Wednesday’s matchup between the Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets at Toyota Center was highly anticipated not because of the game itself, but thanks to the return of James Harden to the city where he spent the previous eight-plus seasons.
The Nets star was met with a smattering of both cheers and boos upon his introduction to the Houston fans. But after a video tribute to Harden played early in the game, the crowd’s reaction was much more singular — and Harden returned the favor.
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Harden Thanks Rockets Fans
A two-minute video tribute to Harden culminated with Houston thanking Harden for his many contributions — on and off the court — to the city.
After the video concluded, the 4,000 or so fans in attendance for the game cheered in unison, despite the mixed reaction they had given him earlier.
“Those are cheers. Legitimate cheers,” YES Network play-by-play commentator Ian Eagle said during the broadcast of the game. “Obviously it didn’t end the way that Rockets fans wanted, but James Harden consistently delivered time and time again for this organization.”
Harden, in turn, thanked the fans, raising his arms toward them as they cheered for him at the conclusion of the video tribute.
Harden's reaction to Houston's tribute video 👏 pic.twitter.com/JVzEsJxEDv
— NBA TV (@NBATV) March 4, 2021
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Harden Hoped to Be Received Warmly
Harden helped lead Houston to the postseason in all eight of his seasons with the team, he was the 2017-18 MVP, and he averaged 29.4 points, 7.8 assists and 6.1 rebounds in 621 games. Off the court, he was also very involved in giving back to the Houston community — including in the aftermath of the recent winter storms that left many Houstonians without power and food.
"I feel like Houston is still a part of me, community wise."
James Harden on why he felt it was important to help the city of Houston during the recent winter storms.
— ESPN (@espn) March 4, 2021
In short, his impact in Houston was monumental.
But his time there didn’t end well. Harden requested a trade while still with the Rockets this past offseason, and was absent for the beginning of training camp while attending events in Atlanta and Las Vegas. Then, a couple of days before being dealt to the Nets, he said “we’re just not good enough” after a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Harden expressed regret over how the situation unfolded to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview in late February.
James Harden sits down & opens up about his new role in Brooklyn, what he didn't like about his departure from Houston, and the Nets' championship chances: "We're more than confident that it's going to be difficult for a team to beat us four times in a best-of-seven series." pic.twitter.com/rZKkwFs1jg
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) February 12, 2021
In an interview with ESPN’s Malika Andrews that aired Wednesday ahead of the Nets-Rockets game, Harden said: “I thought I would never leave that franchise. I thought I was going to be in Houston for the rest of my career. Things happen. I had different goals and I seen a different vision for myself and my career and my family. That doesn’t change how I feel about that city. I will always do whatever it takes to help if I can.”
With that sentiment in mind, Harden had an idea of how he’d be received at Toyota Center upon his return.
“I hope I’m received with love,” he said. “The love and the appreciation I’ve given to that city and I still give to that city, I’m hoping the favor can be returned.”
In a sit down interview with ESPN, James Harden discusses playing his former team, his winter storm relief efforts, how he expects to be received by the Houston crowd and more: pic.twitter.com/sUnZ6UCVRk
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) March 4, 2021