James Harden is the subject of Lee Jenkins’ latest piece for Sports Illustrated, and in his story on the Rockets superstar, Jenkins explains how Harden was able to overcome last season and turn himself into an MVP candidate this year. Harden actually put up really solid numbers during Houston’s 2015-16 campaign—he averaged 29.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 7.5 assists—but as Jenkins explains, his struggles to coexist with Dwight Howard and the fact that the Rockets got bounced from the playoffs by the Warriors in the first round made it a really long season for him. At one point in the SI story, Jenkins even mentions that Harden considers 2016 to be "the worst year of his life."
And it wasn’t just on-court stuff that dragged Harden down. He also ended his relationship with Khloé Kardashian back in early 2016. Khloé later claimed she ended things after Harden cheated on her. But regardless of why they ultimately broke up, Harden told Jenkins that he was relieved when the relationship was over. Harden didn’t mention Khloé by name at any point in his interview with SI, but he did talk at length about how he discovered that he wasn’t cut out for the tabloid life when he was dating her.
"I didn’t like all the attention," he told SI, echoing the sentiment he expressed after he broke up with Khloé. "I feel like it was for no reason. I wasn’t getting anything out of it except my name out there and my face out there, and I don’t need that. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it wasn’t me. I don’t need pictures of myself when I’m driving my car. Who cares? What shoes am I wearing? Who cares? [Ed. note: adidas did!] Where am I eating? Who cares? It was unnecessary stuff that I think trickled down to my teammates. I had to eliminate that."
Harden said that cutting his celebrity relationship out of his life—and making a series of other changes, like training in Phoenix instead of Los Angeles during the offseason—helped him get his priorities back in order and get back to doing what he does best.
"I’m not worried about anything but hooping," he said, "and that may be why I’m having this kind of success."
And at the very end of Jenkins’ story, Harden also talked about whether or not he misses standing in the checkout line at Target and seeing his face plastered across the front of magazines. As you would expect after hearing the other things he told SI, he doesn’t.
"I like knowing I’m not going to see myself," he said. "It feels good."
You can go here to read the rest of SI’s story on Harden. After reading it, it’s not hard to see why he’s playing so well this season.