In a recent NBA.com survey, incoming NBA rookies voted Kevin Durant as their favorite player, topping 2014-2015 Finals champion Stephen Curry and every other player in the league. Durant garnered about a quarter of the vote while Kobe Bryant came in second and LeBron James rounded out the top three. But despite the fact that these rookies have not even checked in for a single minute of an NBA game, their rankings in this poll are quite significant.
For rookies, respect means a lot. They strive to be respected by teammates, coaches, other rookies and a nation of NBA fans. They look to veteran players throughout the league as role models for how to play and behave on and off the court, assuming that imitating those techniques will eventually grant them the same level of respect. Thus, Kevin Durant should feel proud; to be voted the rookies’ favorite player means he is, in turn, the player the rookies respect the most, too.
What, then, does this poll mean for James, Curry, and players like reigning Finals MVP Andre Iguodala? Had the poll asked, “Which player was the most successful this season?,” the answers would have been vastly different. The rookies’ responses to this poll question reveal that success is not necessarily the most important item on a rookie’s agenda.
Their top two favorite players, Durant and Bryant, both had relatively disappointing seasons last year, with Durant playing just 27 games and Bryant playing just 35, both due to injuries. James, Curry and Iguodala, on the other hand, all made it to the Finals, with the latter two raising the trophy in the end. The success of these players, however, did not impress rookies in the same way that Durant and Bryant’s play in longer, healthier seasons of the past did.
In Durant, rookies might see exactly the type of player they hope to one day become: a solid athlete who can perform well on both ends of the floor, a humble teammate and yet also a clear leader, and a hard worker who is on the cusp of a championship-worthy season.
In LeBron, they might see a player who is undoubtedly one of the best in the league, but also one surrounded by a complex mix of fan adoration and bitter hatred, and one who has switched teams more than once throughout his time in the NBA (Durant and Bryant have remained on their respective teams since day one).
Rookies hope to one day be in a position where an incoming rookie class will vote them as their favorite players. To get there, they will have to achieve success, surely, but they will also have to earn respect. In a league full of superstars, winning the NBA finals is one thing; but winning the admiration of the league’s future? That accomplishment is something entirely different.