James Harden has spent the last five years in Houston, becoming an NBA superstar, household name and international celebrity as the high-scoring leader of the Houston Rockets. Over the weekend, the two-time Most Valuable Player runner-up wanted to let a city just beginning to pick up the pieces from the destruction of Hurricane Harvey know that he plans to be part of that rebuilding effort, and part of Houston, for many years to come.
Harden returned to Houston on Saturday and promptly “went to work,” according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, committing his money and himself to the city and those in need:
Harden met with Mayor Sylvester Turner to discuss the recovery efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey.
He visited with evacuees sheltered at the George R. Brown Convention Center. […]
“Obviously, the city is devastated,” Harden said. “We have to push forward. We have to find a way to get through it. We have to find a way to help the community out as much as possible. Reached out to the mayor. We wanted to help out and make sure we get the help where it needed to be.” […]
“This is home for me,” Harden told media at the convention center. “I wanted to say thank you to J.J. Watt for what he’s doing for the city. Thank you to the mayor for helping me. I just want to donate and give back to the community as much as I can.
“I’m going to donate $1 million to the city and areas that need it and people that need it to make the city stronger and put smiles on some faces.”
— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) September 2, 2017
Harden’s seven-figure donation comes on the heels of Rockets owner Leslie Alexander pledging $10 million to relief efforts as Houston rebuilds after a storm that has reportedly claimed at least 39 lives and damaged or destroyed more than 100,000 homes in Texas and Louisiana. Many others in the sports world have also begun fundraising to aid the recovery effort.
After meeting with evacuees and announcing his donation on Saturday, Harden made another statement of solidarity with Houstonians:
On one hand, Harden publicly promising he’ll never leave Houston and proclaiming himself a Rocket for life seems like something he may come to regret down the line. Things can change very quickly in the NBA, and few players stay with one franchise for the long haul these days, for a variety of reasons — trades, free agency, front-office overhauls, shifting ownership priorities and roster-management strategies. When you say you want to be in one place forever, you’re kind of setting yourself up to catch all manner of hell if, for one reason or another, you change your mind a handful of years later; Harden need only ask his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kevin Durant about how that plays out.
On the other, Harden has shown as much commitment to Houston as is possible within the bounds of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. After the Thunder traded Harden to the Rockets just before the 2012-13 season, he agreed to a five-year maximum-salaried extension of his rookie contract, the longest re-up allowable under the terms of the CBA. Last summer, with two years still left on that deal, Harden agreed to renegotiate and extend his deal for two more years, forgoing the chance to enter unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019 in favor of establishing himself as Houston’s foundation through 2020.
Then, in July, Harden agreed to another renegotiation-and-extension, tacking an extra four years onto the end of his prior deal in the most lucrative contract in NBA history. The Rockets now have their superstar playmaker committed through the end of the 2020-21 season, with Harden holding a player option for nearly $44 million in the 2021-22 campaign, which would mark a full decade of Harden in Houston. (Assuming, of course, Daryl Morey doesn’t try to get Harden’s signature on another longer extension before he gets there.)
At every opportunity, the Rockets’ leadership has sought to commit to Harden for as long as possible. At every opportunity, Harden has reciprocated. Maybe there will be a time where circumstances conspire to land him elsewhere, but Saturday’s donation and follow-up tweet are in line with the principle that has governed the past half-decade of this relationship: Harden and Houston want one another, and want to keep that mutual appreciation and adoration going as long as possible.
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