The Gold Rush: How I Learned to Love to Hate James Harden
By BLS Columnist, Justin Goldman
Hate is a strong word, and one that we should be careful not to misuse. After all, true hate is the well from which humanity’s worst atrocities—Auschwitz, Rwanda, Cambodia—springs.
Of course, to “hate” a sports figure or celebrity is something a little different. I “hate” Mumford & Sons, but I don’t want them to die. Same for Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson. Well, maybe Mel Gibson. But anyway, the sort of hate we have for these people is mostly harmless, a way to express dissatisfaction with one cultural phenomenon or another.
With that laid out, I gotta say: I really, really hate James Harden, y’all.
I didn’t always hate him. When he first grew out his beard, while killing it as the Durant and Westbrook’s third wheel with Oklahoma City, I enjoyed the way he positioned himself as one of the early hipster stars of the NBA. And I put him second on my MVP list [link: http://www.buschleaguesports.com/index.php/the-gold-rush-nba-mvp-ballot/] a few week ago. I had begun to hear rumblings that people found his style of play aesthetically displeasing, and, as a Warriors fan, I wished him a bit of ill will after this:
And then, there was of course, this, which backed up some of the complaints I was hearing about him behaving in somewhat less than sportsmanlike fashion on the court.
But the truth is, I didn’t watch the Rockets at all during the regular season, so I never formed much of an opinion on him—until Golden State played Houston in the Western Conference Finals. It didn’t take long for my dislike of him to ripen. In the first two games of the series, in Oakland, Harden carved the Warriors up with a series of seemingly unstoppable pull-up jumpers. Everyone knows Harden has a devastating pull-up game, but what I realized from watching him up close is that a big part of the reason he’s so devastating off the dribble is because he commits an offensive foul on every single fucking play.
See that chicken wing he’s throwing out there with his right arm in this photo? He does it constantly. And the refs never call it. And when he’s not warding off defenders, he’s throwing himself at them and snapping his head back to draw bullshit fouls and get to the free throw line. And on the rare occasion when the refs don’t blow their whistles for his flops, he gets super self-righteously bitchy. It’s absolutely infuriating to watch, and it offends me as a basketball fan.
The interesting thing about when you really hate an athlete, though, is that it’s fun to hate him both when he fails and when he succeeds against your team. After crushing the Dubs for most of the first two games, it was glorious to watch him choke on the final possession of Game 2, when a bucket would have tied the series.
He did nothing in Game 3 as well, and it seemed like the Rockets would be swept away quietly. But then he exploded for 45 points in Game 4, almost singlehandedly prolonging the series. As he hit shot after shot, I got progressively angrier—but that’s what hated rivals do. Would I have hated the mid-’90s Cowboys so much if they hadn’t beaten the Niners in two straight NFC Championship Games? Of course not. And that hatred made the Niners’ eventual victory over Dallas in 1995 that much sweeter.
A similar thing happened this week. Harden destroyed the Dubs in Game 4, and then he completely self-destructed in Game 5, committing an NBA Playoff record 13 turnovers, literally fumbling away the series for the Rockets.
It was glorious to watch, all the more because of what Harden had done in Game 4—and because, when a Rockets fan walking down 2nd Avenue after the game told me Steph Curry sucks, I punked him so hard about Harden’s choke job that the guy literally crossed the street to get away from me.
So, in closing, I’d like to say to James Harden: I hate you. And thank you.