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Time to admit James Harden is great at basketball no matter what you think of him.
Time to admit James Harden is great at basketball no matter what you think of him.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Stop Pretending James Harden Isn't Great Just Because You Don't Like Him

Talking about sports almost always involves discussing the things you hate as a fan. Sports radio is loaded with negative takes about the things that are wrong with teams and players. It often seems like fans enjoy being angry with their teams more than they are thrilled when those same teams are winning. Some may be propelled by the fact that controversy has more angles to discuss and is generally more fun than just saying, "We're great! Yay!"

But then there are manufactured negatives like the narrative that says James Harden isn't all that great. That his "greatness" is based on the era, the style of play, the way he is officiated.

Let's get one thing straight. James Harden is great. Capital-g great. Not just in this era. Not just because of the way he is officiated or the rules of modern basketball. James Harden is already one of the all-time greats and there is no argument you can make that doesn't sound stupid. So, stop it.

Now, how about we dig down into the real reason you believe he is not a top tier talent? Because if you are being totally honest, it has nothing to do with the substance of his game. You will try to pull out nonsense arguments about how easy it is to score 50. Then he goes and drops 60 in three quarters. You'll try to pull out that old chestnut about lack of playoff winning. We assume then John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, Elgin Baylor, Steve Nash, Pete Maravich and Allen Iverson are also on your list of players who weren't very good.

Just be honest. At night, in the dark, with only you and your thoughts, you know the truth. You simply don't like James Harden.

It's OK. You're allowed. You can like or dislike any one you want for any reason. But you aren't allowed to come up with moronic reasons why your dislike of him equates to him being bad at basketball. Because he is empirically great at it. So, put that logic to bed and tell the truth.

Maybe it's his beard. Or his personal style. It could be his rather mercurial personality or his game-time celebrations. Even most Rockets fans thought the stir it up move was a little odd.

More likely it is how he plays the game. The step-back threes, the incessant dribbling, the Euro-step...it's annoying, right? The step back, in particular, seems to be a real sore spot for people, unless the Mavs Luka Doncic is doing it over Lebron James.

But, with Harden, people seem to believe his play speaks to some level of selfishness — never mind consistently ranking in the top 5 in assists while also being at the top of the leaderboard in scoring.

In Harden's most recent 60-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks, commentators for the Hawks were incensed that Harden, who left the game after three quarters not to return, realized on the bench he had missed scoring his career high by a single basket.

They were critical of him for feeling that way when his team was already up by 50 saying Harden is "only about the points." This is a common refrain. But, as pointed out by folks on Twitter, when Larry Bird (yes, the great Larry Bird) got 60 against the Hawks, they were cheering for him even as he was jacking up shots in the waning seconds of the win to get it.

Harden is held to a different standard and it's not clear why. He just seems to rub people the wrong way and his play on the floor, no matter how awe inspiring and innovative, simply adds fuel to an ever-growing fire for those who find him objectionable. Whether it is a crummy, cherry-picked video of Harden's defensive shortcomings or his short-lived relationship with a Kardashian, it all flows right into the narrative that what he is doing isn't special when it most clearly is.

Look, you don't want to like James Harden. Cool. But, for the love of James A. Naismith, stop making up ways to disguise your dislike via critiquing his greatness. You can't. You're wrong. You sound like an idiot trying. Let it go.

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