James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo still have some bad blood over last year’s tight MVP race. The two superstars have been taking subtle shots at each other through the media ever since Antetokounmpo edged Harden to win the award. With Antetokounmpo set to capture his second straight MVP this season, Harden escalated the beef during an ESPN interview with Rachel Nichols that surfaced Friday.
Nichols asked Harden about a comment Antetokounmpo made during the 2020 NBA All-Star Game draft as he selected his team against LeBron James. When the TNT crew pressed Antetokounmpo about choosing Kemba Walker over Harden, he said “I want someone who will pass the ball” with a chuckle.
Harden didn’t hold back when Nichols asked him about it:
Here’s a transcription of what was said:
RACHEL NICHOLS: You do have people talking about some of the stereotypes that have blown up around you. Charles Barkley when they had the all-star draft, was saying ‘no one wants to take James Harden, he’s a dribbler.’ Giannis makes a joke on the air about ‘I want to take someone who can pass, I’m taking Kemba Walker instead of James Harden.’
JAMES HARDEN: I averaged more assists than him (Walker) I think.
RN: You ranked 10th in assists going into the all-star break, and Kemba ranked 36th in assists going into the all-star break.
JH: I don’t see what the joke is. But I didn’t even see it, I don’t pay attention to stuff like that. I just know that none of them can mess with me.
RN: Daryl Morey your GM had a great line about that. He said ‘being different doesn’t get appreciated until it works.’
JH: Or when I’m done. When it’s all said and done, they will appreciate it more. But I wish I was 7-feet, and could run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I have to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill. I’ll take that every day.
Yes, Harden really went there. It does seem like there’s some real beef between the two stars. Let’s run through everything else.
The Rockets fired off a salty tweet as Antetokounmpo was named MVP
The Rockets were prepared for Antetokounmpo to be named MVP over Harden. When it happened, they fired off three tweets they later deleted making the case that Harden should have won the award instead. Here’s a screencap of the first tweet:
NBA fans clowned the Rockets for this while noting Houston is also the franchise which had recently declared they would have won the 2018 Western Conference Finals if the refs made calls that went their way via an internal audit. This was the start of it.
Harden comments on the award decision
During an interview on Aug. 22, Harden made his first public comments about the MVP going to Antetokounmpo, saying “I think once the media creates a narrative about somebody from the beginning of the year, I think they just take that narrative and run with it the entire year.”
James Harden on last season and not winning MVP.— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) August 22, 2019
"I think once the media creates a narrative about somebody from the beginning of the year, I think they just take that narrative and run with it the entire year."
Via @979TheBox / @Rockets_Insider
Harden famously had a slow start to the 2018-19 season before going on a scoring barrage to put up some historic numbers the rest of the way.
Harden comments on the MVP decision again to GQ
In a September cover story, Harden again said the media had made an early decision to give Giannis the award. He continued: “But the things I was putting up were legendary. You going to look back in 10, 15 years from now and be like, is that really true? Did that really happen?”
Nah, it hasn’t happened yet, it’s too early. Wait until the preseason and when the regular season starts up again. But they [the media] for sure got some teams they locked in on. We all know. That’s just what it is. You can’t tell me that a guy whose team was a 14-seed at one point last year, and ended up a four-seed with everything that was going on — so many injuries — and who went on a 32-game 30-point streak, eight 50-point games, two 60-point games in one season … and all the talk was about [Giannis Antetokounmpo]? There’s no way.
I just had to look at what I could do to get better for next year. You can’t pout or be mad, and the kid had an unbelievable season, so did his team. But the things I was putting up were legendary. You going to look back in 10, 15 years from now and be like, is that really true? Did that really happen? That’s some stuff they were doing back when Kareem and all those other guys were playing. But I’m happy. We have a team goal of winning a championship, and I’m ready to get going now.
Antetokounmpo downplays the beef with Harden
Antetokounmpo was asked about Harden’s comments during an interview with Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo! Sports. This is what he said:
“That’s their opinion. They’re gonna have James’ back,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m never gonna say I’m better than James.”
But it doesn’t mean he’ll relinquish the award or apologize for it. “The trophy’s in my house,” he said.
Seems fair enough. Maybe this will die down when the new season starts?
Antetokounmpo accidentally fired a ball at Harden’s head in the season opener
The Bucks and Rockets faced off in their first game of the season, with Milwaukee taking home a 117-111 win. Antetokounmpo had 30 points in the game compared to 19 for Harden, who struggled shooting the ball from the field.
At one point during the game, Antetokounmpo threw a bullet pass that hit Harden square in the head on accident.
Antetokounmpo takes a dig at Harden in the all-star draft
“I want someone who is going to pass the ball,” Antetokounmpo said as he picked Walker over Harden.
Antetokounmpo says his team targeted Harden defensively in the NBA All-Star Game
After Team Giannis fell short in a thrilling NBA All-Star Game against Team LeBron, Antetokounmpo said his team’s late game strategy was to target whoever Harden was guarding:
Giannis Antetokounmpo says the Team Giannis offensive strategy in the 4th quarter was to go at whoever James Harden was guarding pic.twitter.com/pXV3Blz49P— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) February 17, 2020
“Offensively, we were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s who we thought we had an opportunity to score on.”
There’s real beef between Harden and Antetokounmpo
In a lot of ways, this beef makes sense. I’ll let my SB Nation colleague Mike Prada break it down:
“This sort of speaks to how they view the game itself. Giannis is so team-oriented and really doesn’t care about individual glory. I imagine he resents the way Harden plays. Meanwhile, I imagine Harden resents Giannis’ physical gifts and golden-boy image, he yearns to be loved like he is.”
Of course, Harden does pass, and has regularly put up huge assist numbers through the years. Antetokounmpo does have skill — there’s a reason why we’ve never seen a 7’ player be able to do the things he’s able to as a ball handler and transition force with masterful footwork.
Both are great players. It’s too bad these guys play in different conferences, because we’d love to see a playoff series against them.