It’s Time For James Harden To Try Something New

James Harden
SET: Prada
GLASSES: James Oro
WATCH: Richard Mille

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin



JAMES HARDEN IS TELLING ME NOT TO JUDGE HIM. You know the guy I mean, the 7x All-NBA select, 10x NBA All-Star 10 years in a row, 3x scoring champ, 2018 league MVP, Olympic gold medalist… that James Harden. Me? Judge him? As if. But there is a reason behind his request, and it involves his current fixation/hobby.

Simply put, the man spends a lot of time (is there a thing called too much?) playing video games. Specifically, “Call of Duty.”

“I was the guy that was like, ‘Why are people obsessed with “Call of Duty”? They’re on it a crazy amount.’ And now I’m that guy. I have a little setup upstairs in my house where I can be gaming a few hours a day and won’t hear anybody, won’t see anybody, won’t care about anybody. It’s sad. Like, I do love it, it’s fun for me, it’s exciting. I really do enjoy playing “Call of Duty,” tuning everybody out, and just being in my own little world.” He pauses, and sighs. “So yeah, that’s the story of my life. Don’t judge me.”

Personally, I wouldn’t. Whatever floats your boat, tickles your pickle, rocks your socks, and so forth. Because — at the very least — the 32-year-old shooting guard, who’s currently on the Philadelphia 76ers roster, has been a force to reckon with for 13 years in a league where the shelf life of its players, on average, is 4.5 years.

As is his beard, by the way. I’m so in awe of it, in fact, that I completely forget to compliment him on its growth, and only in the aftermath of our June Zoom video chat do I remember wanting to remark on the bountiful, bushy, glorious facial hair that now defines him — which he was too lazy to shave off in 2009, and which has since grown to Dumbledore lengths ever since. His beard, for those who don’t know, is also a pop culture reference that has appeared in songs and on T-shirts, and even had its own Trolli gummy. Top that if you can.

But that’s Harden: Everything he does on court and off, beard included, is done in a big way, with a singular kind of dedication. Which is why he’s not only an incredible athlete, but also a strong, successful businessman.

On the court, his achievements are many. He’s often referred to as the best shooting guard in the NBA, with reason: In addition to a legion of accolades, he was the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year, 2x NBA minutes leader, NBA assist leader, 3x NBA scoring leader, and 3x NBA three-point field goals leader. He’s in the top three of three-point leaders, is the youngest player to reach 1,000 career three-pointers made, and the only player in NBA history to record a 40-point triple-double while playing less than 30 minutes. He’s also a two-time member of the United States national team, winning gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics and 2014 FIBA World Cup. Last October, he was honored as one of the league’s greatest players of all time, named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. And those are just a few of his greatest hits. Insert mind blown emoji here.

James Harden
SHOES: Gucci

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

Off the court, he’s involved in pretty much anything and everything one might imagine. He’s a partial owner of modern Mexican restaurants Toca Madera and Tocaya, which have locations in Los Angeles and Scottsdale, Arizona, among others, with more to come in Las Vegas, Miami, and New York. He sits on the board of Saks Fifth Avenue; is a partial owner of the Houston Dynamo FC soccer club; and an ambassador for Adidas, Therabody, Art of Sport, Autograph NFT, Cashapp, the Beard Club, and Pura, among others. He also recently announced that he bought a stake in Tequila Gran Diamante, which came to be organically after they sponsored his 100-person 32nd birthday party last year. He owns Thirteen, an upscale restaurant in Houston, and a slew of Crunch fitness locations, also, specifically, in “The Big Heart” (aka Houston), which still has his heart — which one might expect given that he played locally for the Rockets for 9 years, from 2012 to 2021. (“My family is here — my mom, my sister, my brother — so this is the place I would call home. I feel like this city deserves for me to still put my stamp on it even though I’m no longer playing here. I’ve got to find ways to continue to do that, and I will.”) He’s also heavily involved in giving back through his nonprofit, IMPACT 13 foundation, which was established to bridge socioeconomic and educational gaps in the Houston area; every August, he hosts a three-day charity festival called the JH-Town Weekend with a focus on black-owned businesses.

Harden explains his diverse business interests and involvements like this: “I like everything; I’m all over the place. I’m into so many things — music, fashion, food, wine, and tequila. I love basketball, I love giving back, I love everything, honestly, and I’m just trying to find ways every single minute of the day to leave an impact on this world, because at the end of the day, that’s all I have, and hopefully, I can leave something special behind. I know I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m prepared for it.”

I’m glad to hear he’s getting his game face on when it comes to his newest business venture, because it’s going to take a lot of work. But then, when one launches a wine label, isn’t it almost always a labor of love? Yes, folks, you read that right: James Harden is the latest athlete getting into the wine space. But here’s the unique thing about Harden’s involvement: While many of his league peers are totally and indisputably oenophiles (some of whom even tote their own wine suitcases to away games, ahem), Harden got into the game predominantly because he didn’t know much about wine, and he wanted to. Curiosity, enjoyment, challenges — these are his defaults.

