HOUSTON — James Harden isn’t just playing around in pickup games when he launches the one-legged, stepback 3-pointers seen in viral videos shot during open runs this summer.
Harden, the Houston Rockets‘ superstar who led the NBA in scoring the last two seasons, is searching for ways he can continue to improve and innovate his game.
“I’m always trying to be creative,” Harden told ESPN after giving away bicycles to dozens of children at Houston’s Tuffly Park as part of his annual charity weekend. “I’m always trying to get better — at basketball, life, business-wise. I’m always trying to find ways to be impactful. With basketball, you have to be creative. This is my 11th year, and every single year I want to get better. I don’t want to stay the same. You’ve got to find ways to keep growing.”
Harden, whose stepback has emerged as arguably the league’s most lethal weapon over the last few years, said he doesn’t know whether he’s yet confident enough in the one-legged variation to use it in games that count. But that goal has been in Harden’s mind as he made that shot a focus of his summer work.
“I’m not sure; it’s something that I work on,” Harden said when asked if he’ll use the one-legged, stepback 3 this season. “But you know how Mike [Jordan] has his fadeaway and Dirk [Nowitzki] has his one-leg and [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] had the sky hook, I want my stepback to be one of those moves that last forever. So when I travel around the world and I see little kids that [say], ‘Hey James, I got a stepback!’ — I love to see that.
“It’s me being a creator and me being an innovator and paving the way in basketball in my own way, doing it how I want to do it, and that’s what it’s all about. As a little kid playing in these parks, that’s what I imagined, that’s what I dreamed of. Now it’s coming to reality, so it’s pretty cool.”
When Harden mentioned playing in the parks, he motioned toward the Tuffly Park basketball court, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Harvey and will be refurbished with funds from his foundation 3 The Harden Way. It is one of several courts throughout the city that Harden’s foundation will pay to refurbish.
“It means everything,” said Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, who Harden reached out to for guidance with his charitable efforts. “When you know you have needs in your city, especially parks that need substantial improvement, and then all of the sudden you get a phone call on your cell from ‘The Beard’ and then for him to follow through — man, it’s a shot in the arm for these kids. It’s a reminder to them that they have not been forgotten and that people care.”
The event at Tuffly Park was part of the third annual JH-Town Weekend, which includes a concert, comedy show and celebrity softball game to raise money for Harden’s foundation, which also has annual events in Houston to help the less fortunate at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“Since I stepped here day one, they’ve embraced me,” said Harden, a seven-time All-Star entering his eighth season in Houston. “They’ve opened the door and just showed me so much love that I felt the need to give it back.
“Obviously, I try to do my best to win games and do all that good stuff on the court, bring a championship to the city. That same time that I spend on the court doing what I need to do to prepare for basketball, I feel like that same energy needs to be spent in the community.”