It seems that nearly every NBA rival Kobe Bryant thought he had left has become a friend during his retirement season.
However, after he departed Houston for the final time on Sunday evening off the back of 35 points, Kobe embraced someone who has always been a friend.
That someone was James Harden. A Los Angeles-born, self-professed Kobe Bryant fan who proceeded to outshine the legend in their final ever encounter.
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The Rockets came away with a 130-110 win over the rock-bottom Lakers on Sunday evening and Harden dropped 40 points on top of 13 assists at the Toyota Center.
Harden - who, to pay homage to Bryant, wore a pair of Crazy 1s, which were the Black Mamba's first shoes when he was with Adidas - spoke glowingly about his idol after the encounter.
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“It means everything - just him embracing the city of Houston on his way out,” Harden said. “On a side note, I just told him we need ya'll to beat Utah. We just need some help. But other than that, it was exciting just to see him go out the right way. The NBA is doing it the right way in every single game. In every arena he goes to, they're cheering on a legend. It's just a great feeling.”
Vino couldn't help but admire Harden's captivating performance, even if it meant he had to suffer yet another blowout loss in his final season.
“I was sitting on the sideline watching him go off,” Bryant said. “James is such a fantastic player. All I can do is sit on the sideline and shake my head at some of the plays he was making, the shots he was making. Those are difficult shots for 90 percent of the players in the league. He makes them look effortless.”
Rockets guard Patrick Beverley even acknowledged the bond between the pair of All-Star's and suggested that Harden will follow in Byrant's legendary footsteps.
“I think it's kind of a passing of the torch thing,” Beverley said. “They're really good friends, Lakers, Cali, of course. James has worked with him before, learned a lot from him.”
Interim Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff thinks the presence of Kobe helped push Harden to the heights he showcased on Sunday night and that was a sufficient motivator for his franchise player.
“I mean, obviously, you grow up against a guy you watch and a guy you admire since when you were younger, [and] in the last time you play him you want to play really well,” Bickerstaff said. “James has been really good all year long ... it's a special feeling to play against a guy that's aging, that he grew up watching, a team he grew up watching. I think it's a special moment for him.”