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April 28, 2023

James Harden spotted in Las Vegas during Sixers' playoff run

Harden did not miss a minute of practice or any team activities for the Sixers this week, PhillyVoice was told, which means his biggest mistake, if he even made one, was being seen somewhere that isn't Philadelphia.

The Sixers are based in Philadelphia. Las Vegas is in Nevada, most of the way across the country. This is the basis for a story involving star guard James Harden, days before the Sixers are set to tip off their series against the Boston Celtics.

No professional sports team wants to hear the words, "Did you see the video TMZ posted?" involving one of their players, and the Sixers were unfortunate enough to end up in that position on Friday morning. The internet's foremost gossip surveillance footage peddlers unearthed a piece of video that is allegedly from early Monday morning. It features Harden getting into an argument with a man outside of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.

Turn your gaze to this allegedly incriminating footage, and recoil in horror:

Just a few scattered thoughts on the situation:

  1. If this is the bar for a "slap" then I have been in far more physical altercations than I thought I had been throughout the course of my life
  2. James Harden being in Las Vegas on an off day, five days before he would have had his soonest game of the second round, is not necessarily a "Gotcha!" discovery or proof of anything beyond him being in Las Vegas
  3. TMZ's own reporting suggests the altercation in question was between Harden and a member of "Harden's crew." Harden had a disagreement with a friend, associate, or however you want to frame it, which is only a thing anyone would care about because it took place in Las Vegas. 

After asking around about the incident, PhillyVoice was told the man who was slapped is a close friend of Harden's and a personal photographer for the star. Beyond that, Harden and the group he was with appeared to carry on without incident. So, what does it all mean?

Flying to Vegas is a bigger deal for normal people like yours truly than, well, someone like Harden, who has the resources and (in this instance) the free time to pop in and out casually. Harden did not miss a minute of practice or any team activities for the Sixers this week, PhillyVoice was told, which means his biggest mistake, insofar as he made one, was simply being seen somewhere that isn't Philadelphia. But the Sixers had off early this week thanks to their sweep of the Nets, and a source close to the organization said the team was unconcerned by the report and remains focused on their preparation for the second round.

I can appreciate that this sort of thing will draw very different reactions within Philadelphia alone, ranging from, "Who cares what he does in his free time?" to "Why isn't he in a sensory deprivation tank for every minute leading into their second-round series?" This writer skews toward the former sentiment, at least based on the information we have available. 

There is a degree to which this is only a story because it's James Harden, and it bleeds into the image he has as a guy who might care as much about the off-court lifestyle as anything else. I can appreciate someone who thinks Harden should be keeping his head down and working to improve the issues he had in the series vs. Brooklyn, but whether this is a thing to care about will ultimately be determined by his play in round two. 

A player many consider to be the greatest of all time learned this back in the 90s — Michael Jordan came under fire in 1993 when he had a stinker in Game 2 of an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Knicks, that performance coming on the heels of an all-nighter in Atlantic City. Notably, the Bulls would win the series and the title, and it became part of Jordan's mythos. While it's fair to note Jordan had already bought himself more leeway at that point than Harden has currently, we're also comparing a week off for Harden to mid-series mania for His Airness.

In any case, my guiding philosophy on off-court habits for players is to focus on what happens between the lines. The work and preparation become apparent under the spotlight. We'll either get to revisit this as a funny anecdote following a series win for Philly, or spend months of our summer having to entertain people who believe a day off for Harden was the beginning of the end for their season. Insofar as a beat writer can have a rooting interest, I'd prefer the drama-free path.

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