LeBron James, Kevin Durant Rivalry Closes First Chapter, Could Be Set for Many More

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LeBron James, Kevin Durant Rivalry Closes First Chapter, Could Be Set for Many MoreAs Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook solemnly worked their way through the milling bodies and flittering confetti, Dwyane Wade pulled them each aside.

"Hopefully, we'll see y'all here next year again," Wade told them, as he recounted after the game.

A highly anticipated NBA Finals matchup between two of the league's brightest stars ended with LeBron James and the Miami Heat defeating Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 on Thursday to claim the title. The series was much closer than its five-game length suggests, as the Thunder had a chance in every game except the clinching Game 5.

Wade would hardly be alone in his desire to see a rematch. As much as fans and leagues talk about the importance of parity, history shows that, in general, utter dominance by one or a few elite teams or players generates the most excitement. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain's battles vaulted the NBA into major league status, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson rekindled the sport's waning popularity in the 1980s and Michael Jordan took the culture of individual dominance to a new level after Bird and Johnson's decline. Viewers tuned out for the smaller-market Cleveland Cavaliers or Orlando Magic in the Finals in recent years, yet tuned in for Celtics vs. Lakers and Heat vs. Anybody.

Now James has a realistic foil. Most of us understood that Dirk Nowitzki was only a temporary foe, an aging legend holding off a precocious prodigy. It would take a younger, similarly talented star to muster a long-term resistance to James and his perceived Axis of Evil.

Like Bird and Magic, James, 27, and Durant, 23, rarely covered each other man-to-man. Like Bird and Magic, James and Durant have vastly different games and personalities, and appeal to different sets of people. Like Bird and Magic, James and Durant will now be revered in some spheres, reviled in others.

Most of all, they will make it tough to look away.

"This was one of the best Finals when you talk about matchups, when you talk about everyone tuning in and wanting to see," Wade said. "These are two teams that in the summer, everyone said they should be in the Finals. We lived up to the billing. They're going to be around for a while, and we would love to be around just as long and just as much."

After three tries in the Finals, James now has what he wants. More to the point, he now has what Durant wants. As long as that remains the case, it looks like the path to the title for the next few years goes through Miami or Oklahoma City.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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