Newspaper writers get tons of emails from people trying to sell things. In the past few weeks, I’ve received press releases about top NBA draft prospect Jabari Smith’s visit to the Empire State Building (I’m supposed to care why?), the scandal of 30% of U.S. students not knowing how many stars are on the American flag (it’s 50, I just checked) and Jeep’s marketing campaign for the new film “Jurassic World: Dominion” (when a dinosaur chasing a Wrangler becomes a sport, call me).
On Wednesday, Bookies.com sent me an email with the subject line, “James Harden Next Team Odds.’’ Nothing bores me more than Harden’s quest to find another team that will pay him a lot of money to endlessly dribble a ball and not win. So I didn’t open it.
My sports editor suggested I might want to take a look because the gambling site had the Bulls as the fifth-most likely landing spot for Harden, who has an option to buy out the last year of his contract with the 76ers and become a free agent before the 2022-23 season. This ruined my day and, worse, made me mad that I had allowed it to ruin my day.
I can’t stand Harden’s game. I see no beauty in it. If he were a song, he’d be the 15-minute drum solo. He has terrific stats. He’ll get in the Hall of Fame whenever he becomes eligible. But whatever he does on the court can only be described as sorta basketball. There’s a ball, and there’s a guy in a uniform dribbling, passing and shooting – all the good things associated with the game – but that’s where the resemblance to basketball ends. Four guys wearing the same uniform as Harden are on the court to minister to him. They’re there to make baskets so he can get assists. Otherwise, they get out of his way so he can score and rebound.
I grant you that it’s not the easiest distinction to understand, but if you know the sport at all, you know that what Harden does kind of looks like basketball and feels nothing like it.
I was about to write that he can’t lead a team to a title, but that’s not the essence of it. It’s that any team with him on its roster can’t win a title. The proof is a 13-year career, no NBA championships and the slow realization by most people (not him) that going solo will never lead to a ring.
So the Bulls and Harden?
Have you ever seen a man’s head explode?
OK, here’s where I stop and try to make myself understand that I’ve allowed outside stimuli to negatively affect my day. A few moments ago, I didn’t know that Bookies.com existed. And now this gambling site is telling me that the Bulls, for unknown, inexplicable reasons, are a possibility as Harden’s next employer.
I don’t believe there’s any way in the world that the Bulls, who have been so pragmatic and specific about building a team with what they consider to be the right kind of players, would want someone as self-absorbed and disruptive as Harden. But now there’s a germ of an idea in my head and no antibacterial soap to kill it.
In the past, a team could sell itself on the idea that Harden would fill seats. It wasn’t something it would say out loud, but any owner who acquired him knew that’s what the player would deliver. Fans were drawn to a man who scored, flopped and Euro-stepped to their heart’s desire.
But as time went on and his talents started to erode, the allure of a one-man band wasn’t so obvious anymore. He gobbled cap space, and he didn’t deliver trophies, which is supposed to be the whole idea. Fans, even the ones who swallowed Harden’s empty calories, started turning on him. He forced his way out of Houston to form a super team in Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. A year later, the Nets traded him to Philadelphia, where he again couldn’t fit in, despite $44,310,840 reasons he should.
Now that the idea of Harden the Box Office Attraction has shriveled, it would seem to be difficult for any team to make an argument for wanting him on its roster. He doesn’t play team ball. Can’t win. Makes too much money. Doesn’t draw appreciative crowds the way he once did.
I, too, know all of this. Yet I receive one email that I never intended to open, from a website I never heard of, and now I can feel my heartbeat in my ears.
Am I not in charge of my own happiness?