Paul Gallant goes through history - world history - to see how this superstar duo could fare in 2019

Harden & Westbrook: A historic power couple?

You guys have called me out for it. So I'll admit it. I'm hard on the Houston Rockets. Why? Because when it comes to Houston sports teams, they're my middle child.

"You don't have any kids PAWL, ain't nobody making babies with you…"

The Astros are my successful older child. They can actually provide for me. Buy me a house please, kiddo. I'm hoping they'll eventually put me in a nursing home with attractive grannies when I look like this.

The Texans – my baby – might be cute with Watson, Hopkins, and Watt. But with the constant losses on big stages, strange game management decisions by Bill O'Brien, and now the lack of a GM, I always feel like I'm cleaning up a dumpy diaper. Getting canned from 610 sucked, but at least I'm not a baby sitter anymore...

Meanwhile, the Rockets are stuck in the middle. They're Jan from the Brady Bunch (bet you didn't think I could drop a 60s reference IN YOUR FACE). Sure, they're a pretty impressive child. But THEY'RE ALWAYS whining. "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia." Sorry kid. I expect oldest child level success from you.

And ultimately, no matter how impressive James Harden can be in the regular season, they've been pretty forgettable come playoffs (Except that one time. Thanks, Chris Paul's hamstring). Just like Jen. Or…Meg? I forget my child's name.

Also, the Texans just two-sied again while trying to hire Nick Caserio from the Patriots. Gotta go…

Kidding. The Rockets did get better by dumping CP3 – along with practically the rest of their draft picks – for Russell Westbrook. It's this simple: no matter how many bad shots that monomaniacal triple double addict shoots, Russ is simply better than Chris. He's a durable player that'll go all out for close to 82 games a night, and a guy that physically CAN take control of a game when Harden has an off night.

Still, bringing two ball dominant guys together is tricky. Yeah, Mike D'Antoni was able to get James Harden and Chris Paul play pretty well with one another while CP3 was healthy. But is HE going to be the guy to shake Russell Westbrook out of his extremely bad habits? And is Russ – who last played with James Harden when he was a sixth man – willing to defer to ole Jim as the lead dog? I'm EXTREMELY skeptical.

Power duos are the new norm in the NBA. And I suppose I could try and compare what James and Russ could be to some of the marvelous marriages and disastrous divorces of recent NBA history. But my nerdy self would MUCH rather compare the possibilities of these two to . . . historical figures? After all, they say history tends to repeat itself . . .

Caesar and Pompey: 60 – 45 BC

IN A NUTSHELL:

Caesar and Pompey – two of the greatest military leaders in Roman history – had an informal alliance (along with this rich guy named Crassus) towards the end of the Roman Republic. It was called the First Triumvirate. The first Big 3, and together for one cause: helping each other "seek personal advantage." And it worked. Pompey even married Caesar's daughter, Julia. But when Julia died (54 BC), then Crassus died (53 BC), their relationship began to sour, eventually leading to war. Caesar won, and Pompey would later be assassinated after fleeing the defeat.

COULD THIS BE JAMES AND RUSS?

Harden wants a title. Westbrook wants a title. And I think they both know that their best chance to get one is by playing with one another, not against each other in Houston and Oklahoma City. THAT is the "personal advantage" they seek.

…Unless Russell views Harden as a key to more triple doubles. Which I doubt. Because if he disrupts the Harden-centric offense, he'll likely leave the Rockets the way Pompey did.

PS: If you liked Game of Thrones, you need to check out Rome on HBO. It covers the Great Roman Civil War between Caesar and Pompei through the eyes of two soldiers who just stumble into some of the most important events in Roman history. It's basically a period themed buddy cop with all the sex and violence of GOT.

Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen: ~700 AD

"PAWL, they weren't REAL."

"Enough with the HBO plugging PAWL, you wannabe Bill Simmons. They aren't going to pay you"

IN A NUTSHELL:

(SPOILER ALERT)

Jon (desperate for soldiers to fight an army of zombies) made a visit to Casa Daenerys asking for help from the self-proclaimed Queen (who somehow has three dragons for children). In classic Cocky Dany fashion, the Mad Queen imprisons Jon until he decides to bend the knee and recognize her as Queen. Speaking of bending, some more bending goes on (hehe), and these two become lovers even though Daenerys is actually Jon's Aunt. Together they defeat the army of the dead, and team up to win Dany control over all the land. Unfortunately, Dany got upset that her best friend died and murders 500,000 people on a whim. Classic. So, Jon makes out with her and stabs her to death while doing it. This actually happened like 1000 or so years ago!

COULD THIS BE JAMES AND RUSS?

I can confirm this: James Harden will not stab Russell Westbrook to death while making out with him. Also, I can confirm the vice versa. But I do know that ole Russ could easily do the equivalent of murdering 500,000 innocents come playoff time: a patented 8-24 game from the field with 9 turnovers. For this partnership to work, Russell will need to bend the knee to James when they're both on the court.

Isabella and Ferdinand: 1469 – 1504 AD

IN A NUTSHELL:

Their marriage unified the Spanish Kingdoms of Castile and Leon, and ultimately established Spain as a dominant Global Power. Over their reign, they:

  • Funded Christopher Columbus' discovery of America
  • Defeated the Moors and ended Muslim rule in Spain
  • Forced all the Jews and Muslims out of their country
  • Tortured / killed everyone who didn't convert to Catholicism in the Spanish Inquisition.

What a lovely couple! Basically, these two could and would ruin you.

COULD THIS BE JAMES AND RUSS?

