Kobe or James Harden? Who’s tougher to Play With?

Kobe or Harden? Who’s the tougher teammate to pay with?

-Justin Lasher

 

During a recent interview on “The Dan Patrick Show,” Dwight Howard was asked by Dan Patrick, who the tougher teammate to play with was, Kobe Bryant or James Harden.

This question prompted me to want to dig deeper into it and really decipher who was tougher to play with for Dwight.  Now, I will lay this out there from the onset and say that I think the problem in both relationships was the common denominator, Dwight Howard, however that aside, let’s get started.

If you follow basketball, even moderately, you could tell that Kobe Bryant was different.  Different from all the rest.  What set him apart, you may ask?  Kobe Bryant had a competitive spirt, a will to win, like no other I’ve seen, say other than Michael Jordan.  Kobe Bryant was a driven individual, who was willing to do whatever it took to win a championship.  Work?  Kobe wasn’t afraid to work.  Injuries?  Kobe played through several throughout his career.  Get in the faces of his teammates?  Check.  You name it, Kobe wasn’t afraid to do it, if that end result would get him closer to raising another championship trophy.

Dwight Howard couldn’t be any more different from the individual I outlined in the last paragraph.  He is the fun loving, smiling, relaxed guy.  The guy who likes to clown around in the locker room.  The guy who feeds off of positivity.  Howard is about as laid back as they come.

It’s no real secret then that when Dwight came to the Los Angeles Lakers, this star studded relationship between he and Kobe, probably wasn’t going to be a match made in heaven.  In an interview with USA Today’s Sam Amick, Kobe revealed exactly how the relationship with Howard started to sour:

“I tried teaching Dwight.  I tried showing him.  But the reality is that when you have a perception of what it is to win a championship – and most perceptions of what it’s like to win are a very outgoing, very gregarious locker room where you pick each other up and you’re friends all the time.  That’s the perception.  And I think that’s what his perception was of what the idea is.  But when he saw the reality of it, it made him uncomfortable.  And it’s very tough to be able to fight through that, to deal with that challenge.  And I don’t think he was willing to deal with that uncomfortable and combative nature.”

You see, Dwight came to Kobe’s Lakers.  It was and always was going to be Kobe’s team.  Kobe challenged his teammates, pushed them to always be focused, always working, trying to maximize everything he could out of them.  Some people like to be challenged, they need to be challenged, and respond well the call.  This wasn’t how Dwight Howard operated, Kobe made him “uncomfortable” and he never really could get past that feeling.

It is well documented that Kobe had a killer instinct.  Kobe never saw that same killer instinct in Dwight, even going as far as to call him “soft” after a tussle over a rebound in 2014 that led to Dwight throwing a couple of elbows.  Kobe later apologized for calling Howard soft, saying Howard is “a Teddy bear.”  Nunzio Ingrassia, in a February 2016 article on Fox Sports sums it up best, saying, Kobe had no respect for Howard as a leader.

I stated earlier that Kobe Bryant had played through several injuries during his career.  Dwight Howard describes how this mentality wasn’t exactly how he did it in an article written by Gavin Evens on Complex Media.

Howard also talked about Kobe challenging him through the media to play through a torn labrum and insinuated that he didn’t like it. “Kobe put some pressure on me,” he said.  “He said something like, ‘We don’t have time for Dwight to be hurt.’  The media is asking me, ‘Did you talk to Kobe about your injuries?’ I said, ‘I didn’t realize I was supposed to check with another player about my health.’ When I first got there, I said to Kobe in front of the whole team, ‘The only way we win is if we put our egos aside and play together. ‘I wanted to play with him.  I don’t know if he didn’t want to play with me-if he felt I wasn’t a killer like him.”

It’s clear that Mamba and Superman just weren’t meant to be. They just couldn’t come to any common ground to make it work on the court.  Kobe had one final message to deliver to Dwight through his free agent pitch (or lack there of) to Dwight in 2013.  Witnesses in the room described the following from Kobe to Yahoo! Sports in an article written by Adrian Wojnarowski:

You need to learn how it’s done first, and I can teach you here.”

                “You have to learn how it’s done, I know how to do it and I’ve learned from the best – players who have won multiple times over and over.”

                “Instead of trying to do things your way, just listen and learn and tweak it, so it fits you.”

Dwight listened and then promptly chose to leave LA for new digs in Houston that offseason in 2013. It is there that he would be paired with another star in James Harden.  Though, different than Kobe, James Harden and Dwight Howard’s relationship had the same result, ending in Dwight not happy, the team not winning, and Dwight leaving for another city and another team.

Harden is a more quite guy. More of the reserved, keep to himself kind of personality.  This too was much different than what Dwight is.

On the court, Harden has carved out a career being a great scorer. He isn’t afraid to take the ball to the hoop, he isn’t afraid to shoot (from anywhere at anytime).  He doesn’t pass much.  Defense?  Harden has chosen to adopt the step aside and swipe at the ball method of defense.  To say Harden demands the ball is an understatement.

Howard found in Houston that things really weren’t that different than they were in LA. He had a teammate that was taking the spotlight away from him, taking shots away from him, taking everything he had wanted away.  This time though, he didn’t have a teammate who would challenge him, he had a teammate who would do the opposite and more or less isolate him and leave him on his own little island.

Dwight said in an interview with ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” recently that his relationship with Harden”wasn’t as good as it needed to be for us to succeed.”

He went on to say, “But, you know, looking back on it, there’s really nothing that we can do about it now. Talking about it amongst ourselves is great, but for myself, and I think for the Rockets, we all have to move on and let that chapter of all of our lives pass.  I wish the relationship would have been a lot better, but throughout all the things that happened the last couple of years, I think it’s shaped and molded me into the player – the person – that I am today.  It made me stronger.”

After it is all said and done, yes Dwight, you are correct it is all about you. And as long as it is all about Dwight, you will not win, you will not succeed and with the game being a perimeter based game, you will not be the focus.  Good luck in Atlanta, but my not so out of the box prediction, is that there will be a similar ending as was in Orlando, LA, and Houston.

Sorry, now that my rant is over, back to the question at hand. It is clear that Kobe Byrant was the tougher teammate for Dwight to play with.  Dwight didn’t like and couldn’t handle the constant pressure, constant challenge, constant nagging, constant work that comes with being teammate to one of the greatest players ever.

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