To truly understand my hatred for the basketball player James Harden (not the man James Harden for all I know he’s a good guy who’s just too lazy to shave) we have to go back to the winter of 2008-2009.

See my buddy Brandon and I have teamed up around March Madness to bounce ideas off each other on who we like and don’t like this year, which players could break out come tourney time. Brandon was always kid that had every issue of Slam magazine and he watched all the McDonald’s All-American game and was big into the summer leagues. The two of us in high school usually would sit on the internet during the day, reading sites like nbadraft.net, who would make bold comparisons like high school C.J. Miles to Michael Jordan and Sofoklis Schortsanitis to Shaq.

By the time we got to university and had what we thought was money to burn, we started laying some action on college ball along with our brackets. After varying success in the first couple of years, we decided that the best time to bet on college ball was around the conference tournament time. It’s the only time your going to get anywhere close to teams best efforts.

Brandon had/has a grandmother that lived out in Arizona, so he followed that area closer than others. At the time,  the then Pac-10 basketball was at a real low point. Lute Olsen was done at Arizona after 25 years of dominating the conference, USC was paying O.J. Mayo and anyone else to play there, UCLA was finally coming around after toiling in mediocrity. Brandon keeps talking about this L.A. kid, James Harden, who signed with Arizona State. The only names that mattered to me at the time out west were Mayo and the guy from the Beach Boys nephew that was going to UCLA (Kevin Love). He said you watch, this Harden kid is going to be good and he was right.

Freshman year, Harden averaged 17 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 2.1 apg leading a usual basement feeder in Zona St. to the N.I.T. Going into his sophomore year, the secret was out on Harden, He was on many pre-season All American lists, Naismith top 50 watch and the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college preview edition. Harden’s 2008-2009 season lead his team to 25-10 record, had him playing 35 minutes a game, scoring 20.1 ppg on 48.9% FG, 35% from three-point range along with 4.2 apg and 5.6 rpg. The guy was a stat filler. Harden even dropped 40 points on UTEP that season. Arizona St. was even ranked as high as #14 before conference play started. State ended up going all the way to the Pac-10 finals before losing to a very similarly built but not as talented USC team. While Brandon and eye watched this conference intently with all the top ranked teams in the Big East and ACC maybe someone out west was this years surprise team and we thought we had it. Harden in the Pac-10 finals versus ‘SC, was held to 10 points and missed a free throw, lay-up and three pointer in the final minute to win. Little did we know this was the beginning of a trend.

Despite the loss, Harden was named tourney MVP and shortly after Conference Player of the Year. Brandon and I were jonesing at the opportunity to ride Zona St. too at least the Elite Eight if not the Final Four. With our superstar from the desert, we were going to put big cash on the Sun Devils. Arizona State ended up with a six-seed, which really showed us no one respected them that over the heavily favored North Carolinas, UCONN’s, Pitt’s, and Louisville’s. But we knew the Sun Devils were not just a one trick pony, they also had Jeff Pendergraft (he’s currently rides the bench for the Indiana Pacers, but even to do that means you were really really good in college). Pendergraft did all the dirty work on the boards and scored a lot his points on Harden’s missed shots. Taking Zona St. to go deep in our pools, we bet big to cover in the first tourney game against Temple. If it wasn’t for Jeff Pendergraft, who knows if the ‘ole Rev would still have some oh his fingers left to write this piece.

Temple had this gunner named Dionte Christmas. Christmas could light up a basketball hoop. We figured with our boy James guarding him, this was going to be an easy win and the boys from Temple won’t know what hit them. But Harden choked hard that tournament, choked harder than the English soccer team chokes in penalty kicks (youtube any shoot-out England was in the World Cup or Euro Cup. Choke artists! all of them). Christmas lit up Harden for 29 points, while Harden; who was described on draftexpress.net as “looking lethargic and passive” scored 9 points on 1 for 9 shooting with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Not counting the four personal fouls. Not the kind of performance you expect from a guy trying to solidify his draft spot in the top five of the draft. Luckily Temple lacked an inside presence to contain Pendergraft, he scored 22 and helped the Sun Devils avoid the upset and saved my thumbs.

The next game that weekend came against three-seed Syracuse. Now this Syracuse team hadn’t made the tourney in two years and had not won a tourney game in four. With the likes of Eric Devendorf, Andy Rautins, Johnny Flynn, and Paul Harris did not inspire anyone of hopes of the 2003 National Championship team. The Orange benefited from a strong Big East tourney and received a very friendly three-seed. What happened next can only described by me as “Classic Harden”. 10 points, 2 for 10 shooting, 0-5 from three-point range. Worst part was he didn’t even make a field goal until the 9.30 mark in the SECOND HALF. Taking Zona St. by +2.5 only made matters worse. Remember I was still in college, I had delusions of grandeur of what I was going to do with my winnings. Didn’t score until half way thru the second half! Yes, Syracuse does play a good 2-3 defense, but there best defender (Wesley Johnson) was sitting out that year. Harden’s teammates, Ty Abbott (6-10 for three) and Rihand Kuksiks (6-13 from 3) scored 20 apiece. YEA, those fucking guys! Arizona lost 78-67 ending my bracket, current and future bets on Zona St. leaving me personally broke.

That type of performance is maybe….maybe acceptable for a freshman that has the burden of carrying his school, but he was a sophomore with some pretty legit players around him. The back to back disappointing games were like getting stab in the ego and figuratively beaten over the head with a lead pipe. Three lame duck games when it mattered the most, and it wasn’t cause he was trying to do too much, the guy didn’t look like he cared! Was he shaving points? problems with the coach? girlfriend trouble? Nothing came of it other than a soaring draft stock.

After the tourney and the rather large hole in my wallet, it’s fair to say who jumped up to number one on my shit list. Harden managed to land himself in the perfect situation in Oklahoma City. All the pressure that usually comes with being a high pick already was thrust up Kevin Garnett and Russell Westbrook. Harden could hide as the third wheel while receiving little blame if the team ever were to struggle.

Last season brought on a bigger role for James, after two years as a sixth man, an injury to back-up point guard Eric Maynor, forced Harden to be the Manu Gionbili for the Thunder’s likeable Big-3. Harden put up career high’s in points (16.8) rebounds (4.1) and assists (3.7), while the league and it’s fan’s were getting “Beard Fever”. OKC finished second in the conference and Harden was key in series versus the still hung-over Dirk and the Mavs, the disgruntled Kobe & Lakers, and the running on empty Spurs. Which takes us to the 2012 finals. Another “Classic Harden” performance.

While my feelings toward Harden had softened, you figured he was destined for a big series against the hobbled Dwayne Wade. Game one, was underwhelming 2 for 6 for 5 points, 3 assists and 4 fouls in 24 minutes. Game two, he did redeem himself in the loss, scoring 21 on 7 for 11 shooting. Again that was in a loss. The final three games assured me that my feelings about this guy were right all along. When the Thunder were desperate for answers and needed him to step up. He shot a combined 4 for 29 in Games three and four for just 17 points and in Game five, he scored an empty 19 points in a blowout loss that sealed the title for the Heat.

Another gut-less performance when it mattered. Forget “Big Game James” he is more of a “Lame Game James” if ya ask me. Even last night game for example, going back to OKC, all the pressure of playing against ex-teammates, he goes 3 for 16 with his shot blocked six times. How do you get your shot blocked by ex-teammates six times! and your USA gold medalist. No wonder he couldn’t get off the bench there, he sucked in practise. If there are any one he should be able to score on, it should be the one he was with everyday for three seasons. Now the world may finally know James Harden the basketball player like I have grown to know him. Houston you have a problem!