James Harden is one of the best players in the NBA; if there has been any more novel takeaway from the first half of the 2012–13 season, I can’t think of it. Stastically, he’s a top-10 offensive player, and he’s been a huge factor in the Rockets’ play-off contention despite their being the league’s youngest team, trailing only Kevin Durant in minutes played so far this season. If you can ball like that and have any modicum of personality, you’re basically fast-tracked to stardom, and Harden’s beginning to see the trappings of that as well, i.e., the Foot Locker commercial in which he sons Kris Humphries.
But there are other elements to being a marquee guy in the NBA that come along with that All-Star berth and that reputation as a go-to guy, a leader. You have to act the part. You’ve got to handle your business. And last night, James Harden handled his business like a GROWN MAN.
In the sequence above, which took place toward the end of the first quarter during the Rockets’ 114–108 loss the the Heat, Ray Allen hounds Harden as he takes the ball up the court. It’s important to keep in mind here that Allen is a future Hall of Famer, a living legend, one of these guys we’ve been talking about. Allen’s a Grown Man. And he’s going to give it to upstarts like Harden, because that’s what the veterans do in the NBA — they kick the young kids’ asses.
So, Harden’s taking the ball up the court, and he’s running out the clock, trying to get things to the end of the quarter. In the process of killing time, he also basically throws down the gauntlet: This will be Allen vs. Harden, one-on-one. Harden applies a dizzying crossover, shaking free just enough space between him and Allen to put up a high-arcing three, and, as the shot swishes, Allen lurches into Harden in a bit of contact that, if it wasn’t a foul, was at least kind of a dick move.
As an old dude, Allen’s athleticism and defense — never exactly the hallmarks of his game — have fallen off. Also as an old dude, Allen is more willing to use crafty tricks like falling into a shooter and planting his leg under the guy’s jump shot to either intimidate or otherwise scare his man. In cases like this, most players in the league would get up and go jaw at the ref, whining about the uncalled foul; they’d stay on the wrong side of the court, bungling their side’s defensive transition; the worst offenders, the Demarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondos, might end up getting a technical, partially erasing the good that they’d just done. Harden doesn’t do that. Harden gets up, runs back, and gets right in Allen’s face.
And then, when he gets up in Allen’s face, he doesn’t start shouting or shoving or otherwise showing that Allen accomplished what he was trying to do, i.e., get in his head. Now, I don’t know what Harden says to Allen here — for all I know, they could be talking about the last time they got dinner together, or Harden could be telling Allen that his wife tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios — but I’m pretty sure I have the gist.
To me, it seems like Harden’s saying,
— Old man, what are you doing?
— You can’t pull that shit on me.
— I’ll just hit that shot again.
— You think I won’t? I will.
— This is not your league.
That’s how you handle your business. James Harden knows what he’s capable of, and he shows it, and then he reminds Ray Allen about what he just showed him.
Rondos and Cousins of the world, take note. Harden may be only 23 years old, but he’s a Grown Man.