“I’m not actually a big wine guy, but I’m slowly starting to get into it,” he confides. “I feel like this is a great launchpad. It’s exciting, and [getting involved] was a no-brainer for me.” Plus, he adds, “Wine is too complicated; I want a brand that represents me and over-delivers on taste.”
So was this the genesis of that yearning to leave his mark on the world? Well, no, but that doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic. In fact, Harden readily admits that this wasn’t a venture that ever crossed his mind, but when the opportunity was presented to him a year ago, it was too good to pass on. And again, he’s always up for exploring something new.

From the bottle aesthetic alone, the J-Harden x J Shed collaboration feels awesomely true to his personal brand. At first blush, the logo looks to be a skull, but dig deeper and you’ll discern his sunglasses-adorned face (and beard) in psychedelic colors. Harden himself lives his life in living color, and as such, he was hands-on with his label, noting that for his first effort, he wanted to “bring a little excitement to the wine industry and turn some heads.”

His initial bottling is a California-grown red blend (though a cabernet sauvignon will be hitting shelves soon, too), which is described as rich, dark, concentrated, full-bodied, jammy, smooth, and balanced, with fruit-forward blackberry and dark red cherry notes. Is it for aficionados? Perhaps not, but that’s kind of the point. It’s nontraditional, targeting younger consumers who, like Harden, are just beginning to know the flavor profile differences between a Beaujolais and a Burgundy, a Bordeaux from a Barbera.

That said, for a fledgling imbiber, his debut blend is very easy, very drinkable — something that Harden himself can and does drink often. As an introduction to the world of wine for any newbie, it’s aces — which was a huge selling point for the All-Star. Selling something too complex, too bougie, would feel like a falsehood. He might not say much about himself personally, but what he does say he believes. On that note, his opinion of the wine feels true: “I feel like it’s something you can drink anywhere — whether it be a nice dinner out or just at home chilling casually, and that was the kind of lane I was looking for.”

For Harden, actively becoming a connoisseur connotes achieving a certain level of maturity; he seems to associate choosing stems over shots with personal growth. And while he might not be there quite yet, he owns that, too. “When I was younger, I was able to go hard and keep bouncing after drinking tequila or whatever, but as I get older and want to have a good time, I’m gravitating toward wine when I want to go that chill, smooth route.”

Speaking of routes, it’s a nice touch that J Harden x J Shed is California-grown, as opposed to a European varietal or even something from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, because, though he played much of his career in Houston and still calls it home to this day, he was actually born and raised in Compton, but attended high school in the SoCal suburb of Lakewood, just outside of Los Angeles. It’s here in the City of Angels where he’ll be spending most of his summer, having fun in the sun while still working and training hard — with the added benefit that it’s a much quicker trip to Napa Valley from LA. And while he might not be doing shots in Napa, per se, there will be lots and lots of drinking. In truth, he’s excited as hell for the trip, though he can already predict the outcome of slow afternoons of copious swirling, sniffing, and not spitting.

“[The last time I went wine tasting], I got drunk,” he says, laughing.

“So you had a good day, I take it?” I ask. (This was rhetorical, for the record. Of course.)

“I had a good day,” he confirms. “I tried about seven or eight different wines, and it was definitely unexpected (here I assume he means the drunkenness, but perhaps it’s the bourgeoning love of vino). I’m looking forward to visiting the area and just catching that whole vibe, that whole experience of wine tasting… that will probably end up with me being drunk again.”

There could be worse things in life, James. Just saying.

James Harden
SHOES: Lanvin

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

I FEEL LIKE I LEARN A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT ABOUT JAMES HARDEN during our conversation, or as much as one human can possibly learn about another in the span of an hour. Here are my findings: 1) He has a very impressive fish tank. 2) He’s deathly afraid of heights and his idea of a personal hell is a roller coaster. 3) Surprisingly, he is not afraid of planes. 4) His comfort zone is a Lamborghini 5) He says he does “art.” I still have no idea what that means. 6) He shops at Target (Celebrities, they’re just like us!) and, like most of us, can’t walk out without spending a shit ton of money. Yet, unlike most of us, whatever money he spends at Tarjay — 7) he does not call it Tarjay — could probably be qualified as chump change given that he’s currently eligible for a five-year, $270 million contract extension with the 76ers. As of press time, I have no idea what he plans on doing with said contract, and neither does he, so don’t ask.

Now while I’ve discovered these largely superficial things, I don’t know nearly enough, and so I go to the best authority on James Harden that there could possibly be to learn more: the man himself. And I ask him this question: Who, exactly, is James Harden?

His answer: “I’m a lot!”

I gathered that much. But do clarify. “I am just a lot of a guy. I am the fun guy, I am the business guy, I am the loving, caring friend guy, the guy you come to talk to about anything. I am a hard worker, I am the motivator, I am the life of the party, I am literally, everything you can imagine. Some people are conservative, which is fine, whereas other people are too much the life of the party. I am everything; I’ve got a little bit of everything in me, and I love it that way. I’m like a rock star. I am him; I am the one.”

