When James Harden first arrived with the Sixers, he came promising “scary minutes” whenever he and Joel Embiid shared the court together, and the early returns were promising, as they piled up wins and paraded to the free throw line together.
Brief regular season success, as we all should know by now, isn’t an indicator of greatness, but in the world of pundits, hot takes are necessary and plenty got carried away in the moment. Among the common refrains among those bullish on the Harden-Embiid pairing was that they could be the modern day Shaq and Kobe, a title that has been passed down over and over again whenever a star guard and star big man share the floor together, despite there having not been a single duo that’s been able to reach those heights since.
Shaq himself was asked about the comparisons and made clear that Harden and Embiid were “not close” to he and Kobe, and would have to do an awful lot for a sustained period to even get in that conversation. With the Sixers exiting once again in the second round this week, Shaq decided to remind everyone of those midseason takes and issue a decree that there will never be another duo like he and Kobe, and that comp needs to be retired.
The best response to Shaq’s post was from ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins, who offered an earnest apology to the big fella for getting caught up in the moment, and blaming Harden for it all — while showing that he’s clearly been spending too much time around Stephen A. Smith with a “that damn Harden.”
Shaq is right that we should just retire the Shaq-Kobe comparison, for a variety of reasons. For one, Shaq and Kobe are fairly comfortably two top-20 players all-time, which most all of these duos that get that comp are not. On top of that, the game has changed considerably and it’s hard to dominate the game as a guard-big combo in the same way as Shaq and Kobe did, and as such a great guard-big combo is likely to look pretty different than those two. Finally, Shaq and Kobe spent nearly a decade together and authored one of the most dominant three-peats the league has seen, so making the comp before a duo has won at least two titles is just begging to look silly eventually. On this one we should listen to the Diesel and find something else to compare the next budding guard-big duo to.