James Harden: Beard Now Feared

Way back in 2010…

I was zooming along the 680 freeway, illegally on my cell phone, yapping to a friend about–what else?–basketball. And I was rehashing a favorite trope.

“Dude, Presti (messed) up on James Harden! I mean, it’s time to admit it. Look at Curry, Evans, everybody’s making excuses for this GM!”


At that moment, my rear left tire exploded into shards, sending the 97’ Ford station wagon swerving. The snaking car abruptly slowed, the phone flew from my hands. Metal scratched asphalt, sparks danced. The three-legged car was dragging, three lanes from the shoulder. To my left, a middle aged Asian man frantically waved from his minivan, pointing at the blown out wheel.

(Yes, I know about the absentee tire. This problem is frightening, not perplexing. I don’t want to die, thanks for caring.)

Zipping traffic blocked my path like a windmill on a miniature golf course. There was a two second window when I had enough speed to seamlessly switch lanes, but some awful person chose to slowly pass by. I screamed primal, throat-etching rage. I wanted to kill him–I just assumed “he” was a “him.” I’m no misogynist.

My relative slowness spawned a surreal state where the world blurred around as though perceived from a hurricane’s eye. I was terrified, but that fear brought the moment into focus, caused the auto pod to feel oddly serene.

(Perhaps I could just stop in the lane, allow cars break behind. But that would be rude. And I would feel uncomfortable, holding up traffic like that. I don’t want to be that guy.)

A traffic wave ebbed. In a nervous Russian roulette process, I negotiated the wheezing car to an exit. Unharmed, I sat, sweating, shaking, thinking that…

My last words would have been, “Dude, Presti (messed) up on James Harden! I mean, it’s time to admit it. Look at Curry, Evans, everybody’s making excuses for this GM!”

These are the moments that instruct as to what really matters, help you find religion, seize a new, meaningful purpose. Except I was quite comfortable going out like that. While I don’t want to die at 25, clarified mortality did not shame my existence. Because, ripping Presti-worship, connecting this reverence to a saccharine celebration of OKC’s youthful innocence, connecting that to the whitewash of Sonics demise…it all felt immensely important.

Many people have trivial enthusiasms that can grow to define them. There’s a scene in “The Simpsons” movie where “the comic book guy” faces imminent doom. He reflects on how he spent his whole life collecting comics and how there’s only time to say, “Life well spent!” Well, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed waxing self righteous about NBA basketball. To some, this may seem pathetic. To me, defending trivial basketball truth is a life well spent.

Which brings me back to James Harden. He’s been playing really well, no? Mr. Beard is shooting an iguana-burning 60.2 TS%, and nearing a PER of 16. As a sweet-swishing, defensively able two-guard, James is what so many teams need.

Looking back, my old assumption was: “Presti is hiding from the Harden pick, successfully cloaking a mistake as a “chemistry” choice. And all the idiots are falling for it!”

I felt confident in this belief because Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry were so much better as rookies. Then James Harden began his second year looking perfectly awful. So I chafed even harder when observers talked about how Steph or Reke would have “screwed up the Thunder.”

Well, Curry has cooled down lately. Evans has been exposed as a one-armed man. And James Harden is on his way to exceeding decency. My near-last statement was probably wrong. Harden has been good enough to puncture life-affirming intellectual vanity. If he wasn’t the right choice in 2009, he’s proving close enough.

Twitter: @SherwoodStrauss/Email: Ethanstra@gmail.com

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