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Under the beard, a talent and an extraordinary career

Trade of James Harden obliges, it seemed opportune to us to mark the occasion by bringing out the portrait that we had made of him in the number 51 of REVERSE, published in May 2015.

Bearded people are never neutral. That they appear in the category of notorious sociopaths (Bluebeard, Charles Manson, Chuck Norris, Father Christmas), indisputable geniuses (Sigmund Freud, Victor Hugo, Rick Rubin, Auguste Rodin), endearing daredevils (Jean Yann , Zach Galifianakis, Captain Haddock) or cool guys (Carlito Brigante, Action Bronson, Clyde Frazier, Jeffrey Lebowski) their hair attribute always seems to add an extra dimension to their mystique. So much so that we can sometimes wonder if this is not simply a way to divert our attention. What if the beard was just a decoy?

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James Harden is arguably the most in from the moment. A forerunner of the long-haired hipster trend, he sports his shaggy beard all over the NBA with a self-confidence as disconcerting as his progress over the past three years. After wearing it close to the chin, then maintaining it to a measured length, he has since decided to let go of the bridle and let it flourish as he sees fit. A celebration of the body that could seem very post-sixty-eight – Parliament-Funkadelic atmosphere, LSD and free love – but which has much more vocation to confuse the issue.

While we laugh or we block on the bush that covers its jaw, we forget to be interested in what it is hiding. James Harden is in the process of succeeding his former pal Kevin Durant in the league’s top scorers category. Enough to get the crowds excited, right? A big scorer with a whirling dervish bebar and a football crest is too crazy to be true. It looks like a manga version of the NBA, with calls that propel the player above the buildings and shots that rise so high that the ground is seen to warp. Except that in reality, James Harden is a guy who puts in lay-ups, free throws and three points. Said like that, we no longer think about Valery Demory to a new one Kobe Bryant.

Of course, there are also a few raging dunks, one or two cross dribbles or left-handed feints that stagger defenders like drunkards, but overall the bulk of his output is there: lay-ups, throws, three points. Evening after evening, after evening, after evening …

Despite all his current hype, it is not the diversity of his offensive palette that fascinates the most, but the metronomic regularity with which he repeats the same score endlessly without anyone, for the moment, being able to foil it. Still, he’s been persecuting defenses in this way for a long time, even years before he appeared on recruiter radars.

Unlike the last three MVPs to date, LeBron James, KD and Derrick Rose, nothing seemed to predispose him to such a journey. Without any major or innate trump card, with as little jumping as he was chin hair, James Harden was an average teenager with dreams in his head, but few tangible reasons to believe them. This is often the case when you come from South Los Angeles and grew up in a neighborhood on the border of Compton.

© The  last of three siblings, eight years apart from his closest brother, and raised by his single mother, he had no one to teach him basketball or to push him to toughen up. So he did it on his own, taking out his mobile basket in front of his hut to chain the series of shots.

“If Harden attempted more than six free throws in a game, his coach owed him a burger.”

Already at the time, he was rather the lonely type. © The  repeated asthma attacks that sometimes forced him to stay locked up at home did not help. © The  luck he had is that when he joined Artesia High School, he came across a visionary trainer: Scott Pera. As Daryl Morey, the GM of the Rockets, much later, Pera did not focus on his faults, but on what he had the capacity to do better than anyone. He certainly made him work on his weak points – when he arrived, his only real asset was his precision on a reception shoot – but always keeping in mind his intrinsic qualities and not the guns of the moment that reduce the potential of a basketball player. to his strict physical abilities.

If you don’t have a relaxation at the Gerald Green, learn to play on land, sooner or later even the best jumpers end up coming down. If you can’t draw faster than everyone else, slow down your moves until your opponents’ heart rates drop. In “change of direction” and “change of speed” the most important, it is the common word, especially if the two are combined. Relaxation and speed are relative and temporary. Mastery is immutable.

“Great athletes learn to play in the air, James learned to play on the floor,” his mentor explained to Sports Illustrated, few months ago.

“He knew how to stop dead, how to pretend, how to see time and space. “

“Pace and space”, the two words chanted by all the worshipers of the temple of “moneyball” during their great moments of trance. At 15 years old already, James Harden was without knowing it in the process of arming himself to become the very illustration of the “modern player”, this compendium of pure talent and treatment of the game by raw statistical data for ever more efficiency. , which sets the temples of Daryl Morey and his followers on fire.

But at the time, he wasn’t even a prospect yet. © The  outlines of his potential were far too vague to intrigue anyone. So he worked tirelessly, repeating his scales to the point of disgust. Pera had a plan for this.

“He always made him do the same exercise, during which he had to convert eight double-steps in a row while his coach hit him with US football protections,” said Lee Jenkins of AND.

“And they still had the same bet: if Harden tried more than six free throws in a game, his coach owed him a burger; otherwise, he would have to do sprints. “

In a way, it’s hard not to draw a parallel between the way he learned basketball and the one put forward by certain European training centers. In the youth category, athleticism can still make the difference on its own. But once in senior, they are no longer sufficient to dominate if they are not accompanied by sufficient technical mastery. While some chained the tomars while dreaming of the Slam Dunk Contest, Harden was already in LTL mode: lay-ups, three-pointers, throws.

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