Kobe Bryant was well-known for his competitive spirit. He would do anything that he could to gain an advantage over his opponents, apparently including trying to sow dissent within a rival team. During the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Bryant was in the ear of young Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, telling him that he should be the one winning scoring titles, not his Thunder teammate Kevin Durant, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, via a recent episode of his podcast. Earlier that year, Westbrook’s Thunder had bested Bryant’s Lakers in the second round of the postseason.
At that point in time, Bryant was still trying to add another championship ring to his collection with the Lakers, while the Thunder, who had a trio of future MVPs in Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden, were viewed as the top up-and-coming team in the West. The Thunder made it to the NBA Finals in 2012 but lost to the LeBron James-led Miami Heat, and then never made it back. Harden was traded to Houston the following offseason, and Durant went on to sign with Golden State as a free agent in 2016. Ironically, an inability to coexist with Westbrook on the court is thought to be a big part of the reason that Durant opted to leave Oklahoma City.
In 2012, what I remember with Kobe was he spent a lot of the – or he spent some of that – Olympics with Russell Westbrook telling Russ, “You know, you should be winning scoring titles. I don’t know why you’re letting Kevin win scoring titles. You should be the one winning them.” Anything he could do to plant a little seed of dissent with two teammates, it was pretty funny.
By playing to Westbrook’s ego and pitting him against Durant in his own mind, Bryant was likely hoping to throw off the chemistry of a team that he viewed as a legitimate threat. These are the lengths that Bryant would go to in order to gain an edge. Given the level of respect that the younger generation of players has for Bryant, it’s likely that Westbrook took Bryant’s words to heart, at least to a degree. Bryant’s plan eventually worked too, but he didn’t get to reap any of the benefits. By the time that Durant walked away from Westbrook in 2016, Bryant had already retired.