There are plenty of people outside of Oklahoma City that could accurately be called “Die Harden Fans.” James Edward Harden, Jr. is easy for a broad range of people to love: the wayward bass player carting around his amps and an iPad with league-pass as he tours North America; the music promoter coke addict with a great hook-up for Knicks’ seats; the model on Russell Simmons’ arm whose ebony skin looks like toffee under the ABC camera lights; the 10 year-old boy in Oklahoma City that’s memorized all 64 of Harden’s box-scores this season; the destroyed Sonics fan keeping track of the Thunder on the hard edge of a masochistic’s handcuffs. Harden’s game and his look epitomize the retro hip of the contemporary NBA, but he’s that rare player who’s both style and substance in equal measure. It’s that equanimity of slams, smiles and sneakers that’s made him so influential on and off the court.
He’s also somehow perfect for a season that got flipped on its head this past July 1st. His Stonewall Jackson beard seems to say “I don’t give a fuck,” while his glasses and sweater vests offer an ironic detachment from the business casual Stern requirements. There isn’t a 6 man in the league that provides a team’s 3rd scoring option, balletic dribbling in the lane before twists to the rim, and an unmistakable funk; like pcp dreams of the dancing diaper man from George Clinton shows. He’s hip without trying, a true original, except too original and true to fit in that phrase. He also might be the key to the Thunder’s title hopes.
A hot scorer off the bench can be the difference between an easy victory or a comeback double-OT slug fest. With a minute and a half before the end of the second period in today’s Thunder-Lakers battle on ESPN, Metta World lost his Peace. He pounded his chest in a celebration that quickly turned ugly. After a big dunk, he thrust his left elbow in celebration that caught Harden squarely on cranium, and sent him cold to the court.
David Stern had already thrown his overlord’s remote through the window before Harden even hit the court, and you can be sure World Peace will be fined extensively and suspended (possibly for a couple games in the first round too). I wouldn’t be surprised if Stern overreacted (but just a tad) and banned him for the remainder of the season—including the playoffs (Artest has apologized, and claimed it was inadvertent).
Regardless of the league’s disciplinary reaction to the hit, Harden’s absence (he came back out to the tunnel after halftime, but then went back to the locker room when it became clear he was suffering from a concussion; a mild headache was enough to keep him out of the rest of the game and possibly the rest of the regular season) was a break for the Lakers.
Durant and Westbrook shot a horrific 14/56 combined for the game (11/34 for Durant and 3/22 for Westbrook) and we got to see just how important Harden is when their top two are limited. The loss of Harden and some timely Kobe 3’s down the stretch led to the Lakers’ improbable comeback victory, and increasingly equalized the hierarchy out West. Sort of like how Harden can make you laugh with delight during a fake on a defender in the open court, he can spark the same reaction just by rocking a pastel-colored sweater on the short walk from the parking lot to the dressing room.
I hope he’s feelng better, and there are no long-term ramifications from Metta’s hit. He’s my 6th man of the year, and the one guy I’d like to smoke a blunt with before eating tacos.