Few things annoy me more than James Harden playing basketball. It's antithetical to everything I've learned and love about the game. To me, at least half of his step backs are a travel, coasting on defense so much is unforgivable, and dribbling the air out of the ball while everyone stands in the corner a cardinal sin. But if there's one thing above all that drives me crazy, it's the flopping and foul hunting. We may have found the culprit. Harden's high-school coach Scott Pera.
Don't get me wrong. A lot of elements in Harden's game are impressive. I understand how difficult it is to play the game the way he does, a lot of his (traveling) step backs are insanely difficult, and he is an underrated passer. I'll even give him his low-post defense. But to me, all that's in vain if you go against the spirit of the game. In my eyes, no player does that more in the NBA than James Harden.
If you get fouled a lot because the defense has no other solution for you, then I'm good no matter how many free throws you shoot. But if you cross half court with your no.1 target being "How do I get them to foul me," I have a problem with that. All the flailing, kicking your leg out, wrapping your arms under defenders in a defensive stance are insulting to my intelligence and the spirit of the game. Where did Harden develop those instincts? The answer seems to be high-school.
His high school coach used to bribe him with fast food if he got to the free-throw line at least six times in a game.
Devin Gordon, GQ
I've never heard a sentence describe a basketball player so well in my life. It's one element short of perfect, but I guess it was too early to have strip clubs as a reward in high school.
Jokes aside, learning how to get to the free-throw line is a basic part of the game. Usually, it involves attacking the rim. For instance, Celtics fans have long turned for Jason Tatum to become more assertive and get his free throws numbers up. If Harden performs a non-traveling step back, goes straight up (doesn't flail his leg or throw himself into the defender) and gets fouled - power to him. But we know that's often not the case.
To find out that a player who's annoyed so much of us with his foul hunting and frustrated so many coaches and the Rockets front office with his eating habits got bribed with burgers is too good to be true. You could say Pera figured out what motivates Harden and used it to get Harden to change his game. In principle, that's what good coaching is.
It seems it was a slippery slope to take.