James Harden sure sucks, huh?
If the past 24 hours has taught me anything, it’s that James Harden is pure garbage. I mean, who cares that he led the Rockets to the 3 seed with no All-Stars on his team? Who cares that he spent the offseason getting better after a terrible 2015-16 season? Who cares that he changed positions? He’s still garbage. GARBAGE I TELL YOU!
I remember exactly where I was on October 27, 2012. I was house-sitting for a friend and walking her dog outside. So right there in front of St. Francis Apartments in Lubbock, TX, my phone exploded. I’m not a popular guy and I don’t text a lot of people, so when I get a bunch of text messages it’s usually because something important happened.
Some context: James Harden had been on fire in the playoffs with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Even though he was coming off the bench, he was proving to be an integral part of every huge win for the Thunder. He shoved a nail into the coffin of the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 as part of a 13-point comeback. Then he was a big part of a Game 2 comeback against the Lakers in the second round.
Still, it took a heroic fourth quarter effort in San Antonio to put Harden on the map for casual fans. In a series where the home team won each of the first four games, the Thunder went into Game 5 needing a win in order to close the series out in six games. It’s telling that in the Thunder’s biggest game of the season (and in the Game 4 win in Dallas and countless other close games), OKC didn’t hand the ball to either of its All-Stars. On a team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it trusted a bench player to close out its toughest opponents. Even with a young stud defender named Kawhi Leonard draped all over him on the shot that effectively ended the series.
Then Harden ran into the Miami Heat. The Heat understood Harden’s importance and defended him accordingly. Harden saw LeBron James and Shane Battier on him at all times and Miami blitzed his pick-and-rolls that had been effective throughout his career. The Beard shot 38% overall, 32% from deep, and even an uncharacteristic 79% from the free throw line.
So despite an incredible playoff performance packed with clutch moments, the narrative shifted to “James Harden isn’t clutch.” Therefore, not everyone thought James Harden was a franchise player.
Still, I was ecstatic. The Rockets had been desperate for a star. Any star. Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony had told the Rockets not to trade for them. The best Houston could hope for seemed to be trading a ton of assets for Rajon Rondo (remember that?). Harden was an oasis in the desert. He was a star that was happy to be in Houston.
As great as Harden was from the beginning (and he was GREAT at the beginning), even I didn’t see this James Harden coming. I thought he was an All-Star that was going to need a good chunk of help to succeed in the postseason. I thought he needed more All-Stars. And two years ago proved that belief as Harden wasn’t on the court for the famous Game 6 comeback against the Clippers. With Howard leaving last year, it seemed that Harden’s window was closed.
But I’ve seen too much from James Harden to think that way anymore. He’s incredible. He makes everyone better. He plays for his teammates and is the driving force behind every Rockets victory. Even when he plays poorly, he runs the show. During the regular season, he could play poorly and still put the Rockets in a prime position to win. In the playoffs, that’s a more difficult proposition (Game 4 vs. OKC notwithstanding).
I don’t talk about Harden too much in the previews. Maybe that comes across as bashing him or underselling his amazingness or contributions. In reality, I stay away from talking about Harden because it would turn these previews into love letters. It would be disgusting to read like a third-grader that has a crush on a classmate because they also like Digimon and Animorphs.
Make no mistake: James Harden is my third-grade crush. He’s my adult man-crush, too. He plays basketball perfectly, warts and all. He was the best player in the NBA this season. He should be the MVP, and he would be if the media wouldn’t keep changing the goalposts to screw him. There is pure joy I experience in watching the man play. I was alive for Hakeem Olajuwon and I love Dream forever and always. But James Harden is my favorite player of all-time.
More importantly: there are a grand total of five players that I know can be the best player on a championship team. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Steph Curry have proven they can be the best players on championship teams. I’m sure Kawhi will have his detractors, but he makes my list. I think Kevin Durant can and will be the best player on a championship team this year, so he makes four.
And then there’s James. That title is coming. It’s not coming this year. It never was. With the Warriors looming, no one else is winning that title.
But like winter, it’s coming.
Prediction: Spurs in 6.
Tip-off is at 7pm CT on ESPN.