James Harden will start in the All-Star Game tonight for the first time in his career. Perhaps the narrative surrounding The Beard is finally changing.
Despite finishing as the MVP runner-up in 2015 and then posting even better stats the next year, the fans have never voted James Harden to the All-Star Game. The media has always nominated him. It turns out that narrative matters quite a bit when it comes to the general public’s opinion of a player. For the first time in a Houston Rockets uniform, the story is working in The Beard’s favor.
When Harden and Dwight Howard joined forces in 2013, the expectations soared. D12 was coming off of a dismal season with the Los Angeles Lakers and sought a new start. Daryl Morey offered him that opportunity, and the Rockets finally had a second star. Houston soon hoisted a sign near the Toyota Center that read, “Legacy of Bigs,” and had Dwight front and center.
The 2013-2014 season wasn’t bad for Howard and Harden, but they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Damian Lillard and the lower-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. Harden spent much of that season getting ridiculed for his lack of effort on defense, and fans started to dislike him.
After a summer with Team USA, James Harden appeared to be a changed man in 2014-2015. Dwight missed half of the regular season, but the Rockets won 56 games. Had Steph Curry not stolen America’s heart that season with his baby-faced domination, The Beard would have won MVP.
The media loudly questioned Morey’s decision to hire Mike D’Antoni, and predicted Houston to fight for the last playoff seed again in 2016-2017.
The Rockets were eventually eliminated that year in the Western Conference Finals by Curry’s Golden State Warriors. It was Houston’s most successful season in 20 years, but some fans still had a distaste for Harden’s foul-drawing offense.
Unexpectedly, things soured in 2015-2016. Dwight Howard and James Harden’s relationship was “cordially bad,” and the Rockets’ record showed, just 41-41 on the season. They snuck into the playoffs at the 8th seed and were dismantled by the Warriors in the first round.
Harden regressed defensively last year, much to Vine’s profit. He quickly acquired the reputation of being a bad leader, and wasn’t named to any All-NBA team despite posting a stat line of 29 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.1 boards per game.
Due to last season’s strife, nobody expected the Rockets to be good this year without Dwight manning the middle. The media loudly questioned Morey’s decision to hire Mike D’Antoni, and predicted Houston to fight for the last playoff seed again. Obviously, the narrative hasn’t gone the way it was supposed to.
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So far in 2016-2017, though, the Rockets are the third-best team in the Western Conference. D’Antoni has unlocked Harden’s full potential, making him the MVP favorite.
The offseason signings of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon have paid off beautifully, capped by Gordon’s 3-Point Contest victory. With some shooting help, Harden is leading the league in assists per game without sacrificing his scoring.
Because of all of this, the fans and media have changed their opinion of James Harden for the better. Sure, there are always going to be haters, but people viewed him positively enough to vote him in as an All-Star starter.
Lots of basketball has yet to be played this season, but the Rockets are primed to make a deep playoff run. It’s not even out of the realm of possibility that they could compete for a title. Houston is regarded as a good basketball city again, and The Beard is the main reason.
Basketball may be just a sport, but fans care quite a bit about the stories that go on within the game. The Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook feud has dominated headlines, and everybody wants to see the little guy Isaiah Thomas succeed. In that same strain is James Harden’s Redemption Story, with him going from bad leader and ball hog to MVP favorite.
Tonight’s All-Star Game will be fun to watch, but it signifies more to James Harden than that. For him, it means he’s regained respect and admiration from fans, that things have come full circle.
Tune in tonight at 7pm CST to see The Beard and the West take on the best of the Eastern Conference.