James Harden is set to participate in his sixth straight All-Star Game later this month, but this one is special for the MVP candidate. It’s an opportunity for Harden to come full circle as the league’s best players will battle it out in his hometown of Los Angeles, the same place where he began to learn the game that he has since mastered.
“It’s exciting for me, just because everyone gets to come see how beautiful LA is,” Harden said. “That’s where I was raised. That’s where I became a man. That’s where I went through struggles. That’s where I found myself. All those memories are going to come back. It’s going to be a good time.”
He’s the face of the franchise in Houston now and one of the best players in the world, but Harden has never forgotten the place that helped make him into the man he is today. He still reps his city, so much so that one of the first Harden Vol. 2 colorways has been dubbed the ‘California Dreamin’ colorway.
“The LA colorway is inspiring to me, because that’s home,” Harden said. “When people look at LA, they just see the palm trees and the nice weather, but that’s the place that raised me. There were tough times, but if you look at the city, it’s beautiful, so I wanted to do a colorway that shines and opens people’s eyes.”
The offensive mastermind gave us some details about the Harden Vol. 2, playing with Chris Paul, and his love of bowling. Check out our Q&A with The Beard.
Q: You had your best season yet last year with career highs in points, rebounds, and assists. What was last season like and how are you trying to top it this year?
A: “Last season was probably the most exciting season I’ve had in a long time on and off the court. I was focused a lot more, and then with all the changes we had with bringing in a new coaching staff and some new key players… It meshed really well. We all had the same goal and it was exciting. We all wanted to see each other be great, and succeed, and that was the reason for it. Obviously Mike D’Antoni and his system helped me, but I had to go out there and perform. My focus level was at an all-time high.”
Q: How have you kept that level of focus this year?
A: “Same thing. Just knowing what I was successful at last year and knowing what I was not-so-great at last year and just trying to get better at both those things. Being better defensively, offensively, limiting my turnovers, taking better shots, and making better passes. There’s always room for improvement. You study on it, you work on it, and you go out there and try to execute it.”
Q: What’s playing with Chris Paul been like? Now you have two point guards who can score and distribute.
A: “It’s tough for defenses when you have both me and Chris on the same team. Both of us are willing passers and elite scorers. We’re just always in attack mode. We’re coming at you for 48 minutes and you’ve got to be on your heels. We keep the defense on their heels the entire game and when you make a mistake against us, you’re going to pay for it.”
Q: Part of what makes you so deadly is your ability to change direction and stop on a dime. How do you develop that aspect of your game and how do you utilize it on the court?
A: “Being able to change directions is something I’ve been working on ever since I was younger. Doing ladder drills, running on the track, and doing a lot of footwork drills has helped me get to where I am today. I’m able to stop and change directions when I need to. I’m fast when I need to be. You don’t want to be fast at all times, because you can’t control the game. I use my speed when I need to and use my change of direction when I need to, because it allows me to stay a step ahead of the defender.”
Q: What do you love about the game? Do you remember a moment when it clicked and you knew this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
A: “That defining moment was when I was in middle school. In eighth grade, we went to a championship and just that feeling that basketball gave me – the crowd, the excitement, the adrenaline. I wanted that more often. I just kept at it. I wasn’t good at all. But the way it made me feel, I knew that there could be something special, so I worked every single day and continued to have a goal and stay focused on what I wanted to do.”
Q: What do you want them to say about James Harden 30 years from now?
A: “That James Harden was one of the best players to ever touch a basketball. Thirty years from now, when people are talking about me, I want them to say he’s a champion, he’s a winner, he was creative, he did it his way. There’s nobody that ever played like him.”
Q: What advice would you give to kids who want to be like you?
A: “The advice I would give to kids is to try and be better than me. Not necessarily as an athlete, but whatever they are passionate about, whatever they love, and whatever they have a goal and a vision of doing. Do it and don’t let anybody stop you. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t be that person. There’s going to be a lot of negativity that comes your way, but stay away from it and focus on what your goals are.”
Q: What athletes did you look up to as a kid? Who did you try to model your game after?
A: “As a kid I looked up to Kobe Bryant, but even then I didn’t model my game after him. It’s just two totally different games. But the thing I could take away from him was that he was passionate. He didn’t care what people said about him. He was just a winner. He did whatever it took to win games, to win championships and that’s why he’s a living legend.”
Q: Let’s talk kicks. Harden Vol. 2 is your second signature shoe with adidas. How do you work with them to create your shoes?
A: “I know what makes me feel good and what makes me feel comfortable to go out there and perform at the highest level that I can. Obviously the shoe has to fit my foot very well, it needs to have traction to be able to change directions when I need to, it has to be light, and comfortable enough to wear that I feel comfortable out there on the court.
And then the colorways. Obviously you look good, you play good. It doesn’t matter what the colorways are, just as long as their fresh.”
Q: Was there anything specifically from the Harden 1 that you wanted to keep in the Harden 2?
A: “I think boost cushioning was the main thing, just because it’s comfortable and then it gives me an extra edge. Obviously traction is important – no matter what shoe I play in, I need traction. The Harden Vol. 1 was the beginning, but Harden Vol. 2 needed to be higher than that. We wanted to create an entirely different wave, but make sure the boost and the traction were still in Vol. 2. And I also worked with adidas to try and make the shoe lighter. The lighter you play, the more athletic you feel and the more bounce you have.”
Q: You said you dress for how you feel. Can you describe your sense of style?
A: “I just dress for the occasion. I don’t really follow trends or what people are wearing now. It’s just how I feel. Maybe it’s baggy clothes today, maybe it’s tighter clothes tomorrow. It’s just how I feel and what makes me comfortable. As long as it gives me that confidence, I wear it.”
Q: What’s your favorite adidas shoe of all time besides your own?
A: “I think my favorite adidas shoe, besides my own, would probably be the Crazy 8. I was a big Kobe fan, and when those came out they were just comfortable. I rocked those back when I was on my AAU team. Definitely a favorite of mine.”
Q: What does being on the Eastbay cover mean to you? Do you have any memories of Eastbay growing up?