During USA Basketball tryouts, James Harden has gotten a chance to compete against the best players in the world. All apologies to Europe and Asia, but the NBA is the toughest league in the world, so it makes sense when ESPN’s Scoop Jackson asked Harden who the best player in the world was right now and Harden answered clearly, “Myself,” as a million basketball fanboys scream bloody murder.
As part of an ongoing ESPN the Magazine feature, Scoop is sitting with Team USA players as they prepare for the FIBA World Cup in Spain beginning in September. Yesterday it was Rockets off-guard, James Harden, and Harden’s confidence in himself shone through from the onset:
Scoop: Bottom line, you are on this team and a lot of players aren’t, but in your mind, who is the best basketball player alive right now?
Scoop: That’s what I was about to say, “including you.” You made that sound like it was an easy answer.
Harden: It is. Myself.
Before you throw your computer out of the window and rush to find ample evidence to the contrary, keep a couple things in mind:
1) Harden has impressed onlookers at USA practices and scrimmages with is defense.
2) If you want to be the best in the NBA, you have to believe you’re the best.
We know that last one sounds like a self-help book or something Stuart Smalley might have repeated to himself in the mirror, but even the most cliched of aphorisms are based on a kernel of truth.
Players have to believe they’re the best if they ever hope to actually be the best. LeBron James and, over the last couple year years, Kevin Durant, have the talent to be the best player on the planet, but until they actually believed it themselves — particularly in LeBron’s case — they were stuck at a level just below the greatest in the world.
Kobe Bryant has always had this sort irrational belief in himself, and always feels he’s the best — even before he actually was. We’d hazard a guess that even a player like Dion Waiters feels this way, despite the fact his skills might not ever allow him to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
The key is the belief, and Harden has that, while also possessing a lethargic abhorrence to defense:
After Scoop and Harden’s opening salvo, Harden is given an opportunity to explain the rationale behind his odd proclamation most NBA fans will guffaw when they read:
Scoop: Then here’s the question: Are you where you want to be basketball-wise, even if you are the best?
Harden: Nowhere near close. I’ve got a long way to go, a lot of learning to do, improvements to make. Um, you know, as long as I’m listening and focused on the right things, I can reach my potential.
Scoop: So in your mind, you haven’t reached [your potential] yet?
Harden: Not even close.
As baffling as it Harden’s answer might sound, he thinks he’s the best. Pretty much everyone disagrees with that assessment, but maybe if he reaches his personal zenith on a basketball court, his actual place in the NBA will be more in line with his own evaluation than what basketball populace at large thinks right now.
Will Harden ever become the best basketball player in the world?
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