LeBron James says James Harden has reached “superstar status" and worth maximum contract he got from the Rockets.
“He’s made it (to) superstar status,’’ James said after watching Harden total 36 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists against the Heat. "He’s worthy of the max contract he received from that team, and he can do a little bit of everything.’’
LeBron isn't saying that just because; he actually means it.
And while it may seem like James is late to the party, he's not.
Harden's 25.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game suggest he's a superstar. His first career All-Star selection indicates that he has ascended into the realm of greatness. His importance to the Rockets implies that he is on equal footing with LeBron and the rest of NBA's elite.
But stats, accolades and organizational worth only mean so much; they can only carry Harden so far.
Part of legitimate superstardom entails the acceptance by your supposed peers. Other proven top-tier athletes must endorse your performance, must admit your status isn't tainted or fueled by happenstance.
That Harden is one of just four players (Kobe Bryant, James and Russell Westbrook) averaging at least 20 points, four rebounds and five assists per game isn't something James has to acknowledge, let alone praise. He isn't obligated admit Harden is anything more than a volume scorer on a young team without any other options.
He didn't have to offer any words of encouragement.
But he did.
LeBron is the best there is in this league, and his readied acceptance of Harden as a superstar, as a justly compensated talent, means a whole lot.
James isn't one to jump on a bandwagon or divulge information he doesn't believe to be true, so when he asserts that Harden isn't just a star, but a superstar, you know it's genuine.
It's an indication that Harden's performance isn't just seen through smoke and mirrors. A sign that he left the Oklahoma City Thunder for a founded reason, for an attainable goal.
A testament to the superstar Harden not just might be, but already is.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.