4th and a mile with Paul Muth
Let's examine an intriguing parallel between James Harden and this Rockets legend
Once upon a time there was a superstar basketball player in Houston that was adored by the entire city. Even though he wasn't from here, he was adopted as one of their own.
His skill on the court was never in question, as he was widely regarded as one of the best players in the league. Yet in spite of this, the Rockets struggled to assemble a team around him that could contend for a championship.
Frustrated, he continued to play at an obscenely high level. There were critics of his game, though, claiming that he was a bit too selfish with the ball on the offensive end. Still, he carried the team.
To add pressure, a front office shake up materialized, leaving the superstar with a new, inexperienced general manager in charge. This even further discouraged him about the team's direction.
This was the tipping point. Now he wanted out.
The situation deteriorated rapidly, leading some to speculate that he was faking an injury in an attempt to force a trade. The media interactions were subsequently less than cordial.
You might have a fairly solid idea of whom I'm referring to. If you guessed James Harden, however, you'd be mistaken.
There's no way this has happened before, right?
Let's take a trip in the way back machine to the winter of 1992. Our subject?
One Hakeem Olajuwon.
That's right. Noticing he was grossly underpaid compared to the likes of fellow superstar centers David Robinson and Patrick Ewing, Hakeem had asked the front office for a $15 million dollar raise (despite wording in his contract forbidding such a request). His request was denied by new GM, 31-year-old Steve Patterson, and the relationship quickly soured. Olajuwon would go on to demand a trade, meanwhile repeatedly referring to the owner and front office as "stupid" in subsequent press conferences. He was all but on his way out the door. There's a great video on SB Nation that dives even deeper into the drama that I highly recommend.
Here's where Olajuwon and Harden's stories diverge though.
As angry as Olajuwon was, he never quit. In fact, he played his ass of even harder to prove how much he was worth. Harden, as claimed by his teammates, stopped putting any effort forth at all. Olajuwon persevered. Harden quit.
Olajuwon was eventually paid and we all know how his story ended. "The Dream" retired as the greatest player to ever don a Rockets jersey and is widely considered one of the top five big men to ever play the game.
Harden's story is still being written. He will go down as one of the greatest offensive threats the league has ever seen, of that I have little doubt. The manner in which he forced his way out of Houston is difficult to ignore, and despite where he ranks among the Rockets greats, his legacy here will likely remain tarnished for quite some time.