It’s the big 3-0 for arguably the second-greatest Houston Rockets player of all time (and let’s be honest, he’s either ranked two or three depending how you rate Moses Malone’s time in H-town), so happy birthday to the bearded one himself, James Harden.
The Beard is now firmly planted on the second half of the usual athletic prime for a professional athlete (approximately 27-33, give or take), but there’s definitely an NBA player’s arch that sees the physical and the mental come to their concurrent and synergistic peak simultaneously in the player’s early 30s. Hakeem Olajuwon won titles at 31 and 32. Michael Jordan was at his peak in his 30s. Even Dirk Nowitzki comes to mind, winning his ring at 33.
Even if they weren’t still at their absolute athletic apex, they were close enough to it still that their peaking basketball IQ and experience levels made them better overall players.
The point is, if Harden is going to get over the hump, it likely happens in within the next couple seasons. So while it may feel like a big whiff for the Rockets to have closely missed out on a title during the first half of Harden’s career and athletic prime, realize that the best very well may still be yet to come. Harden’s multi-faceted offensive repertoire of scoring and playmaking isn’t based on raw athletic ability (like a Russell Westbrook or even a Tracy McGrady) but primarily on skill, smarts, and strength; three things that should age pretty dang well.
With the cracks in the Golden State Warriors dynasty and massive big name player migration opening up the Western Conference like it hasn’t been in years, this very well could be the window of opportunity Harden and the Rockets need to bring Houston home their first NBA title in 25 years.
Birthday milestones (18, 21, 30, 40, 50) are often times of both reflection and of looking forward to what’s ahead, so thanks for the highlight reels over the years, James, and let’s cap off your prime time with a ring (or two).