James Harden Says the Houston Rockets Might Be "the Best-Dressed Team in the History of Sports"
James Harden is not colorblind. In fact, he laughs—more so scoffs—at the notion, which is devastating for me, a fairly colorblind person who was hoping to confirm a long-held theory. It goes like this: Colorblind folks generally struggle to differentiate darker hues, so we’re naturally drawn to bright, easily contrasting shades, and that often informs our style—how we dress. Given that most of the colorways for the 30-year-old superstar’s latest signature sneaker with Adidas, the Harden Vol. 4, are noticeable, I was hoping I maybe had a comrade-in-arms who is also legally barred from piloting an airplane.
Nope. The real answer, Harden explains, is about the kids. “I could dumb it down and wear the normal colors,” he says, “but there are times where it’s like, Let’s go crazy. Let’s be seen today. There are going to be some kids out there that feel the same way I feel.”
The Houston Rockets superstar is perched on a hastily rearranged couch, and we’re chatting on a Manhattan rooftop in the West Village. He’s here to promote his new shoes, out October 26, but as he himself admits, offseason interviews with 'The Beard' are not the norm. So I pivot from kicks and colorblindness to what’s been a busy few months for Harden and his team. Chris Paul is gone, swapped in a nuclear WojBomb trade for Russell Westbrook.
Harden and Westbrook, in case you need to be reminded for the two-hundredth time, played together in Oklahoma City early in their careers. They’ve both since won MVP awards as the ball-dominant undisputed leaders of their respective teams, and the NBA world is abuzz about whether they can now make up a cohesive backcourt. Harden, for the record, isn’t worried. Below, he expounds on his relationship with Russ, as well as his potential latest move—a one-legged three-point shot—and his lingering feelings about last season’s MVP race.
GQ: I was told you wanted to really go for it with the colorways. Have you always been into bright colors?
James Harden: Yeah, I think that’s what makes the shoes cool. It gets attention, and it gets the kids wearing the shoes. I remember in AAU, if you had the bright shoes, you stood out and you were the cool kid. So that was my inspiration. At this point, you got to be creative, show the world what you’re about.
One of the colorways is called “Cookies & Cream.” Are you an ice cream fan?
Yeah. That’s my favorite dessert, and it’s been that way since I was a little kid, so why not do a cookies-and-cream shoe?
What kind of toppings did you put on your ice cream growing up?
I put some fudge on my ice cream, some nuts, maybe a cherry on top. I love dessert, man, I got to stay away. It’s about that time.
Is there usually a date in the offseason where you buckle down, diet-wise?
No. [laughs] Food is my weakness. I love food and I love to eat junk food. Obviously, I can’t eat junk food all the time, and I do pick and choose when, but that’s my weakness for sure.
Have you and Russell Westbrook discussed the idea of coordinating any looks for the pregame tunnel shot?
Nah, but don’t forget P. J. Tucker and Tyson Chandler. We got a nice roster of guys who love to dress and look good. The tunnel is going to be like a real fashion-show runway, so we’re going to have to figure out a way to get some music down there. But everybody is going to look good in their own way, and that’s why it’s so dope.
You think you’ve got the best-dressed team in the NBA this year?
We might have the best-dressed team in the history of sports.
After the Russ trade went down, there seemed to be two reactions: people saying you’re both too ball-dominant and it’s a weird fit, and people saying that you’ve already played together before and proved you can do it. What do you think you’ve both taken from the last seven years apart that will make this work?
We’ve formed into the players that we want to be, in terms of superstar status. We had opportunities to be at the top, at the peak; he won an MVP and I won an MVP. And there were conversations before, when me and Chris [Paul] joined the same team about whether it was going to work. We ended up with the best record in the NBA and were a game away from the Finals.
It’s not like me and Russ were just teammates in Oklahoma City for three years. We’ve known each other since we were 10 years old. There’s a different kind of relationship and communication that we have, a different type of excitement that we have for each other. We don’t really care or pay attention to what other people say or think.
So do these Westbrook questions annoy you?
I don’t really do a lot of interviews, so I actually don’t answer it that much. The questions are usually the same, though: How are you and Russ going to fit in? It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.
That’s the seasoned vet approach to the regular season.
Yeah, I’m 11 years in and he’s 12 years in. The way we think about basketball and other things is different than everyone else. Those years went by fast, but we still got a long way to go.
What’s one thing about Russ that other people don’t know?
He’s a great dude. A lot of people don’t know him off the court, because they don’t have an opportunity to get that personal with him. Everyone sees this guy on the court who’s so “crazy” or “passionate” or “wild” or whatever. Yeah, his on-the-court game is his on-the-court game. But off the court, he’s genuine, one of the most loving dudes that you will ever be around.
You’ve been a little coy about whether that one-legged three-point shot from these offseason runs is your new move for this year.
I’m a creator. When it’s all said and done, I want to be one of those guys where people say, “James made a whole new path, a whole new wave of being creative with the game of basketball.” It isn’t just pump fake, one dribble, shoot. There are different dynamics to basketball, and we have to expand the game. Every day, I’m trying to find ways to improve my game, improve the entire game of basketball. And you’ve got kids watching me trying to be creative as well.
I agree that you’ve come up with moves and shots that people have emulated, including at the NBA level. But what is it about that shot that you think gives you a strategic advantage?
Everything that I do is about keeping defenders off balance and on their toes. If you have that every possession, you’re basically unguardable.
You spoke to a radio station in Houston recently about the MVP race, and how you feel like the media usually goes into the season with an MVP candidate in mind, a narrative, that helps them win that award. Do you think a narrative has already taken form for 2019-2020?
Nah, it hasn’t happened yet, it’s too early. Wait until the preseason and when the regular season starts up again. But they [the media] for sure got some teams they locked in on. We all know. That’s just what it is. You can’t tell me that a guy whose team was a 14-seed at one point last year, and ended up a four-seed with everything that was going on—so many injuries—and who went on a 32-game 30-point streak, eight 50-point games, two 60-point games in one season... and all the talk was about [Giannis Antetokounmpo]? There’s no way.
I just had to look at what I could do to get better for next year. You can’t pout or be mad, and the kid had an unbelievable season, so did his team. But the things I was putting up were legendary. You going to look back in 10, 15 years from now and be like, is that really true? Did that really happen? That’s some stuff they were doing back when Kareem and all those other guys were playing. But I’m happy. We have a team goal of winning a championship, and I’m ready to get going now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.