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December 28, 2022

Eytan Shander: There's nothing wrong with James Harden wanting to go back to Houston

Harden is only in Philadelphia to chase a ring, Houston is his home.

Opinion Sixers
James-Harden-Sixers-NBA-Playoffs-05022022-UST Sam Navarro/USA Today Sports

James Harden throws up his hands in frustration.

Legacy.

It’s what this is all about. Every game, every practice, every win, or loss. It’s all about what you leave behind. So much of that is up for interpretation, right? History is written by the winners – or in this case the survivors.

You don’t get a chance to continue to remind – or refresh – people of who you were, be it on the court or any other line of work. Once you walk away, you walk away. Leave it up to the radio, TV, Twitter – idiots like myself with a column – anyone other than you to tell the story. But they tell it like they saw it, or how they think they saw it.

Think about it. One of the most private superstars we have ever seen was Michael Jordan. We got nibbles here and there, but so much was clouded with rumor. Most of this was his ability to stay out of the public eye and keep private in a less invasive era. The same could be said about Derek Jeter. Legends grew and grew upon a “flu” game or anything else just built off spinning yarn.

But it was easy to believe that either one of these guys were playing on God-mode, simply because we all saw it in their respective arenas. They won. That fueled it. It’s the only way you can ever outrun the survivors left to explain who you really were, fully knowing they haven’t a clue. If you win, you can still be a son-of-a-bitch, but you won. Now a days the “F it all” attitude while winning is a magnet for social praise.

But what if you can’t win? What’s the next best thing you can do?

James Harden may or may not want out of Philadelphia, I don’t know, nor do I care. The reality is I’d have zero issue with him wanting to go back to Houston. He is trying to figure out if acknowledgement is better than nothing. He’s a member of this team right now and he’s here to help them win a championship. It’s certainly enough to be immortalized in this city, especially doing it alongside Joel Embiid.

Harden would instantly turn into one of the most popular Sixers players of all time and would be acknowledged accordingly by the team. He can ride out that bloated contract until he wants to retire. He’d be known as a Sixer-first, Rocket-second. That’s not right now. Now, he’s a Houston Rockets player first and foremost, but is he one of those Rockets players? He is clearly one of the most dominant scorers of all-time and did his heavy lifting with Houston as their top guy. But even then, he wasn’t drafted by the Rockets. It’s probable that the team would retire his number but not any slam dunk. People outside the city may assume they don’t have much to show since his departure, but the team has a much richer history of champions.

If this whole “win a championship in Philadelphia” thing doesn’t work out, where else would Harden truly go outside of his version of home. His idea or push to head back to the one place that can open its arms and avoid defining him as a nomad.

Sure, some of this is rooted in walking away as a defined scoring legend and having a home that will always remember your true history. Which is never what truly happened but keeping your name in a positive light. It’s what LeBron James did in Cleveland, before winning a championship. 

Harden isn’t going to win a Championship ring with Houston, but he will solidify his legacy. That’s the risk he takes in returning “home” versus failing in his ring chasing.

We have seen countless athletes walk in and out of our stadium doors, never to win anything here but always remembered as legend. It’s not always Charles Barkley holding open the door for someone walking in the Wawa on Belmont Ave. Plenty of lesser-known athletes return home to make this their home.

Most of those guys don’t get the chance to push for a final move back to Philadelphia. Some just must retire elsewhere. Some are Zach Ertz and Brian Dawkins; others just aren’t good enough to keep playing. Yea, I get it, Jeremy Bloom isn’t teaching private lessons at the Wissahickon Skiing Club – although that would be pretty crazy and definitely would go viral.

Houston is Harden’s Philadelphia and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with returning home. Maybe I see it differently, but this doesn’t impact anything on the floor. He’s still one of the game’s top distributors. He’s still one of the games deadliest technicians – getting to the line better than anyone.

He’s still here chasing that ring!

This isn’t George Costanza driving around the Yankees parking lot looking to get fired. Harden’s plan B is getting back to Houston, but the reunion needs time. This was the bug in Houston’s ear for a plan that could easily be facilitated by a former Houston top executive – who currently runs Harden’s present team.

We all want acknowledgement, from taking out the trash to saving an account to saving a basketball season. Whatever it is, doing what you can to ensure you get it is part of our human nature. We also can’t always get it. Thanks for making it this far and for taking out the garbage.


Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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