James Harden’s 2015-16 season with the Houston Rockets was swallowed up by interpersonal drama and an unwanted transition to a more high-profile lifestyle, according to a new profile by Lee Jenkins for Sports Illustrated.
Harden told Jenkins that the 2015-16 season was “the worst year of his life,” though he still managed to have what was then the best season of his career. Harden places a lot of the blame for his shitty year with his volatile relationship with Dwight Howard, which finally blew up last season when the two could not seem to get in sync on the court or work things out behind the scenes.
Harden says his problems extended beyond the court, though. He tells Jenkins that he was distracted by his relationship with Khloé Kardashian, whose celebrity drew more attention to him, and who eventually had to step back from their relationship to deal with her estranged husband Lamar Odom’s overdose.
It was too much for Harden, who Jenkins describes as “tending to Howard on the court and Khloé Kardashian off, a double whammy of diva.”
Harden does not reference Khloé but reflects on the tabloid apparatus that accompanies her. “I didn’t like all the attention,” he says. “I feel like it was for no reason. I wasn’t getting anything out of it except my name out there and my face out there, and I don’t need that. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it wasn’t me. I don’t need pictures of myself when I’m driving my car. Who cares? What shoes am I wearing? Who cares? Where am I eating? Who cares? It was unnecessary stuff that I think trickled down to my teammates. I had to eliminate that.”
It makes sense that irritants in Harden’s personal life could negatively affect his performance on the court, but he still managed to put up 29 points per game and a career-high 612 assists last year (though he’s already blown past that this season with 698 and counting). It does seem pretty silly that Harden was not expecting a significant increase in media attention by dating Kardashian, though other Kardashian exes have expressed similar sentiments about being surprised by the intensity of the attention. A friend told Jenkins he believed Harden was taking “his fame out for a spin,” which he ultimately came to regret.
Harden has very clearly bounced back, which Jenkins attributes to him no longer having to deal with Dwight or Khloé and refocusing his attention on training. The Rockets are currently 43-19, trailing the Warriors and Spurs in the Western Conference, and Harden is a legitimate MVP candidate.