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James Harden earns more than a trophy with the 2018 MVP award

SANTA MONICA, CA - JUNE 25: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets talks to the media during a press conference after winning the Most Valuable Player Award at the NBA Awards Show on June 25, 2018 at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Will Navarro/NBAE via Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - JUNE 25: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets talks to the media during a press conference after winning the Most Valuable Player Award at the NBA Awards Show on June 25, 2018 at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Will Navarro/NBAE via Getty Images)
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James Harden finally takes home his first MVP award on June 25, and the trophy represents more than just some hardware.

The third time was the charm for James Harden. After finishing in second place in the voting for the league’s MVP award in two out of the last three years, Harden finally received the honor in recognition of a third MVP-caliber season this year.

But the trophy, and the award in its entirety, is more this year than just the most sought-after individual accolade in the sport.

What it more importantly represents, is recognition. That’s always what awards like this are about, but particularly so in Harden’s case this season.

Harden is not some mystery talent that no-one is aware of. The man is a national superstar in the league. But in the same breath, he’s also one of the most underappreciated and disliked stars of the modern NBA.

Why is that?

That is a result of his style of play; he’s not the type to be overly flashy or loud with his game to draw attention to himself. He’s the kind to give your team sleepy buckets and lure your favorite player into fouling him four or five times a game. People outside of Houston don’t much appreciate that, and the foul-drawing, along with a fabricated perception that he doesn’t participate on the defensive end of the floor (a fabrication that even made an appearance several times during the award show via bad jokes from host Anthony Anderson), has drawn him tons of criticism from media and fans alike.

But in spite of that, what has kept his name in the headlines and in the award races these last few years hasn’t been a level of pizazz or showmanship; just the quality of his game. It’s a testament to how good he truly is that he managed to collect enough votes to win the award through all the condemnation without mean-mugging anybody or throwing down any 360 dunks.

The numbers

30 points, five rebounds, and nine assists-per-game as the best player on a 65 win team is what ultimately earned him the award when 29/8/11 on a 55 win team wasn’t enough in the year prior, and when 27/6/7 on a 56 win team wasn’t enough two years before that. Leading the league in scoring on a 62% true-shooting clip while leading his team to the best record in the Western Conference is finally what overcame the noise.

He has improved his production every year since he arrived in Houston, becoming one of the league’s best scorers and more recently one of its better playmakers. That’s what should flip the script for people on James Harden, and what this MVP award should represent; that he is a hard-working student of the game and a fierce competitor. He is one of the most skilled basketball players of all time, and he never stops trying to improve on his individual skill-set or attempting to push his team over the championship hump.

It’s finally his time

Harden finally getting his due credit should be as satisfying for fans as it likely is for him. The quiet hooper with sick facial hair, dope fashion sense, and the talent of an all-time NBA great should be hard not to root for.

But hey, if that isn’t enough for some, and if some still want to continue to discredit him based off of some YouTube compilations, then that’s just more motivation for Harden to want to give those that appreciate his game something better to watch next year. Congratulations to Harden on the award win, and here’s hoping that more people start to see him for the player that he really is.

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I’ll leave you with Harden’s final words as he concluded his award acceptance speech:

“I’ll see y’all next year. Swag!”

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