James Harden is not happy that he wasn’t the MVP last season, and he’s not afraid to say it. In fact, in his interview with Fran Blinebury of NBA.com, he was downright unequivocal about it.
Harden serves as his own attorney:
I know I was the MVP. That’s 100 percent given all the things that happened last season.
Credit the Golden State Warriors for an unbelievable year. They had an unbelievable team, coaching staff, everything.
But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.
“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”
And while some might rip him for his bravado, it’s worth saying that the players agreed with him, granting him their version in the Players’ Choice Awards.
But this is not another re-argument of last year’s award winner. Those arguments are tired and accomplish nothing. For all the bitterness that’s been exuded since, the NBA has yet to strip Steve Nash his second award and have it bestowed upon Kobe Bryant, or to tell Derrick Rose to hand his trophy over to LeBron James.
No, this is about the attitude of a player who feels slighted. There are some who are going to hate that. Harden has a persona that rubs some people the wrong way. His furry face has lost its charm to some. They hate the way he drives, the way he scores, the way he draws a ridiculous number of fouls. They’ve convinced themselves that he has never scored a point that wasn’t from the free-throw line and they’re persuaded that every one of those trips was drawn by a flop.
Others appreciate the “old-man” game exhibited by the young man, the methodical way he goes about attacking one defense after another, how he dismantles them with his ridiculous crossover step-back, and then when he has his defender off balance either bulls past him or into him, drawing the foul.
They notice his range (he had just 13 fewer threes than Kyle Korver last season) and his ability to get to the rim. He made 13 more shots in the restricted area last year than Blake Griffin, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Harden is polarizing, and that’s not going to change. And that’s a theme from history.
There’s something about the angry superstar intent on proving himself that has vaulted players to the next level. Michael Jordan famously held onto a slight of being beaten out for his high school team so long that he invited that teammate to his Hall of Fame ceremony.
Kobe Bryant needed to prove he was more than Shaquille O’Neal’s sidekick. LeBron James took names of those who criticized him after he went to Miami.
They all went on to greater things.
Should Harden be angry? Does he have a right to be angry? These are questions which have no “right” answer, and the likelihood is that opinions on the comments will be based on a person’s feeling about Harden.
That’s fine. He’s not playing for the haters. He’s playing for himself, his team and his fans. And he’s learning how to do that.
Harden recalled his recent experience:
I was confident in my ability, but I didn’t know everything that was going to be required, expected. My first two years I was just trying to learn to score the ball at a high level every night, trying to build on that. Then I’m starting to hear, ‘Oh, he can’t lead a team. He can’t play both ends of the court.’ So I had to figure out how to play defense at a higher level and I think last year I did that.
And there’s no challenging this statement. Even the most ardent Harden critic has to admit that the man’s game has grown exponentially since he came to Houston. And when you add a chip to his shoulder, a drive to learn and be better, and the talent to be special, you get greatness.
Harden tells Blinebury:
Look, this is a grind. That’s why not a lot of players can be in this position. A lot of players think they want to be the man and they want to get all the attention. They want all of the positives, everything that comes with it. But they don’t know how difficult it is to actually to be in this spot.
Every time you lose, anytime you’re not winning, you’re blamed. It’s a tough position to be in. But that’s why the ones that are successful are truly meant to be in the position. For me, it’s just about continuing to work and focus on what I can control.
Harden is mad. He’s determined. He’s enduring. And he’s capable. And through all that he’s becoming mature and a leader. We often fall into the trap of thinking of the Bryants, Jameses and Jordans of the world as finished products.
But they all went through the process. They all felt slighted. They all got better. And they all used it to become great. Harden’s “failure” to win MVP might be the best thing that ever happened to him. Who cares if he’s right to be mad if he uses that feeling to propel himself to the Finals MVP this year?