LeBron James has said in the recent past that Paul Pierce is his No.1 rival in the NBA, but those days are apparently gone. James told The Miami Herald this week that “Paul was one of those rival guys, but I’ve been going against different guys the last few years.”
Of course, anyone who watched the Heat’s first preseason game against the Nets will know that Pierce doesn’t exactly view the rivalry between he and James in the same historical light. Pierce body checked James in the open court in the first quarter of the first preseason game between the Heat and Nets after James publicly suggested Pierce and Kevin Garnett were hypocrites. Pierce and Garnett criticized Ray Allen for leaving Boston only to leave Boston one year later, and James called them out on it. Allen left as a free agent while Garnett and Pierce were traded, but Garnett did waive a no-trade clause.
The Heat’s second preseason game against the Nets is tonight, but Pierce probably won’t have a chance to take another questionable shot against the back-to-back MVP. James indicated on Wednesday night that he’s not playing. The Heat begins the season on Tuesday against the Bulls.
So, who is James’ chief rival in the NBA at the moment? He isn’t viewing his career from that perspective anymore. There isn't another player at the moment on the same level as James, and he knows it. It's James and everyone else until further notice.
“It’s not just one guy,” James said. “I haven’t played against one individual for a long period of time — since basically it was me and Paul. Me and Paul, we had so many duels and almost every year we were going against Boston whether I was in Cleveland the last few years or Miami … So, I don’t know if there is one particular guy. There are some teams I believe are very competitive in both conferences, but it’s not just one guy.”
A team-oriented player above all else, James is focusing only on the Heat’s chief rivals this season, and that’s a deep list.