Rick Barry vs. James Harden – a lesson in greatness

Rick Barry vs. James Harden – a lesson in greatness

If I asked you who’s the greater player, Rick Barry or James Harden, what would be your answer? To me, it’s a no brainer – it is Rick Barry. I refrain from cross-era comparisons, but both guys had a May 14th game that marked their legacy. Not the game itself, as much as the way they responded to it.

May 14th, 1975 – Bulls vs. Warriors, Western Conference Finals, Game 7

The Warriors were playing the Bulls in the Western Conference Finals in 1975. (Yep, the Bulls were in the West at that time.) Game 7, time to see who’s got it. You’re thinking Barry nailed it, and that’s my case – he’s a more clutch guy than Harden. Nop. Barry had a bad game, shot “something like 2 for 14” in the first half, so his coach benched him during the third quarter. The bench crew started to play tremendous defense and held the Bulls scoreless for seven and a half minutes. 

Berry got in the game in the fourth quarter and drained a few big shots. But everyone knew, the bench won that game for the Warriors and secured a Finals appearance. They saved Barry’s ass.

May 14th, 2015 – Rockets vs. Clippers, Western Conference Semifinals, Game 6

Fast forward 40 years later, to May 14th, 2015. The Houston Rockets are on the brink of elimination in Round 3 of the Western Conference Playoffs when Josh Smith and Corey Brewer had an out of body experience and brought the Rockets back from elimination. James Harden was on the bench during that comeback, and he wasn’t happy about it. He subbed out of the game in Q3 and didn’t return for the rest of the game.

The Rockets went on to beat the Clippers in Game 7 behind James Harden. He dropped 31 points in 43 minutes, but everyone talked about the bench in Game 6. They saved Harden’s ass.

In both cases, the leading scorer and star of the team were on the bench as a miracle comeback was taking place. Both were having a very bad game, and in both instances, the coach was 100% right to keep them on the bench. How the players reacted after that, that’s where greatness is proven.

The Rockets lost in the next round vs the Warriors, and their season was considered a success. Kevin McHale got fired after four consecutive losses and a 4–7 start the following season. Everyone was shocked by it, and the main conclusion was – Harden couldn’t get over the fact McHale benched him during the comeback. (Dwight Howard didn’t fight for McHale either.)

The Warriors went on to win the NBA Finals in the greatest comeback in major sports history. Barry won Finals MVP and the undisputed hero of the Warriors. Yet to this day, when asked about his Finals MVP performance, the first thing Barry talks about is his bench and how they saved his ass against Chicago. Harden got his coach fired, here’s how Barry speaks of his.

The greatest coaching move Al Attles ever made was benching me in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. 

Rick Barry, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network

Barry explained it best in our interview with him. The Warriors won because they played as a team. “One player is not going to win a championship for you, his teammates have to perform. He can’t do it by himself, they have to play defense.” That’s exactly what Kevin McHale said about James Harden after he got fired.

McHale questioned Harden’s leadership and determination when things aren’t going his way. If you casually follwed his career, you know that’s a legitimate criticism to make. After he heard that, Harden called McHale a clown, and praised himself. Here’s McHale’s response.

Calling me names is not going to change my as to what I saw when I was there. It’s hard to have a lot of credibility when you don’t play good defense. It’s hard to say “Let’s get stops” if people are looking at you saying ”please stay in front of somebody”

Kevin McHale, ESPN

One guy called his coach brilliant for benching him and is an NBA champion and a Finals MVP. The other one got his fired, called him a clown and is still looking for that ring.