Latest, best quotes from NBA stars: Giannis Antetokounmpo says James Harden is toughest player to guard

LeBron, Carmelo and Giannis are among the players who have connected with fans during the hiatus

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright NBA.com

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Mar 30, 2020 5:52 PM ET

Social distancing practices to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic are interestingly bringing fans closer to the game through revelations made by the players on various social media platforms as they await the all-clear to resume the NBA season.

Anyone logging onto Instagram has noticed the recent spike in live streams, many of them featuring star athletes. Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry provided the latest, and perhaps most beneficial use of social media by interviewing infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who answered several questions about the coronavirus and the approach we should all be taking.

 
Stephen Curry interviewed infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci last week on Instagram.

 Other NBA stars such as LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Carmelo Anthony have blessed the fans with insightful basketball stories and discussions to help us all get through this.

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LeBron feared 2011-12 Heat would break up if he didn’t deliver

LeBron James sat down for more than an hour on Thursday for his first-ever Instagram Live video, providing a look on the day to day in his family’s home as it self-quarantines.

Fans caught a glimpse of James’ children Bryce and Zhuri dancing, James playing cards with his wife Savannah, in addition to the NBA star joking with eldest son Bronny. James also took the time to answer questions from the fans, and revealed his mindset going into Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals with his Miami Heat behind 3-2 to the Boston Celtics in their best-of-seven series. James feared that Heat president Pat Riley would break up the team, including the vaunted Big Three of himself, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh the next season if Miami failed to deliver a title.

"My mentality was like, if we lose, Pat Riley may break us all up and I don't want that," James said. "It may be the quickest breakup in basketball history. And not only might they break it all up, my legacy going to take a huge, huge hit if I don't go out here and perform at an all-time high. Win, lose, draw, I had to be focused. I had to be locked in and lead us to victory. I didn't know if it was going to happen that way, but that was my mindset."

James racked up 45 points that game to go with 15 rebounds and five assists in Miami’s 98-79 win, which forced a Game 7. James and the Heat closed out that series with a 101-88 win over the Celtics to advance to the finals, where he averaged 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists on the way to winning Finals MVP and his first NBA title, as Miami defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1.

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Giannis: Harden is the toughest player to guard

We’ve seen the beef brewing between Antetokounmpo and Harden going back to when the reigning MVP joked in February while picking the All-Star teams that he selected Kemba Walker because he “wanted somebody that’s going to pass the ball.” Even after that game in which Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis, Antetokounmpo explained his team’s strategy late was “to find whoever James Harden was guarding. That’s who we thought we had an opportunity to score on.”

Harden countered later in an interview with Rachel Nichols when expressing frustration about Antetokounmpo winning the Kia NBA MVP award over him last season: “But I wish I was 7-feet, and could run and just dunk. Like that takes no skill at all,” he said, adding that “at the end of the day, if that’s what he believes, that’s what he believes.”

But Antetokounmpo made it clear he respects Harden, the 2018 MVP. Asked who is the most difficult player in the NBA to guard right now, Antetokounmpo took his time pondering the options, before stating, “I gotta go with James Harden.”

Antetokounmpo also ranked his all-time top NBA players on Instagram Live, and interestingly, James was the only active player on the list. Five of Antetokounmpo’s top six players all donned Lakers purple and gold in James, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Antetokounmpo also mentioned Michael Jordan among his top six.

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Carmelo Anthony says LeBron saved his life in the Bahamas

Portland Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony joined Dwyane Wade in an Instagram Live session on Friday. During the discussion, Anthony revealed to fans a story about how close friend LeBron once saved his life after he was nearly pulled out to sea by a rip current in the Bahamas.

“Remember, we jumped off the boat in the Bahamas,” Anthony explained to Wade. “Everybody swam to the little grotto underneath. Then we came out. All of y’all went to the boat. It was my fault though because I was trying to see the last little bit of the barracudas snorkeling and all of that. It was my fault. I look up. The current is taking me in[to] the middle of the ocean, opposite from the boat. All types of [expletive] was going through my head. I’m gonna be honest with you. I look up at the boat, and I see 'Bron jumps off the boat like he’s MacGyver. He jumped off the boat into the water. He was bringing me back with one arm. He’s swimming with the other arm, and he’s carrying me in one arm.”

