The facial hair that caused oceans to boil is heading south to the land of Tex-Mex and Astrodomes and now I’m left to wear my Fear The Beard shirt only when I feel like being ironic.
This is not meant to be an indictment of Harden or Presti or Bennett or the ownership group or Morey or the CBA or anything of the sort. This is meant to remember and celebrate James Harden’s time as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder because it was fun and unique and different and exciting and good. Just like his game.
There are stupid people out there who will turn the narrative of his time as a member of the Thunder into a negative thing, and it was hardly that. They’ll call him selfish, and he hardly plays that way. They’ll forget what all he did. And that’d be bad. So let us put on our seatbelt, turn on our favorite Privaledge song, and merge onto memory lane.
I’ll miss him putting JJ Hickson in a poster and then exhaling quickly several times over.
I’ll miss him hitting dagger three pointers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against Dallas in 2011 and lifting his head toward the sky and screaming like a bearded banshee.
I’ll miss Angle, the play that he and Nick Collison turned into poetry so beautiful that I have to believe Robert Frost would get worked up over it had he been alive to see it.
I’ll miss that pocket pass and the way he held the ball out in front of him on his lane forays just begging for someone to foul him.
I’ll miss him putting Dallas in a torture chamber during Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs in 2012. A night where, for the final quarter and a half, he looked like he could not be touched.
I’ll miss him hitting that ice water three in Game 5 in San Antonio last year when the play broke down and he had to put it up.
I’ll miss him scraping the hardwood with three fingers when he hit a three. I’ll miss the back and forth any time he played Kobe. I’ll miss the bow ties and the Tom’s with his face on them and the orange sport jackets.
I’ll miss seeing fake, felt beards attached to the made up faces of elderly women in the stands at Chesapeake.
He calmed the Thunder. In a time where we could not be trusted to always play with poise and execute, he was there to steady the ship and rally the troops and perform surgery on a team’s defense.
The guy played with a certain smooth aesthetic that he made people take notice. His game was one that incited opinion. You could not be indifferent on the man. You loved or you hated. There was no gray to him.
He had an old man game that he only elevated to athletic, “eye level with the rim off one foot” when he needed to.
I’ll even miss the flops.
James Harden is good at basketball.
Some people who are Thunder fans will say that isn’t so because they are jaded and have selective, short term memories. They’ll talk about how he went all Gob’s Aztec Tomb in the Finals and disappeared and, sadly, that’ll be true. He didn’t play well in his final games as a member of the Thunder and that sucks because those games were kinda sorta super important.
That doesn’t discount all the good he did. He was important to the Thunder’s success over the last three years. You could even go beyond that and call him crucial. He will not be easily replaced.
Kevin Martin’s not as good as Harden. Neither is Lamb. The trade wasn’t made because Presti thought that, because there’s no way that’s what Presti thinks. Presti’s smart. It was made because the team and Harden were at an impasse contract wise and it wasn’t going to get done and it was going to be a distraction. So, they cut ties and traded him while his value is at its peak.
I’ll still watch him. I’ll still cheer for him. He’ll go down there and average 24+ points a game and excite that Houston crowd and be an All-Star and maybe in a year or two we’ll see them in the first round of the playoffs. Lin’s a fine PG if he’s healthy and Asik will come into his own and Parsons will continue to develop and Royce White, if he gets on a plane, can be a monster. They’ll be just fine. They may even be good.
I hope he has success. I hope he wins a lot…cept for when he’s playing the Thunder.
Then I hope Thabo puts the clamps down on him. Then I hope he is rendered useless and can’t hit anything and can’t get into a rhythm and continually gets blown by on defense. I hope he gets dunked on by Kevin and Russ and Serge and I hope Nick draws a charge on him.
But I guess that’s sports. Sometimes you have to wish some ill will on the people you love.
We Thunder fans can romanticize the way we look at things all we want, but this is what can happen when you love a professional basketball team. They can get broken up. Guys will leave and the things you think that they think and value might not be on point with what you think and value. They do what they think is best for them. For that, I won’t throw stones. And the thing is, that’s not even an original thought by me. Like, not at all. I hate that I even wrote it down. Players move on and management trades them and you get reminded that all this is fleeting. This happens with a different team every year. Players, even ones you love, can leave.
I have a friend named Evan Grace. I played basketball with him in college. He holds the OBU single game record for three pointers with 11 when he went drip drop unconscious at Mid America one year (That has absolutely nothing to do with this story but I wanted to brag for him). Like me, he is a big Thunder fan. After the Game 4 win against Dallas this last year, the one where Harden treated the Dallas defense like they were a church league team, I called Evan to celebrate with him. We talked about the game a lot and told some jokes and just recounted our favorite plays of Harden’s from that fourth quarter. That same fourth quarter that, in a lot of minds (maybe even his), decided once and for all that he was a max guy. Evan said this:
“If you had only ever watched that game, you’d say beyond a shadow of a doubt he was our best player.”
He had games like that. Games where he’d make KEVIN DURANT AND RUSSELL WESTBROOK afterthoughts. Games where he truly dominated. Games where he made memories for anyone that was watching. Those memories weren’t fleeting. They’ll stay.
And, if you were a Thunder fan, it was awesome.
He’s gone, yea, but that doesn’t change the stone cold fact that James Harden was awesome.
R.I.P. Thunder version of James. May your beard grow long and may you prosper.
*Pours one out for his homey*
The Thunder version of James Harden is survived by Trina. He is now a starting shooting guard for the Houston Rockets.