Paul Pierce explains how Houston Rockets guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook changed the perception of Los Angeles basketball.
The greater Los Angeles area has turned into a basketball factory that produces elite high school ballers, as many of the league’s top players hail from Southern California. Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Demar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday, and Kevin Love all hail from the Los Angeles area. The Houston Rockets have three of their own players that were born and raised in the same area, including James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Tyson Chandler.
All in all, that’s quite an impressive list, as it includes two MVPs, another MVP finalist in George, an NBA Finals MVP, and two champions. Although Harden and Westbrook eventually became MVPs, they weren’t always destined for greatness.
Westbrook wasn’t recruited by any of the powerhouses such as Duke, North Carolina, or Kentucky, and was viewed by UCLA as a backup option to Darren Collison. On top of that, Russ didn’t even get a scholarship to UCLA until Jordan Farmar declared for the NBA draft.
Harden’s high school coach Scott Pera (now the head coach at Rice) previously stated that he didn’t believe Harden would become an all-time great and future MVP, as the early signs weren’t as positive. Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce recalled having early encounters with Harden and Westbrook prior to their NBA stardom, as he explained on the Knuckleheads podcast.
Pierce explains how Rockets’ Harden/Westbrook have changed L.A. prep hoops
“I talked to James Harden when he was in college. I had been around Westbrook when he was a young kid and I wanted to be that idol that came from the same place they came from. I was like, ‘look, we ain’t soft out here. Y’all gotta come out here and rep. We’re L.A. cats.
And I just tried to set an example. Now it’s a different narrative on cats from L.A. When you look at guys like Harden and Westbrook, you’re like these cats are the real deal. It’s a different narrative on the L.A. ballers now.”
Pierce explained that the early narrative of prep players from Los Angeles was that they were soft and couldn’t play, as there hadn’t been a crop as loaded as the current one in the NBA. But with Harden and Westbrook having both emerged as top-10 players, the narrative has surely changed.
The Houston Rockets duo has emerged as two of the greatest players to ever play their position, which surely gives Los Angeles hoopers something to look forward to. Imagine how much differently the narrative will be if both players become champions, which is entirely possible this season, as the Rockets have been viewed as the dark horse for the resumption of the 2019-20 season.