James Harden is not going to let go of his perceived MVP snub from last season. To be fair, people continue to ask him about it, but he doesn’t exactly shy away from the topic, and to that point, here’s what he had to say in a recent interview with GQ magazine:
You can’t tell me that a guy whose team was a 14-seed at one point last year, and ended up a four-seed with everything that was going on—so many injuries—and who went on a 32-game 30-point streak, eight 50-point games, two 60-point games in one season…and all the talk was about [Giannis Antetokounmpo]? There’s no way.
I just had to look at what I could do to get better for next year. You can’t pout or be mad, and the kid had an unbelievable season, so did his team. But the things I was putting up were legendary. You going to look back in 10, 15 years from now and be like, is that really true? Did that really happen? That’s some stuff they were doing back when Kareem and all those other guys were playing. But I’m happy. We have a team goal of winning a championship, and I’m ready to get going now.
For full context, in this case, the Houston Rockets superstar wasn’t asked to re-litigate what he clearly continues to feel was an MVP snubbing; he was asked about comments he recently made on a radio show about how the media tends to lock onto certain MVP narratives and refuses to let go of them. There’s truth in this. Narratives play a huge role in determining MVP winners. The year Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook had the sentimental vote locked up. Last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo taking a team from a No. 7 seed the previous year to the best record in the NBA painted a picture voters love to admire.
But Harden using that question as a platform to launch into another diatribe about his “legendary” season only serves to amplify just how much these individual awards mean to him. Now listen, let’s not be ignorant; individual recognition means a lot to every athlete, whether they admit as much publicly or not. Harden is right, his 2018-19 season absolutely was legendary. He put up numbers that nobody in NBA history has matched. Thing is, so did Giannis. And his team won more.
Harden cites taking his team from a 14-seed at one point in the season to the eventual No. 4 seed conveniently leaves out the fact that he had a part in the team’s early struggles. It’s not like he was hurt and came back to save the day. Rather, he led the way out of a hole he helped dig.
In the end, this was a photo-finish race between two guys who absolutely had legendary seasons. The narrative around Giannis did help him in getting 78 percent of the first-place votes. The existing perception that Harden’s scoring is at least minimally connected to something of a gimmick approach — volume shooting and foul manipulation — that gets sniffed out in the playoffs probably does give him at least a little bit of an uphill MVP climb.
So, yes, Harden has a point here, no doubt. He’s so dominant that he’s fully entered the zone where we take his production, at least to a degree, for granted. It’s just the fact that Harden feels the need to keep making these points paints a picture that he’s more worried about not winning MVP than not winning a championship, with the latter often seeming to be mentioned secondarily.