Rick Snider: Durant not best ever in D.C., but he's close after Olympic gold

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Sports,NBA,Rick Snider,Olympics

Is Kevin Durant the best basketball player ever from the D.C. area?

Nearly every discussion begins and ends with Elgin Baylor. The starting five often includes Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley and Dave Bing. But debates about the last spot always have been contentious and without a true answer.

Mackin High's Jo Jo Hunter was a 1970s phenom before a lengthy overseas pro career. DeMatha's James Brown was solid before he found fame as a TV sportscaster. South Lakes' Grant Hill has played 12 NBA seasons. There's even Michael Tate of Oxon Hill, Bill Butler of Mackin, Ernie Cage of DeMatha, Shorty Simmons of Gwynn Park and William Lee, a guy known as "Chicken Breast" at Fairmont Heights who could jump so high that legend says he could grab a quarter on the rim and leave two dimes and a nickel.

And then there's Durant, the pride of Prince George's County. He became a local legend on the PG Jaguars, with whom he won multiple AAU titles. But he played for three high school teams, including Montrose Christian. The lack of association with any one school may have prevented Durant from automatic inclusion among local greats by older fans, who favor high schoolers because that's where the best ball was played decades ago.

Durant was certainly part of a great high school team that included Greivis Vasquez, who later starred at Maryland. But the AAU vs. high school debate is a generational divide between fans when it comes to choosing the District's all-time greats.

Until now.

Durant led the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal Sunday with 30 points. Two years ago he was part of the world championship team. And just two months ago, Durant led Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals. Not a bad run.

So Durant definitely belongs on the starting five. But is he the best of the quintet?

No, Baylor is the best ever -- period. Maybe Durant is second at this point, but Baylor is universally ranked first by local hoops experts. The 1958 NBA Rookie of the Year was an 11-time All-Star and a Hall of Famer.

In high school, Baylor was a three-time all-city player, the first two at Phelps before he dropped out of school. He returned in 1954 with Spingarn to average 36.1 points in eight Interhigh games, including 63 against Phelps. Nearly 60 years later, old-timers still talk about that game as the greatest moment in local hoops. That is, if you don't count the playground games that drew hundreds to see Baylor play out-of-town greats.

Then again, Durant is only 23 years old. He could play another 10-plus years, and his stats might compare favorably with Baylor's. By then, fewer of the older generation will be around to argue Baylor's case.

Maybe Baylor is the best, but for now Durant is golden. And he has a lot more time to build his case.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.

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