James Harden and Russell Westbrook go back in the game of basketball for over a decade. Starting as the second and third options for the Oklahoma City Thunder alongside Kevin Durant, the pair find themselves on a reunion tour this year. Recently, Westbrook explained how he met Harden and how their relationship has grown over the years.
How did James Harden and Russell Westbrook meet?
Before their NBA days, Harden and Westbrook crossed paths on the Los Angeles basketball scene as both grew up on the AAU circuit and other leagues around the city. At the time, the hungry teenagers pursued similar hoop dreams. But they weren’t surefire superstars by any stretch.
Westbrook joked about his initial thoughts in an interview with GQ Magazine. His first impression of Harden was not the most flattering. “We grew up in the Boys & Girls Club,” Westbrook said. “But obviously, being in LA … me and James played in the same league. It was like an All-American joint. James was a little chubby left-handed dude.”
Despite the competitive nature of youth sports, Westbrook was humble enough to see what Harden had to offer. He told GQ that “The Beard” was the better player back then. When the two departed for Arizona State and UCLA, however, a twist of irony would bring them together as friends.
Oklahoma City Thunder’s core
When the Thunder drafted Harden in 2009, he was the third consecutive lottery pick that OKC hit out of the park. With Durant’s superstardom and Westbrook proving to be the perfect playmaker next to KD, Harden became the backbone of the Thunder offense. The three went from lottery team to title contender in three years.
Harden, however, had to sacrifice his role as a starter to make this happen. Despite Harden’s talent, coach Scott Brooks saw his best fit as coming off of the Thunder’s bench. Harden made the most of it, winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award during his third and final year in Oklahoma City, but he wanted more.
His relationship with Westbrook and Durant was close, but the guard felt the Thunder expected too many concessions from him. When contract discussions arose, Harden saw the writing on the wall when the Thunder lowballed him. According to ESPN, this was the tipping point.
“I felt like I already made a sacrifice coming off the bench and doing whatever it takes to help the team, and they weren’t willing to help me,” Harden told ESPN. OKC shipped him to Houston. A young Thunder team ready for years of greatness was cut short before it had a chance.
Westbrook and Harden reunite
Now, back together for the first time since 2012, Westbrook and Harden are in different stages of their careers. Both are former MVPs, but Westbrook is more comfortable taking a background role, while Harden is putting up numbers rarely seen in the NBA.
Harden and Westbrook prove that despite accepting similar roles, they can still work together all these years later. The Beard’s 35 points, six rebounds, and seven assists per game make him an MVP candidate, yet again. While Westbrook’s sacrifices still get him 27 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists per game.
No team has ever operated like the Rockets. With two of the most statistically spectacular NBA players, many wondered if the two could function together. The playoffs may be a concern for Houston, but Harden and Westbrook have solidified their place as one of the best NBA duos. With years of experience, the best may still be yet to come for these old friends.
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