Before he became famous for the beard and the sweet stroke and the shifty moves, James Harden was just another kid on the playground at Audubon Middle School, doing what every other 11-year-old with hoop dreams did while growing up in the shadows of a dynasty.

Harden imitated Kobe Bryant.

"I would try to, but obviously it didn't work," Harden said. "But I would try to. I would try to shoot my little fadeaway and things like that."

Bryant, who partnered with Shaquille O'Neal to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to three straight NBA championships from 2000-02, was Harden's favorite player. Back then, Harden was a proud supporter of his hometown team.

"Oh yeah, I was definitely a fan," Harden said. "It was fun watching Kobe and Shaq and (Derek Fisher) and all those guys. It was tough to beat them."

Harden and fellow Los Angeles native Russell Westbrook now return to their roots looking to finish off their one-time favorite franchise. Game 3 between the Thunder and Lakers is Friday night inside Staples Center. Oklahoma City holds a 2-0 series lead.

"It's a rivalry," Harden said of the Thunder and Lakers. "It's going to be some competitive battles out there on the court. Obviously we want to win. We're an up-and-coming organization that's trying to make a name for ourselves so it should be fun and a great series."