That is a big, bold answer, and I’d expect nothing less of a man with a beard that matches his overall larger-than-life presence (I mean this figuratively, but literally too — he is 6’5”, after all). And while I gather that, behind closed doors, his personality is just as bold, he insists, “I try to find every way possible to be normal, to be levelheaded and humble. I think the balance of me doing just that has gotten me this far, to where I am today — understanding responsibilities and getting things done. And then understanding you are not above anybody else. You’ve got to treat everybody with the same respect as you would treat your mom. And then, once you get that balance, it’s like, you can be you; you can be free. There are obviously times I’ve got to be James Harden, but for the most part, I try to be as normal as possible and to connect with as many people as I can, because at the end of the day, I am human.”

James Harden

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin

I’m going back to the “celebrities, they’re just like us” sentiment, because if you cut him, Harden will bleed. He is one of the rare athletes who puts it all out there without putting anything personal out there. And with good reason, given that the media and those ever-present keyboard warriors haven’t always been kind. “I try to be as private as I can, because nowadays, the world is so crazy, especially with social media. I try to give myself that privacy to where I could still be known, but I could still be me, and not get caught up in everything that’s going on. So everything I talk about, or act on, has a purpose. I don’t just say anything, I don’t just do anything, I don’t just blurt out craziness. I’m trying to be precise and strategic with everything that I do for the most part. So, hopefully when I say something, it speaks volumes. But, in general, I think a lot of what I say is misunderstood regardless, and I’m not the type of person to explain, or go on rants, or go on social media and kind of go back and forth explaining; that’s wasting time. So I just let the people talk, I let them say what they’ve got to say, do what they’re going to do, and it is what it is. And later, if they get it, they get it, if they don’t, they don’t. But it doesn’t matter in the end: You’ve got to enjoy your life, work hard, and smile. You’ve got to take everything that comes with it, because that’s a part of this life.”

So are, namely, sacrifices in the way of fun, but that’s par for the course as he prepares to enter his 14th season in the NBA. He is no longer the young whippersnapper that he was in the first round, No. 3 pick (by the Oklahoma City Thunder) at the 2009 Draft, but he still loves basketball as much as he ever did, and maybe more, now that he has to work harder for it. “I’ve had the luxury of not having to deal with any serious injuries — with surgeries or whatnot — my entire career. But these last two years, I’ve been dealing with some hamstring issues, which are nothing to play with. So I’m taking this summer as an opportunity to do something for me, to make sure that I get back to the elite level that I know I can be at and that I will be at,” he vows. “So that’s priority No. 1. Basketball is the engine that drives everything — for us to be having this conversation, all the partners that I have, and the great things that I have going on outside of basketball — so I’ve got to make sure that’s on point.”

Which, especially in the summer after a grueling season, can be challenging. “I’ve got to be cautious of what I eat, because as you get older, your metabolism slows down. It sucks honestly, because I love to eat and I don’t want to be having to watch how many calories I intake. I don’t shred fat as fast as I used to, so I have to work extra hard, especially in the summertime. In the summertime, I just want to be free; I want to eat, sip wine, and do whatever I want to do. And it’s still [early summer], so I don’t want to be going crazy working out now, but I am going into year 14, so I’ve got to be cautious as far as hitting my peak — when I’m supposed to be in my stride — going into the season.”

The struggle is real James, the struggle is real. He echoes this sentiment, saying, “Being focused is boring, you know what I mean? Sometimes you want to have a little fun. Still, there is a goal, and to get there, you have to put the work in. For the most part, this summer is going to be about strictly focusing on basketball, and being in the best shape, the best condition, and making sure my body feels good, ultimately. But you also have to find a balance, and I think that’s what I’m doing. I think that’s what I’m great at.”

Regardless of how he spends it, Harden isn’t someone who wastes his time. Even those endless hours in front of “Call of Duty” serve a purpose, giving him the space to relax mindlessly, which honestly, don’t we all need once in a while? “Time is priceless,” he agrees. “Cars and watches, houses, all the material things, that’s cool, that’s what you work hard for, but time is the most important thing.”

His time on the court is the most valuable, of course. It’s gotten him everything he has, and it is finite. A serious injury could rip that time away at any given moment. “It won’t last forever,” he notes. “I mean, I’ll be 40 or something when it’s all said and done, but I want to look back and be like, you have had one of the best careers for someone ever to play basketball. At the end of the day, I’m a competitor. I don’t want to go out there and look bad; I still want to be able to play and produce, be efficient, and be good. When the end comes, everybody is going to know it, so right now I’m just taking advantage of it, having fun with it, working my butt off, putting the work in, and enjoying the moment, so that when all is said and done, I can look back and hopefully, will have made people proud.”

How’s that for a real call of duty?

James Harden
SHIRT: Dzojchen
WATCH: Rolex

Photo Credit: Randall Slavin