BOSTON (CBS) — Nearly everyone in the world believes that LeBron James is the greatest active basketball player on the planet. But Paul Pierce has always been a little bit different.
The former Celtics star and future Hall of Famer said on the ABC/ESPN postgame show that the best player in the world just might be Kevin Durant.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime, generational player. He’s 7-feet, he can shoot the 3-pointer, he can drive to the basket and dunk on you, [he can] pull up in the mid-range,” Pierce said of Durant. “He just has so much in the arsenal — look at him. One-dribble pull-up with the shot clock winding down, how do you stop a guy like this?
“He has everything in his arsenal, and then when he’s not scoring like last game he had eight assists, six assists tonight. Ten-plus rebounds,” Pierce continued. “He may be the best player in the world today.”
Pierce’s comments were immediately met with a challenge from Chauncey Billups, prompting host Michelle Beadle to utter “wait, whoa, WHOA!” while holding her hands up in disbelief.
Pierce continued, noting that on the Finals stage, Durant is outshining LeBron.
“Paul, stop,” Billups interrupted. “Paul. Stop it. Paul. Let me stop you before you start. Cut it out, Paul.”
Beadle asked Pierce exactly what type of liquid was in his mug.
“Hey,” Pierce replied. “This is Truth Juice.”
Pierce tried to explain his reasoning, saying that Stephen Curry was the unanimous MVP of the NBA last year and was the NBA MVP the year before as well. Yet Durant has played better than that two-time MVP.
Billups argued that Durant is the second-best player in the league, but based on his reaction to a comment from Beadle, the former Finals MVP for the Pistons believes the gap between Nos. 1 and 2 is significant.
“There’s nobody arguing that [Durant is better]. Except for Paul Pierce,” Billups said, before reiterating: “Except for Paul, nobody’s arguing it.”
“There’s nothing Durant can’t do on the court,” Pierce replied.
Having played roughly 97 percent of his career (in terms of minutes) in the Eastern Conference, Pierce is unquestionably more familiar with James’ game than he is with Durant’s. Pierce and LeBron had several memorable one-on-one battles as Pierce was on the latter part of his career and James was rising up with the Cavaliers and then the Heat.
Yet that personal experience isn’t enough for Pierce to believe James is better than Durant.
“The Kevin Durant factor is too much right now, because if you take Kevin Durant off this team right now, the Cavaliers are clearly better than the Golden State Warriors,” Pierce said, despite Golden State’s 20.5 average margin of victory in the first two games.
However, when it came to Jeff Van Gundy’s assertion that Curry and Durant make up the best duo in NBA history, Pierce wasn’t so sure.
“No, that’s just, they’re just emotional, it’s fresh in their minds,” Pierce said with a hint of sarcasm. “There’s too many legends out there. You have Magic and Kareem, Shaq and Kobe, there’s too many legends out there.”
Pierce just wrapped up his 19-year playing career this spring, and his broadcast career is clearly off to a momentous start.