Both Wade and Anthony then burst into laughter.

“I’ve told people this story before,” Wade added. “I say: ‘Listen, I’ve seen 'Bron do a lot of amazing things on the court. Off the court, when he went and saved 'Melo’s life.’”

“That was special,” Anthony interjected. “He saved my life. I can’t hold you. He saved my life. LeBron, I appreciate that. You saved my life that day. Them little flippers wasn’t working for me.”

Anthony also mentioned to Wade that he believes his 2009 Nuggets squad could’ve and should’ve won the NBA title, if only they could have defeated the Lakers in the conference finals. Denver finished that season with a 54-28 regular-season record, good for second in the West, with a squad featuring stars such as Anthony, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin.

Ultimately, the Nuggets would fall 4-2 to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals with Anthony and Bryant going head-to-head.

“I was sick because we were supposed to beat them that year. I don’t like saying all that, but when you re-evaluate everything, we really wanted Orlando in The Finals that year,” Anthony told Wade. “We were like: ‘If we get Game 1 in L.A. or Game 2, we’re going back to Denver. We’re sweeping them.’ We were going to beat them that year if we would’ve won in L.A. If we would’ve won both games, we would’ve beat them. We would’ve swept Orlando that year.”

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Trae Young: Facing Westbrook was my 'Welcome to NBA' moment

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young hit up Instagram Live with Maria Taylor of ESPN on Mar. 25 to discuss what he’s been doing while in self-quarantine. In the nearly 20-minute video, Young also discussed what it was like to finally play against Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook.


Young grew up in Oklahoma as a fan of the Thunder, where Westbrook played his first 11 seasons before joining the Rockets.

“Going up against Russ the first time back in OKC, he dribbled at me in transition, and then just turned around and started backing me down in the post. He did something. I was like, ‘O.K., alright. Now it’s my turn. We’ve got to go back at it.’ It was fun. That was probably my welcome to the NBA moment though.”

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Kyrie Irving discusses how LeBron ‘transferred knowledge’ to him
 


Plenty of players on social media are discussing James. Irving was no different in talking about his former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate.

The first pick in the 2011 NBA Draft after James left Cleveland to join the Miami Heat, Irving took to Instagram Live on Friday, where he was interviewed by friend and former high school teammate Jeremiah Green. According to Irving, he connected with James during the 2011 NBA Finals when Dallas defeated the Heat 4-2 in the series.

“I was actually doing a little mini internship before I got drafted,” Irving explained. “I had met 'Bron around that time, as well as in high school (at James’ basketball camp). So, we had a close relationship then, and it was strictly about transferring knowledge. You know, like what does this level look like for you? And I saw it up close. I got a chance to see it up close, and it inspired me. Obviously, Miami lost that year. Dallas won on a really, really miraculous playoff run. 'Bron played well. D-Wade played well. It was just very challenging, and I learned a lot from that. Then they went on to win back-to-back championships after that. And you come into the league during that time, and they’re just dominating everything. Then, you get a chance to play with 'Bron on that same team? At that level? You better believe if that shot comes to me, I’m going to be ready to take it.”

Irving would make good on those words in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals by hitting the game winner to deliver Cleveland a championship.

Irving also discussed his first experience of trying to size up Kobe Bryant.

“This is your time,” Irving said. “So, I get at the top of the key and I make a move, he stutters a little bit, and I spin. When I spun, this dude was waiting for that.”

 

 Trae Young to Luka Doncic: Let’s talk about our trade
 


As Young jammed to music on his Instagram live feed last Saturday night, a familiar opponent hopped in the comments.

It was Luka Doncic, who was laughing at Young's singing and dancing. The two 21-year-old stars have been linked following their Draft night trade in 2018.

“Next time I’m in Dallas bro, we got to get some wine, chill and talk about our trade together," Young said. "You the brodie, bro. People want us to hate each other, we can’t.”

Shortly afterwards, Damian Lillard interjected in the comments and asked Young to change the music he was playing to himself, better known as Dame D.O.L.L.A.

“Man better spin that D.o.l.l.a … luka stop playing lol,” Lillard wrote.

Young obliged and later committed to doing a joint live stream with Doncic one day soon.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here , find his archive here  and follow him on Twitter .

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