ESPN’s Tim MacMahon has a long reported story this morning about “the Houston Rockets’ culture in the James Harden era.” I encourage you to read it: It is an incredible document of one guy being so cool that uptight dweebs cannot be around him without their bowties spinning and making a ffffweeeeeeee sound. Below, in no particular order, I’ve pulled out some of the key portions.
Unless they were on the front end of a back-to-back set, it was essentially a sure thing that the Rockets stayed overnight — or even an extra day — after games in Los Angeles, Phoenix and other road cities that rank among Harden’s favorite stops.
If the Rockets had two or three days between games, it was a good bet Harden would call for an off day and charter a private jet to party in Las Vegas or another city. He always gets an excused absence from the first practice after the All-Star break for the same reason.
Harden has pushed the Rockets to upgrade every offseason, saying he would want to be traded if they couldn’t contend, sources said. And he had final say on things beyond just travel and practice schedules as well. He could call the shots on personnel moves, both on the roster and the coaching staff, a power he flexed to push for the firing of head coach Kevin McHale and departures of co-stars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, sources said.
“If they have multiple days off, everybody knows: James is going to fly somewhere else and party,” a member of last season’s coaching staff said. “But he’s going to come back and have a 50-point triple-double, so they’re OK with it.”
[Russell] Westbrook didn’t tolerate tardiness. With the Rockets, scheduled departure times were treated as mere suggestions by Harden and others.
On one occasion in the Florida bubble, Harden waited to get his daily COVID-19 testing until just before the Rockets’ film session was scheduled to start. When he wasn’t on time, Westbrook barked, “Start the film! Start without him!” [Head coach Mike] D’Antoni explained that they’d just have to start over when Harden arrived, which didn’t do much to calm Westbrook.
After the Rockets let it be known they would not be swayed by unhappiness, Harden delayed his arrival to camp, instead choosing to hang out with rapper Lil Baby — gifting his friend a Prada bag stuffed with honey buns, a $100,000 brick of cash (aka a “Honey Bun”) and a Richard Mille watch worth well into six figures for Lil Baby’s birthday — while leaving [new Rockets head coach Stephen] Silas hanging.
Houston hasn’t accomplished its ultimate goal during its run with Harden, advancing to the Western Conference finals twice but never past that point. But the brilliance of Harden, the 2017-18 MVP and a top-three finisher in the balloting four other times over the past six years, provided Houston realistic hope of contending that only a handful of teams have each season.
He’s also one of the sport’s most durable stars, routinely ranking among the league leaders in minutes and often playing through injuries such as sprained ankles and shoulder bruises that would cause other players to rest.
Damn, that guy sounds cool.