James Harden’s greatness is connected to his ability to act. No NBA player draws as many fouls or makes the game less enjoyable to watch by marching to the free-throw line. He’ll throw his head back at the faintest of contact and splay all his limbs out akimbo like a rag doll to sell a call. As well he should since the league is offensive-minded and bends its rules to maximize stardom.
The sweet-shooting lefty is not thrilled about his current lot in life: making $38 million annually to play basketball for the Daryl Morey-less Houston Rockets. He was late arriving to join the team amidst trade demands and when he did, he showed up looking much different than he did the last time we saw him in public. It was hard not to notice the elephant ear in the room, which manifested itself in the form of dozens of extra pounds.
The internet, as it tends to be, was harsh. They called him James Soften. Thicc Ross. James Hardees. Stuff like that.
Funny on a pure wit level but problematic upon any deeper reflection. Then again, he was and still is a world-class athlete compensated handsomely for his physical prowess, so showing up to a new season significantly heavier is noteworthy and probably fair game.
What I’d like to focus on is the transformations Harden has put his body through this year. It wasn’t long ago that he emerged from the COVID-19 layoff looking like Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley. Now he looks like Damon in The Informant.
Which leads to the obvious question. Is Harden trying to win an Academy Award for Best Actor? His actions suggest, in fact, that he is, following the playbook of so many Hollywood stars who have lost or gained weight for roles.
Harden is Christian Bale-ing. Or Russell Crowe-ing. And that’s just fine. There’s room under this hot sun for all shapes and sizes.
Whether the remarkable transformation will pay off remains to be seen. There’s always a chance things go off the rails. Remember Ryan Gosling packing on 60 lbs. for The Lovely Bones? That ended in him being replaced by Mark Wahlberg and with a ton of weight to lose.