James Harden makes us question what beauty is

Is James Harden lovely? This is not a question approximately the beard. (The answer to that one is maybe, with the beard; without the beard, now not as much.) This is a question about whether or not or no longer Harden plays a beautiful logo of basketball.

Harden divides opinion like no other celebrity. Despite the whole lot he’s completed, a debate rages approximately whether he’s clearly pleased to watch. Even at his high-quality, Harden can’t appear to fully win over enthusiasts — ESPN even ran a phase on Harden’s popularity inside the midst of his unprecedented streak of games scoring 30-plus points:

Harden’s recreation is supposedly too isolation-heavy. He slows the game down to a near standstill. There are instances in every sport whilst he dribbles the shot clock all the way down to unmarried digits before making his pass. Being on the Rockets, he’s encouraged to either shoot threes or cross for layups or dunks. His available actions are restrained relative to other superstars.

He additionally relies upon on foul requires scoring extra than all people else in the league. And he frequently flops. He exaggerates touch, which could experience much less like seeking to beat his combatants, and more like hacking the game. He’s observed loopholes to get the perfect factors feasible: free throws.

The defense of Harden’s fashion is that he’s crafty and powerful. That his isolation sport isn’t so much his fault as it’s far that of a Rockets device that demands it. It’s a manner to nullify defenses that switch often, and for the reason that Harden is one of the fine in the league at scoring in isolation, it’s also an affordable tactic.

But even if Harden’s sport can be argued for on utilitarian grounds, splendor is every other popular altogether. Beauty and leisure are naturally connected. Though it has a recognition for being reductive and essential in our global, amusement is a byproduct of the things that delight us. Beautiful things engage our imagination. Beauty is enjoyable to study and think about. It entertains, first and fundamental.

Harden does many pleasing and exquisite things inside the Rockets’ machine. His step-returned three is an elegant combination of stability and timing. When he does take defenders on, he can beat them with strength and frame control, or with crossovers and finesse. He’s also a top-notch passer. And there’s theoretical splendor in his capacity to attract fouls and con referees. Players like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade had been lauded for the equal cunningness inside the past, although few take it to Harden’s severe.

But Harden’s stability of enjoyment is off. As it is argued right now, the controversy approximately Harden seems to be about aesthetics as opposed to effectiveness. One facet says that though what he does is effective, it is able to’t be lovely because it isn’t pleasing to look at. Others counter that because Harden’s sport is powerful, it’s inherently unique and delightful.

This isn’t the authentic argument, however. There’s no conflict between aesthetics and effectiveness. Many functional matters are lovely. That marriage is the idea of things like layout and architecture, and there are numerous elite gamers whose styles are stunning, but purposeful: Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Nikola Jokic, and Harden’s teammate Chris Paul.

The dialogue about Harden is about what splendor in sports activities approach within the first place, a greater specific model of the never-finishing argument of whether splendor is objective or subjective. The answer varies by using a character. I think beauty is inevitably an aggregate of the subjective and objective, of personal taste and the larger ideals of the society or network that we inhabit. The subjective is frequently prompted by the goal, even when we aren’t aware of it.

As basketball fanatics, we tend to view passing basketball that engages many players and is predicated on motion because of the maximum beautiful model of the game. The pre-Durant Warriors and Steve Nash Suns are two properly examples of that dynamism. Recently, the Nuggets’ ball motion produced what is taken into consideration one of the maximum beautiful sequences of these playoffs:

We like players who can healthy and thrive inside the mold of passing and motion, but there’s additionally an allowance for individuals who don’t, so long as they’re creative of their character work. Irving frequently isolates, but he’s unique along with his crossovers and finishes. The same can be said for Curry and Lillard. Durant isolates a lot as properly, and at the same time, as he is from time to time chided for disrupting a system that used to emphasize the beauty of ball movement, he is likewise often praised as breathtaking because of how impossible he is to forestall.

Within that prevalent standard in basketball, splendor additionally relies upon on what every individual or institution of enthusiasts values.

If someone values technical excellence, then Klay Thompson’s taking pictures form is beautiful. If a person values electricity and domination, then poster dunks are beautiful. If it’s creativity with the ball, then crossovers, no-appearance passes, and switching arms whilst completing at the rim are a laugh to look at.

And if one values pure effectiveness alone, then getting fouls by conning the referees and exaggerating contact, or making the three after dribbling down the clock is probably taken into consideration lovely. All of those standards are not exceptional, and regularly intermingle.


The trouble for Harden is that whilst beauty is subjective, his game runs counter to the famous widespread of beauty in the interim. If only a few people see his style as lovely, then he is at pleasant an different artwork, or a cult entertainer.

His movements are so repulsive to some people that it colorings the whole thing else that he does, even the wonderful things. Harden’s recognition has gotten to the point that fellow gamers and coaches mock him:

Conversely we, as fanatics, have a tendency to have no trouble with a participant if he receives to the free throw line by beating and forcing his defender to foul out of desperation. Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example, draw fouls out of domination. And Harden can win fouls through dominating his combatants, too. But he also attempts to attract fouls as a primary manner to attain factors, and that’s wherein the trouble lies.

The cause Harden’s deception repulses such a lot of human beings has to do with what we can think of like the Thor and Loki divide. Superstars are primarily Thors: Dominant, effective, and certainly better than their fighters. This can take many forms, from the physicality of Embiid to the range of Curry. But incredible players can be Lokis, too. Because they’re not as gifted or bodily-proficient because the Thors, they depend on deception and underhanded hints — sorcery — to find methods around their opposition.

Ashley Stephens

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