THIS would be the best-case scenario for the Harden and Westbrook (minus those invading / persecuting / torturing things): a whole lot of conquering over a long period of time. I'd be shocked if their partnership pays off that way, but I won't rule the possibility ENTIRELY out.

USA and the Soviet Union: 1941 – 1945

IN A NUTSHELL:

They hated each other. But for 4 years, they hated Nazis more.

The US delivered $11 Billion in materials (17.5 million tons in weight) to the Soviets as part of the American Lend-Lease program during World War 2. And the Soviets – who bore the brunt of what they call the "Great Patriotic War" (~27 million combined citizens and soldier deaths) – held the Eastern front, eventually over-powering ~200 German divisions. The two combined to crush Germany, and Russia ultimately helped speed up the unconditional surrender of Japan by invading Manchuria.

But afterwards? A nearly 45 year passive aggressive "Cold War".

COULD THIS BE JAMES AND RUSS?

Yeah. It's how I see this playing out. Minus taking down NBA Nazis. Those don't exist.

I can see Harden and Westbrook winning A LOT of regular season games. I can see Rockets fans talking themselves into a title run because of those regular season wins. Hell, I could even see the Rockets beating up on the NBA's star-less peasant teams and sporting the league's best record heading into the playoffs.

But do we really believe that these two super-powers can co-exist when the regular season war is over? Can their ball dominance overcome fatigue? When Mike D'Antoni shrinks his rotations, and Harden and Westbrook are on the court together 40+ minutes a game, will they actually complement each other? Can a team led by two elite guards beat teams with superstar wings? I'm having a hard time seeing any of those working out. And I could easily see Harden and Westbrook getting extremely frustrated with each other's play.

Paul Gallant hosts the "Gallant Says" podcast (Mondays & Fridays on iTunes), "Just Sayin'", Fridays on Kube 57, and contributes to SB Nation Radio. Have any questions? Get after him on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.



It started out easily enough. Rockets GM Daryl Morey tweeted out support for protestors in Hong Kong, a since-deleted missive that stated "Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong."

The reaction was immediate. Owner Tilman Fertitta tweeted out his own response: "Listen....@dmorey does NOT speak for the @HoustonRockets. Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the @NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization. @espn https://twitter.com/dmorey/status/1180312072027947008"

James Harden apologized. The NBA apologized in its own statement, saying Morey's comments "have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable."

Their statement added:

"While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the support individuals' educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them. We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together."

Morey himself had to dial it back. In a two part tweet, he said: "I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA."

That, of course, would not be the end of it.

Swift response

The Rockets immediately lost Chinese sponsors. Their games have been dropped from Chinese TV. The Chinese consulate in Houston weighed in. "We have lodged representations and expressed strong dissatisfaction with the Houston Rockets, and urged the latter to correct the error and take immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact,'' the office said in a statement.

Even more backlash

After the NBA apologized, the issue got political in the U.S. It even managed to unite politicians on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Republican Ted Cruz tweeted out this:

"As a lifelong @HoustonRockets fan, I was proud to see @dmorey call out the Chinese Communist Party's repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong. Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating."

Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke, who ran against Cruz for senator in Texas, tweeted: "The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights. What an embarrassment."

Imagine an issue where these two are on the same side.

Political firestorm

Nets owner Joseph Tsai ripped into Morey as well. "When I bought controlling interest in the Brooklyn Nets in September, I didn't expect my first public communication with our fans would be to comment on something as politically charged and grossly misunderstood as the way hundreds of millions of Chinese NBA fans feel about what just happened." He said expressing one's opinion "is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues. The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities. Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government, but also for all citizens in China. The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country's sovereignty over her homeland. This issue is non-negotiable."

The Chinese market is very important to the NBA and its ownership, as the league is heavily invested. China pulling out of the league would be damaging. The NBA knows this. But many see the league's backtracking as a way to preserve the business relationship, a move that seems to contradict most of the league's political stances in the United States, hence the responses from U.S. politicians.

The Chinese government has been very sensitive to the outside interpretations of the protests, and their response to this is in no small part due to that.

What does it all mean?

There are many on the Chinese side calling for Morey to be fired in order to do business with the Rockets again. This won't happen; as much as Fertitta was displeased with the tweet, he is a big Morey supporter. And to fire him would likely cause a serious backlash in Houston, where Rockets fans revere Morey. It would also give the impression that he is siding with Chinese interests over the United States, fair or not. Fertitta is too smart for that. Morey in no way intended to cause such a firestorm. Had he known the response, he would have never tweeted that out.

The problem is, the freedoms we enjoy in the United States do not translate to other countries, especially China, where social media and political views are restricted.

Now what?

Realistically, sports fans - especially the ones in Houston - don't care about any of this. It will only matter to them if Morey were fired, which is not going to happen. Fans care more about the Astros playoffs, Texans with a big win, and how the Rockets will look with Russell Westbrook and and James Harden. The problem is the story has gotten outside the realm of sports, with politicians weighing in and CNN reporting on it. When that happens, hyperbole and political stances become the order of the day. You would hope it would blow over, but time will tell.

One thing is for sure: Morey did not want this. Fertitta and the NBA did not want it. But it has become a firestorm, one that has a lot of levels.

It also goes to one of the dangers of social media; a high-profile person might have a personal Twitter account, but you also represent your organization, and your tweets reflect on them. It also shows the danger of "bumper sticker" tweets, where complicated issues are often foolishly reduced to buzz words. If there is a mistake here, it's that Morey did not recognize he represents the Rockets and NBA. It's obvious he does now.

What happens next is anyone's guess. But if this is like other politically charged topics, it probably will not go away anytime soon.

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