Kawhi play basketball. James Harden is a freak, and the best player on most of the courts he plays on. Kawhi Leonard is something else entirely. His play makes NBA-sanctioned piss testers uneasy, because how else could a guy do what Kawhi did last night without PEDs? At least there’s still irony in this league.
The score sheet tells what a player did. It says nothing about how he did it. 39 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, a steal, and 2 blocks is a line that will make you shake your head and ask yourself how? Watching a player like Kawhi put that line up, without keeping track of the line itself, will have you closing your head in the refrigerator and uttering nonsensical gibberish at the pickle jar. I’ve been in both positions, and the latter is more rewarding every single time. That’s what you get with Kawhi Leonard.