There were cheers. There were boos. There was emotion and reflection and a video tribute.
This, after all, was James Harden’s night.
It was The Beard’s first back in Houston since he was traded from the Rockets to the Brooklyn Nets on January 14.. Accordingly, Wednesday’s Nets-Rockets matchup became appointment television not for the game itself, but for how Harden would be received in his return to the city in which he played for eight-plus seasons.
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No Love Lost Between Harden, Ex-Teammates
There were some doubts about how Harden would be received by not only the Houston fans in attendance at Toyota Center, but even his ex-Rockets teammates given the tumultuous way things ended between Harden and the team.
From the fans, there were some boos but also plenty of cheers — especially after a two-minute video tribute honoring Harden, which prompted Harden to raise his arms to thank the fans.
But with Harden’s former teammates, there appeared to be no love lost.
According to The Athletic’s Alykhan Bijani, Harden went over to shake hands with several members of the Rockets after the game. That list included John Wall, Sterling Brown, Mason Jones, Ben McLemore, Jae’Sean Tate (who received a hug from Harden, per Bijani), P.J. Tucker (who also received a hug), Christian Wood and Victor Oladipo.
Bijani added that Harden shared a lengthy embrace with Tucker and a lengthy moment with Wood.
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) March 4, 2021
— Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA) March 4, 2021
Before he finally walked off the court and into the tunnel, Harden autographed his sneakers and threw them to fans in the crowd.
James Harden was in a much better mood as he walked off the floor inside Toyota Center than the last time he did 50 days ago pic.twitter.com/7DVXnaWEcX
— Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane) March 4, 2021
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Harden Reacts After Emotional Night
Earlier in the week, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Rockets would be retiring Harden’s No. 13 to honor his many contributions — both on and off the court — to Houston.
After Wednesday’s game, the 2017-18 NBA MVP was asked by ESPN’s Malika Andrews how it felt to return to Houston knowing that Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has said Harden’s jersey would hang in the Toyota Center rafters one day.
“Credit the ownership of the Rockets, the Fertitta family, for putting my jersey in the rafters,” Harden said. “Hopefully that shows, on the court and off the court, the contribution that I had to this city. So once again, I appreciate the support, the love, and the show goes on.”
James Harden on his first time back in Houston.
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 4, 2021