James Harden FAQ: Everything you wanted to know about The Beard

Where does James Harden rank among the greats? How much does he make? Did a strip club really retire his jersey? This James Harden FAQ has all your answers.

James Harden is a study in contrasts. His beard makes him one of the most recognizable players in the league but his soft-spoken demeanor means we don’t know his personality. He looks like a creature of style but his substance is all repetition and precision. You might love him or you might hate him, but you probably feel strongly about him.

You know James Harden. But you still have questions. Don’t worry, we have answers.

Is he really one of the greatest offensive players of all time?

YUP. You might not enjoy watching him do his thing. You might be frustrated by the fact that he seems to lean so heavily on one or two (unstoppable) gimmicks. But the results are hard to argue with.

Harden’s career averages of 25.1 points and 6.3 assists don’t seem overwhelming but just four other players in NBA history — LeBron James, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Allen Iverson — have averaged at least 25 and 6 in over 500 career games. He’s led the league in both points and assists (separate seasons). His 29 career games with at least 40 points and 10 assists is second to only Oscar Robertson and more than LeBron, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, combined. He’s fourth on the career-list for 50 point games, behind only Wilt Chamberlain, Jordan and Kobe Bryant. He’s already fifth on the career 3-pointers list, and will likely retire trailing only Stephen Curry.

You can build this wall of historic stats with any number of bricks. Harden is a surefire Hall-of-Famer and one of the most impactful offensive players in NBA history.

Why doesn’t James Harden’s style of play work in the playoffs?

It’s all relative. For the past few years, Harden’s field goal and 3-point percentages have fallen off a bit in the playoffs. He hasn’t been able to dominate in quite the same way as he has in the regular season and you could chalk this up to any number of factors — tougher defenses, tighter refereeing, opponents that have more time to prepare for him and Houston’s unique offensive style.

But again, the idea that what he does hasn’t worked in the playoffs is stretching things a bit. He’s still averaged 28.2 points and 7.0 assists in 73 playoff games for Houston, on a 56.9 true shooting percentage. He’s made the Western Conference Finals twice, and his Rockets were up 3-2 on the Warriors in 2018. Yes, he missed 10 3s during that infamous 0-for-27 run in Game 7, but his teammates missed the other 17. And if it wasn’t for a balky Chris Paul hamstring they might not have even been in that position.

His offensive style has worked in the playoffs. It just hasn’t worked enough to get him and the Rockets through one of the most dominant teams in NBA history.

Aren’t the officials always bailing James Harden out?

Sure, James Harden draws an enormous number of fouls. He’s led the league in free-throw attempts in seven of the last eight seasons and since he joined the Rockets he’s attempted more than 2,000 more free throws than any other player in the league. Referees miss calls sometimes and, like any NBA player that sometimes benefits him and sometimes works to his detriment. And yes, as a star player, he may occasionally be advantaged by a benefit of the doubt that isn’t afforded to lesser players.

But the idea that referees are somehow systematically, through incompetence or intention, responsible for the enormous free throw disparity between Harden and the rest of the league is absurd. Last year, I took a thorough look at Harden’s foul-drawing and came to the conclusion that he was simply doing the same thing everyone else was, he was just doing it more often and further from the basket:

To be fair, there are certainly plays where Harden recognizes a defender reaching in and launches an awkward attempt he wouldn’t normally take, or changes the angle of his body on his follow-through to draw contact from a close-out that otherwise would have cleared him. But foul-drawing is often lauded as a meaningful skill in the paint and Harden has simply figured out how to extend the range on that ability. He is a good 3-point shooter, so teams have to guard him closely. He is a devastating ball-handler so defenders have to be ready to react to any change of direction. The result is limited space and an off-balance defensive player. For years, ball-handlers have exploited that advantage by driving to the basket. Harden has figured out the math on staying put.

Every great offensive player knows how to put a defender off balance. For years, perimeter players have done that to create driving lanes. Harden is doing it to goad defenders into sloppy closeouts and contact beyond the stripe. It may not be aesthetically pleasing but Harden’s foul-drawing, generally, is within the rules of the game and based on skill, not referee bias.

Does James Harden travel on every play?

