The Nets are set to face the Rockets at the Toyota Center on Wednesday, marking James Harden’s return to Houston for the first time since he was dealt to Brooklyn in a mega four-team trade in January.
A day before Harden’s return, news broke that the Rockets plan to honor No. 13 in a huge way.
Rockets to Retire Harden’s Number
Harden spent a full eight seasons with Rockets, in addition to the first few games of this season. His impact was monumental: He helped lead Houston to the postseason in all eight of those seasons, he was the 2017-18 MVP, and he averaged 29.4 points, 7.8 assists and 6.1 rebounds in 621 games.
And now the Rockets are honoring him accordingly.
The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen reported Tuesday that the Rockets plan to retire Harden’s jersey number.
“James Harden will always be a Rocket,” Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta wrote in a text message to Feigen on Tuesday. “Of course, we will retire his jersey. He made my first three years of owning this franchise unforgettable. The success he brought this franchise over eight years and the memories he created for our fan base/community (are) truly remarkable.”
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Harden in Rare Company
Six other players have had their uniform numbers retired by the Rockets. That list includes: Calvin Murphy (23,) Moses Malone (24,) Hakeem Olajuwon (34,) Rudy Tomjanovich (45,) Clyde Drexler (22,) and Yao Ming (11).
Harden was the eleventh player — and now last — to wear No. 13.
While Harden’s on-court feats fully merit him for the honor, he was similarly impactful off the court for the city of Houston. He recently donated 3,000 meals to people in Houston affected by the storm. Per ESPN’s Malika Andrews, Harden said he was on the phone “every day trying to impact the city because they’ve shown me so much love and respect in the time that I was there.”
James Harden, who donated 3,000 meals to people in Houston affected by severe weather related power-outages and food shortages, says he has been on the phone "every day trying to impact the city because they've shown me so much love and respect in the time that I was there."
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) February 22, 2021
Still, given the way things ended between Harden and the Rockets, it was at least a bit surprising for Tuesday’s news to surface as soon as it did — and with Houston in the midst of a 12-game losing streak, no less.
Announcing that Harden's No. 13 will be retired, while #Rockets are in middle of 12-game losing streak — after he bailed on team and franchise — and the day before Harden's #Nets arrive in Houston, is not my favorite moment in recent Rockets history.https://t.co/egwlRfcXXX
— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) March 2, 2021
Harden, who had requested a trade while still with the Rockets this past offseason, 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 had this to say after a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Lakers:
“We’re not even close, honestly, to that team (the Lakers) — obviously the defending champions — and all the other elite teams out there. You can tell the difference in these last two games.
“We’re just not good enough. Obviously chemistry, talent-wise, just… everything. It was clear. They’re a veteran team, a championship team, one of the best teams that we have in this league.
“I love this city. I’ve literally done everything I can. This situation is crazy. It’s something that — I don’t think it can be fixed.”
James Harden: We're not even close, honestly, to that team, the obviously the defending champions, and to all the other elite teams out there. I mean, you can tell the difference these last two games." pic.twitter.com/l6WDfBrtNS
— Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane) January 13, 2021
Harden expressed regret over how the situation unfolded to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview in late February.
“The drama, the extra whatever you want to call it, the negativity, for me I don’t really like negative energy, it’s draining,” Harden said. “I don’t like how it necessarily happened, I feel like it could’ve happened a lot smoother, easier, but it is what it is.”
After eight-plus years doing a lot for the Rockets and the larger Houston community, Harden hopes the fans receive him warmly on Wednesday.
“We came up short of a championship,” Harden said, per Alex Schiffer of The Athletic. “Hopefully those fans appreciated everything I did on the court and off the court and what I continue to do off the court. I feel like I’m still apart of the struggles they go through.”