Q&A with James Harden
There aren't many 20-year-olds who can grow a beard that rivals that of Honest Abe. Much less pull it off.
But James Harden can.
The Oklahoma City Thunder guard is wearing a faux high school letterman jacket and jeans. At 6-foot-5 and more than 200 pounds, he's hard to miss. But the first thing that jumps out is that beard. Somehow it fits. Harden comes across as quiet and thoughtful. Maybe it's because he's a rookie. Last June, the team used its first pick in Thunder history to take him third overall. He seems to be soaking in all that the NBA, his teammates and the city have to offer. In only their second year, the Thunder already have eclipsed their wins total from last season and have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. Their young core has arrived on the same page, and they now have won 12 of their past 15 games.
With the Thunder in Los Angeles to face the Clippers on Friday, I sat down with Harden (an L.A. native) to talk about what it's like living in Oklahoma City and hanging with Kevin Durant off the court, and where he just has to go when he's back home.
Q: You have the distinction of being the first player ever drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder. What's that mean to you?
Harden: It's a great accomplishment, especially with what we're building with this organization. We have a young group of talent. We're building. And I'm just enjoying being with them. It's fun, especially with the group of guys we have.
Q: Let's talk about your teammates. Probably the best known guy on your team is Kevin Durant. What's he like off the court?
Harden: Well, he tries to be funny, but he's not that funny. He plays video games. He's big into music. He makes beats and stuff like that in his free time. But really, he's just a mellow guy who likes to hang out and try to crack jokes.
Q: You're having a great rookie season, averaging almost 10 points and 20 minutes a game. Kevin Durant is tearing it up. But who's the next big thing on the Thunder? Who's killing it at practice that you think will break out soon?
Harden: Serge Ibaka is our big guy, who's playing really well. He can block shots. He can rebound. He does it all. And he's still learning. He's done a great job of working hard and he's coming along. That's the thing about this team; we have a lot of guys who are willing to work hard and help this organization out. And I think that's why we're so successful.
Q: Now, you grew up in Los Angeles, then got to play your college ball in Tempe, Arizona. What's it like moving to Oklahoma City?
Harden: Well, it's a huge culture shock compared to the fast pace of Los Angeles and Arizona. Oklahoma City is quiet. Lot of nice people out there, though. Our fan base is amazing. You know, we sell out almost every single game. My teammates -- we do a great job of helping each other. We always hang out, which makes it easier.
Q: Let's talk about your fans. The Thunder are almost in the top 10 in attendance. You draw more fans than Orlando, Miami, Phoenix and Denver. Does that surprise you?
Harden: No. Us coming to that town meant a lot to the city and those fans. And they're very supportive of us. They're coming to every game. They're there no matter what, which is a great thing. So we're going to go out and compete for them every night.
Q: Now you're back home in L.A. for a couple days. You've got the Clippers on Friday. I know you have to see your family and catch up with some friends, but where do you have to go when you come home?
Harden: Gotta go to the mall first. You know, the Beverly Center. Just hang out and do a little shopping. I like Roscoe's Chicken 'N Waffles. That's a good place. But really, I like coming back to L.A. to just enjoy the nice weather and enjoy the city. I can't say I have a favorite place. For me, it's just about the feeling that comes from being back home.