For years now, teams have been looking for a way to stop James Harden. The Rockets guard has averaged 25-plus points per for the last three seasons, including a career-high (and league-leading) 27.4 points last year. With the addition of speedy playmaker Ty Lawson this summer, that number should only continue to rise. And Harden, who turned 26 this summer, is only just entering his prime.
There IS one thing teams could do, and they can all do it if they want to—bring in a camel.
This may sound unorthodox, but as is glaringly evident on this early October day in Houston, Harden does not like camels. We’re at the Zone, a giant warehouse of a gym, and the camel is here as part of a Foot Locker social media push called “Play My Tweet.” It’s simple—people tweet things at Harden, and, if he misses a shot (as directed by host Kenny Mayne), he has to do them. One of them happens to be “take a selfie with a camel.” And while the camel seems nonplussed by the whole thing, Harden isn’t having any of it. Eventually, prodded by Mayne, he draws close enough to get the shot.
There isn’t much else that seems to bother Harden these days, maybe outside of finishing second in MVP voting to Steph Curry. He’s in the middle of the max deal he signed with the Rockets upon being dealt there from Oklahoma City in 2012, and just signed a reported 13-year, $200 million deal to jump from Nike to adidas. His beard alone is nearing global icon status, and his unorthodox style of play is as unstoppable as ever. Most importantly, the handler at long last has taken the camel home.
With all of the shots taken and all of the tweets dealt with, we sat down with Harden for five minutes to discuss the upcoming season, his adidas deal, and who he looks to for fashion inspiration (hint: nobody).
Let’s start with the MVP — I know you won the Player’s Choice award, what did that mean to you?
It meant a lot to me. Just because the peers, the guys that you’re competing against every single night voted for you, so—it meant a lot to me. Obviously I thought I had a really good season last year, but I can’t dwell on the past. Last year was last year, this year is already here, so I just gotta focus on how can I get better from last year, the things I really wasn’t good at or I struggled at last year, try to make those my positives and carry this team to a championship.
Is there one specific thing you pick at the start of the offseason, like, "I’m gonna work on this"?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Every year it’s something different, the things that I’m really not good at or that I’m OK at, I’ll continue to work at those things to be great at. That’s what makes a great basketball player. Every year it’s something new and I try to take that into training camp and get better at it.
Was there anything specific this offseason?
This summer I think it’s my conditioning, being able to play those high amount of minutes for 82 games and the postseason—last year I learned a lot dealing with a lot of injuries—being able to carry the load and prepare myself to be fresh in the postseason as well.
And then just playing in the sweeter spot area, the post area and things like that to where I’m comfortable and I don’t have to do a lot of pick and rolls and whatnot.
I created my own path, I created my own lane, I kinda do things my way.
How much of a difference does it make bringing in Ty [Lawson] this offseason?
It’s gonna help us a lot, obviously he’s really quick, he’s fast, he’s a very good playmaker. That’s one of the things that we were missing last year, was another playmaker to release some of the pressure off myself and Dwight to kind of get everyone else open shots. The only preseason game that we played he did a really good job and the more we practice the more games we play the more comfortable he’ll get and we’ll get and the better our team will be.
You look like you really wanna get back out there, playing the whole first half in your first preseason game.
Yeah, I mean I love playing the game of basketball. It’s not something I do just because it’s my job. I wanted to play the whole game but obviously coach wouldn’t allow it. It’s preseason, this is time for us to get better, kind of get a feel for each other. This is the first time that our actual entire team as an opportunity to work. We got Trevor [Ariza] for the first time last year, Jet [Jason Terry], Brew [Corey Brewer] came in the middle of the season, we’re adding Ty. Last year we had a pretty good year but we didn’t have the full year like we needed to. This year is an opportunity for us to build together and grow, and see where this thing can take us.
I wanted to ask the adidas deal—we all saw that they came and brought six billion pairs to your house—it seems like you’re going to be able to do everything. Are you more excited to be able to work on the on-court stuff or the off-court stuff?
I’m excited to have my voice heard. I think for me, I have a lot of things I want to say, and they’re allowing me to speak my mind. That goes a long way with the brand—if you can communicate, you guys can figure it out together, it makes the brand more genuine, it makes the product more special. We’ve been workin’—even though it’s only been a few days—we’ve been workin’ extremely hard and we’ll continue to work as long as we can to make the brand as dope as it needs to be.
How tough a decision was it to go with adidas? Did you talk to Dwight [Howard] at all, since he was with them?
Nah, I didn’t really talk to anybody. I think for myself it was just how I wanted my brand and myself to be. I needed to create my own path, that’s kind of who I am. I created my own path, I created my own lane, I kinda do things my way. And I’m a leader, so this an opportunity for myself as a leader to brand with adidas who’s been a dope brand for many years now—an opportunity for me to express myself and express who I am.
Who do you look to fashion wise, who do you look up to?
I mean, I see things, but I don’t think I necessarily have anyone that I look up to that I’m always looking for. If I see something that I might like I might look into it, but I’m not searching for a particular brand or designer.
Seeing that you’re with adidas now, would you look forward to a chance to work with Kanye?
Yeah. All of the above. Kanye, Rick Owens—I’m excited. The brand has a lot in store, there’s a lot of excitement behind it, there’s a lot of buzz that building around the adidas Three Stripes brand, I’m just excited to be a part of it.