Everyone was looking for James Harden.
With the signature beard, coupled with an exorbitant pair of sunglasses and a tailor-made suit that only he can pull off, it should be easy to spot Harden amidst the crowd during the 2019 NBA Awards in LA.
“He’s going to be the MVP tonight, right?”
“Can he accept the award without being there?”
“Maybe he knew he wasn’t winning anyway.”
Or maybe it just didn’t matter to him. Not now.
Not when he’s 12,000 kilometers away and having fun in the Philippines. “This is my third or fourth time here, and every time I come, I have an amazing time,” Harden said after arriving straight from China. The Houston Rockets star was back in the country for adidas’ Free to Harden Tour, giving Filipinos a chance to see the Bearded One play his game – by being free from any limitations.
The former MVP kicked off the campaign by joining Pilipinas Warriors and a selected group of participants inside the UP Diliman campus. But the highlight of the day clearly was when Harden heard the story of UP’s Nor-Aisah Lucman.
Coming from the war-torn Marawi and being a Muslim woman, Lucman said she was discouraged several times from playing the game she loves. Yet the opportunity from UP came and Lucman took it without hesitation. “The only way you can go now is the top,” Harden advised the 20-year old Lady Maroon. “It’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m proud of you,” he added.
Heading to Day 2, Harden visited the adidas Two Parkade in BGC to face the media. When asked about his famous euro-step, Harden commended those that came before him. “I watched Dwyane Wade, Manu, as far as the EuroStep, Paul Pierce had a crazy stepback,” he said. “So I watched those guys and I learned, and I just studied and I tried to figure out ways to do those moves and be better at them.”
The conversation also turned to Kai Sotto and what his mindset needs to be if he wants to be in the NBA. “I have the confidence, I have the chance and the opportunity to make it. If I work hard, if I focus, if I keep my head right in school and stay in the gym, I can make it to the NBA too!”
In another press conference held inside SMX Convention prior to the main event, Harden was asked about a wide range of topics from basketball, to partnering with the adidas brand, and even his style off the court.
On the secret to the success of his line with the adidas brand:
“I think they just let me be myself, letting me be me as James Harden. So when we talk about my signature shoes and the campaigns we do, they don’t put anything on me. Instead, they listen.”
On the impact of his “sleek” moves in the game of basketball:
“I look at my stepback and the level I’ve taken it to, similar to like the ‘skyhook’ or the MJ –fadeaway. But that stepback, you could see it everywhere in the kids, especially the kids being more creative and trying to couple it with other moves as well.
On staying stylish throughout the NBA season:
“You just gotta be different. There’s so many great young designers that want to get their clothes out and I just try to wear them, especially now with social media and media outlets that people take advantage like the tunnel to the arena being your 10 seconds of fame.”
On his toughest matchup in his NBA career:
“The NBA is the best league in the world. You have the best basketball players in the world. The Kobes. The D-Wades. You have all-time players. And every year, it gets competitive. You even got the young guys coming in, like Donovan Mitchell who I’ve played twice in the playoffs before and is just continuing to get better. The league is evolving.”
On who’s part of his NBA Mt. Rushmore:
“Obviously Jordan. Kobe. Larry Bird. Magic. There’s so many hall of famers. Every Hall of Famer made a name for themselves, and played the game they liked to play. That’s one of the reason that I play is that I want to be in that category, a Hall of Famer.”
To cap off the night, thousands of fans were waiting inside the halls of SMX to welcome the MVP back in Manila. The “Free To Harden Freestyle Hub” event was full of fun-filled activities that gave the audience a chance to know James Harden more.
Local adidas Basketball creators, including Jjay Alejandro and Bright Akhuetie, participated in a 3-on-3 showdown, with Diego Dario stealing the show and earning praise from the NBA star. The “adidas Harden Relay“ pitted 26 lucky fans, separated into two teams and tried to imitate the deadly crossover from the Beard, while the “B.E.A.R.D.” brought a new set of rules for the old H.O.R.S.E. game that we’re accustomed to, with UP’s Kobe Paras coming out on top against Troy Rike.
Host DJ’s Suzy and Tonytoni also managed to put Harden in a hot-seat during the Q&A portion, and even elicited laughter from the audience when he answered “defense” over offense during the game. When asked to fill in the blank for the statement, ‘I am James Harden and I am’, Harden looked at the crowd and nodded when he heard what they were saying.
“The MVP,” he answered.
James Harden is set to fly out of Manila on June 27, 2019 but it won’t be long before he returns to our shore. “I’m thankful to adidas and my fans for the warm welcome. I’m already looking forward to my next trip back here,” he said.
Don’t worry James, we’ll be waiting.
Here are highlights from the adidas Free to Harden Tour:
DAY 1: Community Give Back Activity
DAY 2: Fan Meet and Greet
DAY 2: Free to Harden Main Event