Rockets: Could James Harden be suspended for violating COVID protocol?

James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
James Harden of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

With the Houston Rockets’ season set to start tonight, James Harden could be forced to miss the opener due to a potential COVID violation.

It’s been well documented that James Harden enjoys the party scene, as he’s reportedly attended parties in different states throughout the season, with the permission of the Houston Rockets. Harden has also been active on the strip club scene, as he’s had his jersey retired in one of them, after spending a million dollars in just one night the establishment.

Harden’s propensity to partake in the night life in the stripper capital of America hasn’t been a problem thus far, as he’s led the league on scoring in each of the last three seasons and has been an MVP finalist in each of the last four seasons, while also leading the Rockets to a top-four seed in the Western Conference during that span.

But times are much different now, as the novel coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world, and has caused over 300,000 deaths and 18.3 million cases in America. The virus has led to an abundance of canceled games across all sports leagues, in addition to player opt-outs, as the threat of contracting the virus during a contact sport has made many athletes reconsider playing.

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Another issue is that players don’t know if their opponents and teammates have been social distancing and practicing the recommended safeguards, such as avoiding large crowds. NBA commissioner Adam Silver concocted the league’s coronavirus protocol, which states that players are not allowed to enter bars, clubs, live entertainment venues, public gyms, spas or indoor gatherings of 15 or more people.

Could Houston Rockets’ James Harden be facing suspension?

Failure to abide by the safety protocols could result in fines, suspensions, adjustment or loss of draft choices, and/or game forfeiture, which illustrates the seriousness of following the rules. Harden has already violated these rules, as he’s been spotted in several clubs since the start of training camp, starting with attending a birthday party for trap rapper Lil’ Baby and was seen more recently in a Houston strip club to receive Christmas presents.

Another thing to note is that Harden wasn’t seen wearing a mask in any of the viral photos and videos, which raises the question of whether Harden even takes the pandemic seriously (which is an entirely different discussion altogether). Harden has essentially dared the league to suspend him, as he’s already technically violated the protocol several times before the season has even started.

According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the league office is already reviewing the most recent video of Harden’s strip club visit to determine if he should be forced to miss the Rockets’ opening game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Such a suspension would establish a precedent for such violations, and if Harden continues, the suspensions and/or fines will only get more hefty, and could even force the Rockets several draft picks (if it gets that far).

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What complicates the matter is that Harden has made it clear that he doesn’t want to play in Houston anymore and it’s within the realm of possibility that he could be trying to force the franchise to trade him. If his fascination of going to the strip club will prevent him from being able to take the court, the Rockets’ best move could be to simply deal him now, as there’s no telling if he’ll even be able to make it through the season in Houston.