A Comprehensive Look at the Giannis-Harden Beef


For years, past players and some fans have lamented the league “going soft”. Since so many players are friends with each other now, individual rivalries aren’t as present as they were in eras like the 80s and 90s.

Well, that seems to have all changed.

In an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, former MVP James Harden takes a direct shot at reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.


This beef didn’t just start today, though. Oh no, its origins can be traced all the way back to 2014. Let’s take a look back and see how we got to where we are today.

The First Shot

This video has been circulating around Twitter. It seems to be the first time Harden and Giannis got into it with one another:

This is from Giannis’ sophomore season. Harden pushes off on Giannis and is called for the offensive foul. Giannis then starts chirping at Harden and tries to take the ball away from him.*

*Look out for a rare Larry Sanders sighting, too!

Verdict: The Rockets are winning by 15 in a game in which young Giannis scored 10 total points. Giannis has no grounds to say anything here. Give up, rook.

Heads Up!

Ah, the infamous head shot. Giannis, in trying to hit Malcolm Brogdon in the corner, absolutely obliterates Harden in the face. Harden appears to shake it off, but looks confused and unhappy.

Harden’s response: “I don’t even know how it happened. I wish I would’ve seen it coming.”

Giannis: “It was an accident, obviously. But I’m so happy it bounced back to me and Ersan was able to hit the three.”

Verdict: As much as some have speculated the pass was intentional, there’s no way. Harden seems to have laughed it off as well at the time. Definitely needed a couple ice packs in the morning, though…

All-Star Selections 2019

The real All-Star beef was this year’s selection process, but we need to look at all the facts here. In the 2019 draft, Harden was the second to last pick out of the possible starters. A ridiculous spot for someone who was, at the time, averaging the most points per game in a season since MJ. While LeBron is equally guilty of this, there’s no sensible reason why Giannis would draft Paul George before Harden.

Perhaps the reason is because Harden was Giannis’ main competition for MVP. Take a look at this video:

Can you read lips? We here at TLSM certainly can…

Verdict: Clearly, Giannis wanted to win MVP and had some animosity toward Harden for being his biggest obstacle in that quest. That’s the only explanation for picking Playoff P first.

Adidas Joins the Fray

On March 26th, the Rockets faced off against the Bucks in Milwaukee. The Bucks ended up winning, but that’s not what’s important in the Giannis-Harden rivalry.

Before the game, Adidas – who rep Harden – took out this full-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The print is small but here’s what it says:

A message regarding James Harden 

(Which he understands you may not read).

You’re free to think James Harden deserves to be MVP. Or that he doesn’t. James Harden respects your freedom to decide. He’s a free-thinking person.

Which is good. Because free-thinking leads to opportunities in life. And basketball.

Like: Why does James Harden draw so many fouls?

His reply: Because they’re there to be drawn. If you can pull an advantage out of thin air, doesn’t the foul justify the action? Feel free to disagree.

You’re also free to be mad at James Harden’s step-back. You’re free to call it a travel and torch it on your podcast. Quick question though: if YOU could pull off that step-back wouldn’t you do it? James Harden thinks you might. But he freely accepts you might not.

You’re also free to think “popularity” is a statistic that determines a player’s value. We might just feel free to say: you’re overthinking it.

The point is, whoever you vote for MVP, it won’t change James Harden. He feels free to play the game how he plays it. James Harden is free to be James Harden. And you are free to be you.

He hopes you feel the same way. But understands if you don’t.


Verdict: Weird look. Biggest loser here is Adidas. 

Giannis wins MVP

In what was deemed a close race all season long, Giannis kind of ended up running away with the 2018-19 MVP Award. He averaged 27.7/12.5/5.9 on the year, compared to Harden’s 36.1/6.6/7.5. While I personally disagree with the outcome, I don’t think this was as big a snub as, say, Harden’s 2nd place finish to Russell Westbrook in 2017.

A couple months after the results, Harden had this to say:

This is where it really started to get interesting. Here’s the thing, though – Harden never publicly said anything negative like this unprompted. In this video specifically, Harden is surrounded by a couple radio hosts who are goading him on and telling him how great he is. It’s only human for Harden to then get into it and join them like he does.

Verdict: Giannis was a worthy MVP winner and Harden was gracious in defeat. If his comments above were taking a shot at anyone, it was the media. 

2020 All-Star Weekend

Now the real fun begins…

All-Star Starters Selected

We’ve already seen above that Giannis hates picking Harden for the All-Star game. This year, though, he actually decided to explain his decision.

Interesting reasoning. Especially considering Harden averages 7.3 assists per game compared to Kemba’s 5.

Verdict: Can we all just put aside our differences and agree to not let this man draft a team again?

The Elbow

This may have been the most competitive All-Star Game in years, but there is absolutely no place for something like this. What is Giannis even doing here?

Verdict: Biggest punch thrown so far from either side. Or should I say elbow.

Giannis’ Offensive Strategy

Team LeBron ended up beating Team Giannis in what turned out to be an incredibly hard-fought victory. Here’s what Giannis had to say after the game:

Ok. Hmmm.

There are a lot of things at play here:

  1. First off, from a basketball perspective, this is just a dumb strategy. Harden consistently ranks among the best post defenders in the league and he more than held his own here in the 4th quarter. Almost every time he was the primary defender, the possession ended in a turnover or a missed shot.
  2. Even if this was your strategy, why are you saying it in a press conference in which Harden’s name wasn’t even mentioned?
  3. The most striking thing, though, is that this doesn’t come off as malicious at all. Normally, there would be laughter from the player and the media after a comment like this. Giannis just says it as if it’s entirely natural and then moves on.

Verdict: I honestly don’t think Giannis was trying to start something here. He’s more to blame for actually following this terrible strategy than bringing it up like this at the press conference.

Rachel Nichols Interview

And that brings us back to where we are now. Harden spoke about a number of different things in the interview, but his biggest shot at Giannis was – the now infamous –

“I wish I could be 7 feet and run and just dunk, like that takes no skill at all, I gotta actually learn how to play basketball, how to have skill.”

This is a pretty unbelievable comment, especially coming from someone like Harden who barely speaks up about things like this.

Verdict: We all know Giannis has skill. BUT…Harden is allowed to make comments like this if Giannis is going to make equally misguided comments about his passing and defensive abilities.

What’s Next?

NBA fans can start marking their calendars for March 25th when the Rockets will take on the Bucks in Milwaukee. Should be an epic battle between 2 MVPs who clearly do not like one another.

For now, though, let’s just sit back and enjoy the drama. Who knows who will strike next.

Overall Verdict: Whoever gets further in the playoffs this year is the winner.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @TLSportsMedia for the latest NBA news and insight.


About Zach Zola

Zach Zola is a student at Brown University studying English. He grew up in New York, but has been a die-hard Rockets fan since the days of Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He believes that James Harden is the only King James in the NBA.

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