Reality TV Shocker: Kardashians' Blueprint Helping James Harden Find His Rhythm

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterNovember 11, 2015

Houston Rockets' James Harden gestures after making a basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — James Harden has fixed whatever ailed him.

That's just what you do as one of the best players in basketball…and when you're simply more determined than even your fellow superstars.

Harden's early-season slump—attributable mostly to the Houston Rockets' unsteady preseason with more players hurt than practicing together—was brought to a resounding close with 43 and 46 points on consecutive nights, both Rockets victories.

The latter came Saturday against the Clippers, back home in Los Angeles. Because Harden went to Arizona State, many don't realize he's an L.A. kid, and Staples Center is where he idolized Kobe Bryant growing up.

The Staples Center is also the place where Harden's whirlwind offseason took a meaningful turn on June 8, when he and Khloe Kardashian connected at Kanye West's birthday basketball game.

Late in Harden's destruction of the Clippers, a group of lower-bowl fans at the Staples Center produced a chant near where Harden was shooting free throws:

"Khloe dumped you! Khloe dumped you!"

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Harden sank both the free throws with 32.6 seconds left, breaking a 105-105 tie and giving the Rockets the lead for good.

The veracity of those fans' assessment has been refuted by Kardashian via her Twitter references to watching that Rockets-Clippers game and then posting video of Harden's postgame interview.

In her interview for the Nov. 9 print edition of People, Kardashian said of Harden: "He's been great with me. ... I'm just allowing everything to unfold. If it's ever too overwhelming [for him], then I understand that as well."

Of course, a relationship with a member of reality TV's first family has the potential to be pretty drama-filled, and the Kardashian-Harden relationship took an unexpected detour when Khloe's legal husband, Lamar Odom, suffered a substance-fueled health crisis.

In calling off divorce proceedings with Odom, Kardashian clarified she wanted to support Odom—"Sometimes when someone needs you more, you just kind of rise above," she said—but it is "not in our thought process" to rekindle a relationship.

Delving into the contrast between Odom and Harden is fascinating—not so much in examining why Kardashian might gravitate toward such opposites, but in revealing why Harden became the one to trust as a basketball great.

It was at another basketball-themed L.A. party that Kardashian first met Odom back in 2009, a bash to welcome Ron Artest to the Lakers. Kardashian and Odom were married a month later, and Odom's warm, welcoming charm was a key element in the instant spark.   

He is exceptionally open-hearted with people. Nearly every sentence Odom speaks includes extra words for his voice to rise graciously in invitation to continue the conversation: "Know what I'm sayin'?" "Right? Right?"

Left-handedness aside, it's stunning just how different Odom and Harden are in terms of their personalities. Of course, Harden has a lighter side around those he knows well, but his rise in profile has occurred more as a big-bearded, blank-faced success who just does what he feels—sometimes stirring his pot, often mumbling with no inflection.

Although he cares what people think of him—he told me before the season that he wants to be the best player in basketball and a global icon off the court—he recoils from the concept of an inauthentic self.

He believes in getting things done on his terms.

Harden is unapologetic about his approach to create opportunities to score, no matter how irksome to an opponent.
Harden is unapologetic about his approach to create opportunities to score, no matter how irksome to an opponent.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

"Show people who I am," Harden said of his goal. "I'm a genuine person. I'm going to pave my own way."

In Odom, we have a uniquely gifted specimen whose height and coordination was a made-for-hoop combination.

Odom succeeded Bryant as the Parade Boys Basketball Player of the Year in 1997 before being drafted fourth overall in 1999. And while you could argue that the emotional handicaps Odom had to overcome in his upbringing were such obstacles that it's impressive he made it as far as he did, Odom eventually allowed the distractions in his life to consume him and his career.

Odom never did make an NBA All-Star team. He was part of two championship teams, yet even so, Odom still qualifies as the most talented player Phil Jackson ever coached without eliciting his full potential.

A valuable supporting player, Odom ultimately didn't have what it took to maintain a consistently elite level. Harden traveled a far different path, and today, he absolutely dominates for his team with an assertiveness Odom never possessed.

Unnoticed until his freshman year in high school and hardly noticed until his junior year, Harden was a hardworking standstill shooter until he grasped something: His will was strong enough that he could control the game at whatever pace he chose, even a slow one.

It's obvious that his speed and athletic ability aren't particularly extraordinary, but he's maximizing his goods through confidence in what he does have and a devotion to practice. That's a product of his sheer determination.

With a healthy sense of confidence, Harden has transformed himself from standstill shooter into a multifaceted offensive force.
With a healthy sense of confidence, Harden has transformed himself from standstill shooter into a multifaceted offensive force.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

And therein lies the fundamental difference in the way Odom played and the way Harden plays:

Odom was a graceful, joyous player in his best moments, but he floated through many games, distracted and emotional.

Harden is more purposeful than anyone we've seen in this league in years, perhaps since Michael Jordan.

Intentionality might be an intangible in scouting someone's game, but it's downright invaluable when it comes to assessing someone's character.

That's where it's most interesting to compare Harden to Odom in relation to Kardashian.

Whatever you think of Khloe's family business, the members are deeply committed to taking care of it. Odom's most professional, responsible days in the NBA came after he saw and learned how diligent the Kardashians were about building their empire.

Even what Odom saw as the most natural thing in the world—sitting around and shooting the breeze—was shown to him to be something that could be treated in a far more directed way.

Lamar Odom exhibited an awareness of brand building and professionalism during his time spent with Khloe Kardashian and her family.
Lamar Odom exhibited an awareness of brand building and professionalism during his time spent with Khloe Kardashian and her family.FREDERIC J. BROWN/Getty Images

Imagine Odom's surprise that so many of the scenes in the family's TV shows were created interactions on a prearranged topic with assigned characters.

Right or wrong, that work is purposeful. And the same goes for the way Harden plays ball, whether you respect or condemn his unabashed hunt for free throws.

Harden wants contact and aggressively seeks it while the vast majority of his peers shy away from it. He can handle it, and it works. There is relentless purpose in Harden's attack: Create points by any means.

And it is in adhering to that philosophy that Harden dug himself out of a start that saw him shooting 29 percent through the season's first five games.

Against the Clippers, he owned the ends of the first and third quarters when he should've been tired from playing the entire periods. He sat out early in the fourth with a heating pad wrapped over a wonky left knee but still forced Clippers coach Doc Rivers into a most extreme crunch-time defense: double-teaming Harden on the catch way out beyond the three-point arc.

Harden was twice called for offensive fouls for clamping defenders' arms under his to initiate deceptive contact. Harden twice enraged Blake Griffin (who wasn't involved in either play) with theatrics to draw defensive fouls. But what's ultimately remembered is his avalanche of effective offensive moves—and the victory.

By now, we know it's just what Harden does.

He will put in the work, and he will do whatever it takes to win.

Actually, it is a very Kardashian mindset.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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