OAKLAND, Calif. -- Imagine Kevin Durant as a skinny, timid teen being told to shoot by his middle school point guard who saw so much potential all those years ago.
He needed a little urging back then. Much of it came from star San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who fondly recalls his days passing to the future NBA star.
Bowman, who claims he was the superior player at Drew Freeman Middle School in Prince George's County, Maryland, used to encourage the lanky Durant to be aggressive, to take it to the hoop with authority. Durant already measured more than 6 feet tall at the time and would rapidly add inches in the upcoming years.
"Can you believe we had to tell him to shoot?" Bowman recalled with a grin last week at Levi's Stadium while relaxing after football practice in Santa Clara.
"Yeah, we had to tell him to shoot. We knew that he could play the game and he would eventually get better, but how tall he was, back in the day if you were that tall you would be in the post or you would be in the paint. This guy was on the wing. You could see the talent there. Eventually, as you see now, he grew into it and became a great player."
Durant insists all he wanted to do was create opportunities for others.
"I would just always want to please my teammates, so I would pass up a shot to get somebody else a look," Durant said. "I always had that trait and that kind of turned into not being aggressive, if that's what it was called. But I was more so just catering to my teammates, trying to make them feel comfortable. And at a young age, NaVorro being such a leader that he is, he knew that I had some pretty good talent at that age and he just told me, `Go out there and just play.' As a kid, you need that, you want that validation from your teammates. Especially starting off early when I started to take basketball really, really serious, just a couple words from him meant a lot" (see full story).
Cavaliers: LeBron soaring into 7th straight Finals
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James will one day take his final bow, the brightest spotlight moving on to someone else.
There will come a time when his legs lose some explosiveness and those vicious dunks will be rendered ordinary. Someday, his jumper won't fall as often, and that astonishing court vision, the key to his game, will become cloudy.
James will face the end of his career one day. Just not anytime soon.
On the eve of his seventh straight NBA Finals appearance, and 10 years since he debuted on basketball's grand stage, James' reign continues: undisputed king of the court.
During a postseason in which he has led the champion Cleveland Cavaliers to a 12-1 record and chased down Michael Jordan as the No. 1 scorer in playoff history, James has not only positioned himself for a fourth title, but intensified the debate over whether he's the greatest player in NBA history.
He isn't slowing down while building his case.
James has always dismissed the Jordan comparisons, saying that kind of talk is "only great for barbershops" and that original gravity-defying No. 23 has been his motivational muse, not a target. But after the Cavs won their third straight conference title, punishing an overmatched Boston team in five games -- he supplanted Jordan during the clincher -- James discussed his place alongside someone who was "like a god" to him growing up.
"I did pretty much everything that M.J. did when I was a kid," James said. "I shot fadeaways before I should have. I wore black and red shoes with white socks. I wore short shorts so you could see my undershorts underneath. I didn't go bald like Mike, but I'm getting there. ... But other than that, I did everything Mike did. I even wore a wristband on my forearm. I didn't do the hoop earring, either. That was Mike (see full story).
NBA: Twelve refs selected to officiate Finals
NEW YORK -- Danny Crawford has been chosen to officiate his 23rd NBA Finals, making him the most experienced of the 12 referees selected for the series.
John Goble was the lone first-time selection Tuesday when the NBA announced the referees who would work the series beginning Thursday between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Mike Callahan was selected for his 14th NBA Finals, Ken Mauer his 12th and Scott Foster his 10th. Monty McCutchen, Derrick Stafford, Tony Brothers, James Capers, Marc Davis, Ed Malloy and Zach Zarba round out the staff. Each has been picked at least four times.
The officials were selected by NBA Referee Operations management based on their postseason performance. Referees were evaluated after each round to determine advancement.
Crawford has officiated 33 NBA Finals games and Callahan 18.
Tom Washington and Sean Wright are the alternates for the series.