James Harden is going to be one of the best scorers in history when it’s all said and done, as he has been compared through his career to another great scorer and shooting guard named Kobe Bryant. It is well known that Harden idolized Kobe growing up and modeled his game after him, and Kobe said Harden’s “gonna be the next one after me.” But when they were on the court, the two fierce rivals went at it hard.
It all started in Harden rookie season in 2010, in which the young Thunder faced the defending champs Lakers in the first round. Harden wasn’t scared to talk smack to Kobe, but it didn’t do much damage as Kobe was unfazed and on the winning side in 6 games. Still, it was a great learning experience for Harden and the Thunder.
Then in 2011, during the lockout, one of the more exciting Drew League games ever happened as the two battled in a legendary game. They were going at each other the whole game, as Harden ended up with 44 points. But Kobe would have to show him who the boss is, scoring 45 points and the buzzer-beater in his face.
Next season things would change. The Thunder emerged as one of the best teams in the NBA, led by the trio of Durant, Westbrook, and Harden, while the Lakers were right behind them with, of course, Kobe running the show. Their first matchup was highly anticipated, and it delivered.
They faced off for the first time that season in February in Oklahoma in a very physical game, as the Thunder controlled the lead for most of the game. Harden had the task of checking Kobe that night and was doing a pretty good job, forcing Kobe to shoot just 7-24 from the floor while playing pretty good on the other side of the floor, scoring an efficient 16 points from the bench.
The trash-talking started late in the game as the Thunder were putting the Lakers away. Harden hit a three and started yelling at Kobe, letting him know about it. Kobe, being Kobe, went right at him, backing him down and shooting his patented fade away, but only to airball. Harden loved it, looking at him and getting in his face. Metta World Peace of all people would push him away to split them. Kobe started talking back as the situation went from friendly competition to a bit of bad blood. The talking would continue for a few possessions with a couple of players getting involved, but nothing major escalated as the Thunder won the game.
Kobe shortly dissed the young Thunder and Harden after the game with a savage response, saying one day they will be able to sit at his lunch table. Kobe may have been on the end of his career, but he wasn’t letting anybody punk him, no matter how good they were. A cool story of some friendly rivalry between two great players. We would love to see more of these today.