Dear James Harden,
I am writing this letter on behalf of a large percentage of the fan base. I am a fan of not only the Philadelphia 76ers, but professional basketball in general, and I am baffled about your approach to this upcoming season. I have loved watching you decimate NBA defenses throughout your career and was thrilled when you became a Sixer. The playoffs didn’t go as hoped, but the beautiful thing about sports is that there is always another season. In a society that embraces second chances and loves to see individuals turn struggles into success stories, I am disappointed by how you have handled this team, season, and fan base. We all deserve better.
I understand that you feel wronged and hurt. Perhaps Daryl Morey is the villain here, who knows? But your choice to allow your ego and pride to dictate your future is senseless. Ninety percent of America has supervisors who frustrate us and make us wish we could tell them where to get off, but we do our job anyway and accept that we all need to co-exist with a few jerks. It’s part of life, not a reason for adults to whine and cry.
I’m going to cross money off the list of reasons why you might be acting out, because everyone knows that you are one of the highest-paid athletes in the history of professional sports, having earned well over half a billion dollars in salary and endorsements. Frankly, I pray that you are involved with lots of charitable organizations because that is a filthy amount of money to pay someone to put an orange ball into a metal ring. But I am a fan, and we all need a little joy and relief after a hard day at work, so when the ball is tipped your questionable financial decisions disappear and I just focus on the beauty of basketball. But this is now your third time disrespecting the game in four years and even diehard fans have a breaking point.
It’s the failure to understand your current standoff with Daryl Morey that is the most unforgivable frustration for fans now. You seem to have some misguided notion that this will be resolved the same way as your previous stops, but it should be obvious to even the most tone-deaf that this situation is different. This time, no one else in the entire league wants you. Not for the contract terms that you want, not for the challenges and attitude questions that seem to follow you everywhere. The history of putting yourself first does not fare well in a team setting, particularly not if that team wishes to prioritize winning over personal trips to Las Vegas or Miami.
Your current conflict does not have a resolution that involves any sort of victory over Daryl Morey. There will either be a trade that works well for both sides or a long, protracted battle in which you lose much more than you win. There are some media outlets out there proposing that Morey simply trade you for nothing, but how many working-class people out there would choose to sell a $400,000 house for $200,000 simply because it might take a long time to find a buyer? Morey is not only not that dumb, but he has a long history of being more patient than the next guy, and he doesn’t mind letting you sit out, no matter how you behave.
The bigger question is how many people are you willing to hurt to force your way out? Your Sixer teammates have stood by you without saying a single negative word. Fans like myself are furious about the standoff but would welcome you back like the prodigal son if you returned tomorrow. That is if you actually returned with full effort and a desire to win. Coming back at half-effort and clowning your way through games like you did in Brooklyn will simply burn your team and the fanbase and get you sent home. It will not force the trade that you desire. Only playing like the All-Star that everyone still believes you can be will make that happen.
Perhaps you feel like you backed yourself into a corner by publicly stating that you would never play for Daryl Morey again. It would be a mistake to consider it admirable to stand by those remarks and lose your career rather than man up and admit you reacted out of a very understandable human frustration. Even if you hate Morey, you need to have the sense to know that your refusal to play great basketball is what is keeping you here against your wishes. It is not the GM, or the league, or the Clippers, or anyone else that is holding up a deal. It is you.
The only way out of Philadelphia is to play well, draw interest, and get moved. It’s that simple. Stop acting like what has worked in the past is going to work again here. It won’t. It’s time for you to try a new tactic: get along to get what you want. Put aside whatever inner demons are telling you that you are too special for the rules. The league proved all summer that there currently is no trade market and no other teams are coming to save you. If you choose to let your ego keep you on the sideline your ferocious career could end with a wimpy whimper. The only one who can end this battle is you, by playing great basketball.
When you retire I would like to remember you as an electrifying scorer and passer, not as an immature egomaniac who pouted his way out of the NBA. If you don’t care about the fans or your teammates, you clearly care about yourself. And if that’s true, then come back to the team, play hard, and make yourself a target that teams will want to trade for. It’s not too late, and if you want to show everyone that you are in control, then this is the only way to do it.
I hope to see you back soon.
A lifelong 76ers fan