Objectively, no. In the 606 games he’s played with the Rockets, he’s been called for just 67 traveling violations which is, by my back-of-the-envelope calculation, not every play. In a delightful nugget for Harden fans, the player who has been called for the most travels since 2012 is Giannis Antetokounmpo with 152, which is 22 more than the next closest player.

But of course, the argument is whether Harden is consistently traveling and not getting called for it. It’s not that hard for traveling truthers to find a clip and count steps to support their conspiracy theories but you could do the same thing for almost any high-volume ball-handler. And, as the former director of NBA officials, Ronnie Nunn, told The New Yorker, “Calling travel is about a dance. Once you understand the rhythm of it, you can determine whether it’s legal or not. It’s really not about counting steps anymore once you see it. Just know the rhythm.”

If you’re looking for something a bit more concrete, here’s 15-year NBA referee, Zach Zarba, explaining how Harden’s move is legal under the NBA rules.

Did a strip club really retire James Harden’s jersey?

It’s, unclear. This story first surfaced three years ago, on an episode of The Joe Budden podcast where Budden and his co-hosts discussed visiting the unnamed Houston-area strip club. Some grainy images have surfaced but they appear to be of a banner with Harden’s picture, not an actual jersey. This one seems extremely plausible but we can forgive Harden for not confirming it publicly.

What’s the deal with James Harden’s beard?

Harden’s facial hair is truly a work of glacial evolution. He’s been bearded as long as he’s been on the national scene but looking back at the relatively modest growth he sported at Arizona State makes him almost unrecognizable.

In an oral history of his facial hair for The Athletic, Harden told Calvin Watkins that the iconic nature of it has become a big part of his identity.

“It’s branded for sure. You might not know my name but you know that beard from somewhere. Same thing with Jordan. You know that sign with him spreading his legs in the air with the ball. It’s a cool feeling.”

The oral history doesn’t definitively explain the beard’s origin but Harden has said it just kind of got longer and he liked it so he kept it going. It’s become his trademark (artist Filip Peraić has even built a niche with repeated portraits of Harden and his beard in profile, done in different artistic styles) and we believe Harden when he says he’s never shaving.

How much money has James Harden made?

Spotrac estimates that Harden has made just over $185 million from his NBA contracts, with roughly another $130 million due over the remaining three years of his current contract with the Rockets. He also carries a loaded endorsement portfolio including a 13-year contract signed with Adidas in 2015 that Forbes estimates could be worth as much as $200 million.

Who knows what he’s done with all that loot but he could certainly afford a half-dozen of these $3 million Bugatti Chiron Sports in Rockets’ red and black.

Who has James Harden assisted most in his career?

Harden has racked up 5,193 career assists, including leading the league during the 2016-17 season. Since he joined the NBA, only Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Rajon Rondo and John Wall have totaled more assists. Paul and James are the only two who have assisted on more 3-pointers than Harden in that same time period.

Considering the entirety of Harden’s shot-creation, no player has benefited more than Clint Capela who made 756 baskets off Harden assists before being traded to the Atlanta Hawks this season. Second on that list is Trevor Ariza, who was assisted by Harden 478 times while they were teammates.

What’s the greatest James Harden meme ever?

There are actually a surprising number of great Harden memes and gifs — from his red eyes, to imaginary high-fives, and the numerous variations of his cooking celebration. But your first instinct was correct. Whether you prefer a still image or the gif, it doesn’t get better than his walking-out-of-frame eye roll.

How many times has James Harden been robbed of the MVP award?


Harden won the 2017-18 NBA MVP Award, by a fairly wide voting margin, for a season in which he led the league in scoring and averaged 30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game for a 65-win No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. He put up spectacular numbers for one of the best teams in the league, participating in one of the most compelling narratives of that season.

Rockets’ fans may gripe about him finishing second to Russell Westbrook in 2016-17 and Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2018-19. But Westbrook won for leading the league in scoring and averaging a triple-double, an admittedly arbitrary benchmark but one that had been reached just once before in NBA history. Giannis won for posting a stat line that was at least as impressive as Harden’s while leading his team to an unexpected 16-win improvement and the best record in the league.

There are no great injustices here.

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