In at least one of the many parallel universes in America right now, you can attend an unmasked birthday bash in the most populous city in a state that averaged over 4,300 new daily COVID-19 cases over the last week. James Harden knows this, and intends to use it to his strategic advantage, as he nears truly grandiose levels of "checked out."
Harden missed the Houston Rockets' first day of training camp on Sunday due to COVID-19 protocol, according to the team. The league required players to quarantine at home for a week leading up to training camp. Last Wednesday, Harden attended the rapper Lil Baby's birthday party in Atlanta, where he delivered a big gift. (Consider inviting James Harden to your next birthday party.)
A familiar silhouette was seen throwing money at a strip club on Saturday. He might've been back at the club the next day, this time in Las Vegas. Harden shared a grimacing emoji on his Instagram on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday night, ESPN's Tim MacMahon reported that Harden "told Rockets management he will return [to Houston] soon." Meanwhile, at training camp, new Rockets head coach Stephen Silas was asked about Harden's commitment to the team. "That's a question you're going to have to ask him when he gets here," Silas said, per MacMahon. "I'm looking forward to him getting here, getting in the building, and then we can talk about what's best. But you know, that's kind of a work in progress right now."
The NBA's COVID-19 protocols block players from attending bars, clubs, lounges, or indoor gatherings of over 15 people; teams that don't comply with league rules could forfeit games and picks. Harden has been rumored to want out of Houston, with Brooklyn as a possible destination. Is this the most elegant possible way for him to agitate for a trade? James Harden gets to remain in his natural environment—the club, mid-pandemic—and make himself ineligible to play for the Houston Rockets at the same time. How long can he keep this going? Something tells me he's eager to find out.