When the NBA decided that the Houston Rockets had plenty of time to reverse one of the all time great ref blunders, it was redundant. The Rockets loss at San Antonio was their own fault. Let’s rewind. The blunder happened in the fourth quarter when the Rockets were up by 13 with seven minutes to play. Three refs missing a basket going in the net was amazing and shocking. But it didn’t seal the game or steal it.
Despite being on the short end of a terrible call, the Rockets had time to recover, the NBA concluded. They were up by double digits. They were the better team. They had the best player on the court.
But these kinds of things happen to the Rockets, an absence of luck. Or, is it more than being unlucky?
The Rockets started the season with the Hong Kong mess. Give them credit for not giving in to Asian pressure and firing Daryl Morey. After the drama calmed down, James Harden began his personal assault on individual scoring records, establishing himself as the greatest isolationist scorer of all time. Without Steph Curry dominating highlights, Harden has the three point stage to himself and yet no one really cares.
Harden puts up 50 and 60 and 34 and 37 and everyone collectively yawns. Out of 22 games played, Harden has shot the ball more than 20 times in 70% of his games. And that’s with Russell Westbrook as a teammate. The historic nature of what Harden is doing is misplaced. It’s basketball but it feels like he has manipulated the game for his benefit
That’s the real protest. Why no one seems to care about what Harden is doing.
Perhaps if the Rockets were a dominant defensive team and an offensive team that didn’t cater to Harden’s offensive assault on the record books, and if Harden was a popular player, beloved and imitated, then maybe what he is trying to accomplish this season which is pre-Scottie Pippen Michael Jordan would be something to behold. But since we affix ourselves into a championship or nothing culture, Harden’s is reductive.
James Harden has figured out how to beat the system and you’d think that would be celebrated. But it’s not. Harden is a very unique superstar. He is identified as a great scorer and not a great basketball player implying, by omission, he is a one trick pony.
It has benefits. The devaluing of James Harden gives him cover. Harden is never blamed when a teammate that is supposed to help him win a title is shoved out of town because Harden wants it that way.
Except for his OKC days, Harden has had trouble creating chemistry with a player of his talent level. But no one calls him selfish, arrogant, a bad teammate. He gets to skate and play the way he wants without having to compromise.
Being James Harden is a mixed bag for the Rockets. No one will admit it but LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will never face what Harden faced with the basket that was no basket. LeBron and Giannis are revered as players and are given the benefit of the doubt. Their flaws are consistently fretted about until they fix them. Harden is lucky. He doesn’t have to worry about fixing his flaws. He can be himself all of the time.
Until a botched call reminds the Rockets that perception is reality. Many believe Harden is spoiled. He has been enabled to ruin a team sport with his isolationist view of the game. That he is given the green light to play the James Harden way and it comes at the expense of everyone else on the team and everything else, particularly a NBA title, is worse than any appeal that is denied. The Harden way wins the battle. But it will always lose the war.