“Of course I should be in the conversation. I receive a lot of hate, but it won’t stop me from going out there and killing every single night, being the dog that I am.”
Over the past nine games, Harden has had one of the best stretches of his career and- dare I say- in NBA history.
James Harden’s last nine games:— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 28, 2018
29 PTS, W
50 PTS, W
32 PTS, W
47 PTS, W
35 PTS, W
35 PTS, L
39 PTS, W
41 PTS, W
45 PTS, W
That’s 39.2 PPG. Beard is locked in. pic.twitter.com/s49zSSRKAh
Over nine games, he’s averaging an astounding 39.2 points per game, eight of those games coming in wins. During this span, the Rockets have beaten the likes of the Celtics, Thunder, Spurs, Lakers, and Trail Blazers. Their current three-game winning streak has also been without Chris Paul.
And, of course, it’s not just this series of games that Harden has dominated. As I’ve written before, Harden should have been in the MVP conversation all along. For the season, he is averaging a career-high 32 points per game (leads the NBA), 8.3 assists, and 5.5 rebounds on 44-percent shooting from the field and 38-percent shooting from three (his highest of his Rockets career on his highest career three-point attempts per game).
So with these numbers and the fact that Harden has almost single-handedly willed the Rockets to 19-15, why is he talking about “hate?”
It has everything to do with how some national media entities are covering him. Somehow, the league’s MVP has become the punching bag of NBA social media.
James Harden and the Rockets travel to Miami to take on the Heat tonight on TNT! pic.twitter.com/vx1TV9WXfd— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 20, 2018
Pack a bag and bring your passport 'cause we're traveling with James Harden! pic.twitter.com/eOJHJUebTQ— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) December 21, 2018
Did Kyrie travel like Harden last night? pic.twitter.com/oSyn26mpxr— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 28, 2018
Let’s talk about hate. I despise the word “hate” or “haters” in sports because I feel like it’s never used correctly. “Hate” is used by certain fan bases when they receive any form of structured criticism, even when it’s accurate. “Hate” is also used incorrectly when describing actual problematic judgement of athletes, I.e. “Shut up and dribble.” “Hate,” more accurately, is when a player drops 50 and gets called out for having 2 assists. That’s hate.
So I will say that I don’t consider the above posts “hate.” In the age of social media, large platforms that were once considered professional almost need to resort to humor to garner and retain a following. The issue is much deeper than “hate.”
Making fun of Harden is now a common theme. I didn’t save these Tweets (except for the NBA on ESPN one). I typed in “Harden travel” in the Twitter search bar and these appeared. Poking fun at Harden’s style of play is a weekly occurrence for several entities; so much so that Rockets CEO Tad Brown stepped in for his shooting guard.
League MVP working his ass off to generate the revenue that keeps you employed— Tad Brown (@tadbbrown) December 21, 2018
I’m not telling you to feel bad for Harden. This is just to gain awareness for what is happening. I don’t believe this is some kind of conspiracy formed among national entities to make Harden look bad, but I do believe that this is a case of low-hanging fruit.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, travels, embellishes contact, whines to the refs, etc., but Harden takes the brunt of it because he’s the most polarizing player in the NBA not named LeBron James. Even when someone prominent does something controversial, like Kyrie possibly traveling above, it’s compared to Harden.
Now we get to the actual issue of what it’s evolving into.
Some larger accounts are taking it a step forward and instead of looking to humor their audience, they’re pandering to them. The lowest common denominator of any sports following on Twitter, or all social media for that matter, is not something you want to pander to because you end up looking like this:
Behind a big but inefficient scoring night from James Harden, the Rockets eked out a Christmas victory over the Thunder https://t.co/TK0k85xGI1— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 25, 2018
James Harden had 41 points off 35 shots. pic.twitter.com/RzLaIpmp4k— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) December 25, 2018
Writing non-story lines.
Adding the fact that a huge performance was inefficient does nothing for the over-arching theme of Harden’s night, which was the fact that he had to score 41 points to get his team a four-point win. Never do you hear a superstar’s 40 or 50-point night described as “inefficient,” especially coming in a win, and never do you hear dismay when it’s on 43-percent shooting. This seems like this is what pages are succumbing to: celebrating 40 points but adding a concession about shooting percentage to please all levels of the fan base.
Yahoo! Sports has easily been the worst repeat offender of this pandering tactic.
The referee one is the most damning because it can hardly be called humorous or pandering; it just comes off as a bias against Harden. All of these comes off as a bias against Harden. This is something that you see at the bottom of a Bleacher Report post. The next step here is telling Ben Simmons, “shoot a three, you coward!” or saying that Kevin Durant ruined the league.
This is where there is officially a problem with coverage.
You should be an objective page first and foremost; you’re not an SB Nation blog. *HEYOO* (And not even we repeatedly pick on a solitary player). When you repeatedly smear a player’s game, they take notice. This is how you lose credibility because where exactly do you go from here? You’ve become this entity that takes on one of the league’s most prolific stars, so how are you supposed to cover him in earnest afterwards?
More importantly, this is a reflection of your writers, the individuals who cover the league for your page daily. Can you imagine this being the type of coverage going on when Shams and Woj were the forefront tandem of breaking NBA news at Yahoo? This would have never been allowed.
Now we ask the biggest question of the night: Why does this all matter?
For one, you’re causing a mob mentality. This is escalation. You’re welcoming a conversation of negativity and poor takes, while also isolating an entire fan base of people that are Rockets fans, Harden fans, and fans of impartial reporting.
Above all the pettiness, though, these are still national accounts, and they’re controlling a narrative. This is actually important because narratives do exist.
Ahead of the 2016-2017 season, the narrative was planted in the offseason that this was going to be Russell Westbrook’s revenge season. When Kevin Durant was injured the year prior, Westbrook was putting up insane stats, becoming known for his triple-doubles. The story line was that now with Durant gone, Westbrook was going to put up numbers like crazy, and he did, and it was covered like he could do no wrong. It’s not like the MVP was un-earned, but it also isn’t a coincidence that the prediction of an MVP season came to fruition, especially when there were other worthy candidates.
It’s also not a coincidence that it took an undeniable, irrefutable stretch like this for Harden’s MVP season to finally gain traction. No matter how great your season is, if you’re getting treated like back when Shaqtin’ A Fool was ruthless to JaVale McGee (that was brutal), you’re always going to be playing from behind.
The narrative doesn’t haven’t to be geared toward Harden, but it should also give him a chance. Big nights of his can be celebrated without concessions, especially in wins. And, yes, you can make fun of his alleged travels, but maybe match that gusto when it comes to other players. After all, this is league MVP we’re talking about, and we take notice when you’re trying to celebrate him after all your criticisms.