So far, this NBA Season has ruled. Teams are playing a billion possessions a game, scoring absurd amounts of points, there have been multiple extremely sick dunks, the Timberwolves are tearing apart at the seams, Jonas Jerebko had a game-winning buzzer beater, WHAT MORE COULD YOU POSSIBLY WANT!? Oh, you want a hilarious fight? Well buddy, have I got some news for you!
THIS WEEKEND, in LeBron’s HOME DEBUT with the L.A. Lakers, LIVE ON ESPN, the best shit imaginable happened. James Harden, America’s Favorite Player, drove to the rim in transition, got fouled by Brandon Ingram, and finished the basket. The Refs decided there was no continuation on the play, and Harden, knowing that the silent wheel gets no grease, complained a little. Ingram, in the middle of a tense game, coming off a loss to God’s own Portland Trail Blazers and looking more than a little like a dude who is getting dismembered by LeBron James in practice, took issue with this protest and delivered a straight up playground shove. Harden is befuddled, seeing as, well, everyone asks refs for fouls, and he just got SHOVED, which is probably not something that happens to him, a grown man, very often.
Lance Stephenson, a bad person, and Carmelo Anthony, a pretty cool dude, guide Ingram away from the conflict and his own worst impulses, while LeBron shoots Harden a Hey man, I also don’t know look.
Meanwhile, Chris Paul, a person who loves being irate, is Irate on Harden’s behalf. Rajon Rondo, a psychopath, comes up to him, and they begin to have what is, I presume, a profanity laden conversation. That’s when some wild shit might have happened: Rondo may or may not spit on Chris Paul (I am on the side of yes he did, the video evidence is deeply convincing).
CP3 jerks his head back, dumbfounded, then RAMS HIS FINGER INTO RONDO’S EYE, the fists go a flyin’, and Ingram runs back into the scrum to throws some hands. (Extremely bad idea, financially.) LeBron, hilariously, grabs CP3 like a bear cub and yanks him away from the fight, while security descends on Rondo, and Carmelo, entirely too old for this shit, guides Ingram away with a kind of Jesus Christ, what are you doing dude? look plastered across his face.
Ejections, suspensions, the PURE JOY OF BEING ALIVE, all of it, baby, it’s the best shit, the stuff you’re entirely too ashamed to admit you watch sports for, wonderful dumb fight, millions of iconic little moments strung into one package, no one really got hurt, TEN OUT OF TEN STARS.
But I want to zoom in on something that's sort of flown under the radar. My pal Dane Delgado screencapped the initial shove and used it as an opportunity to rag on Harden for flopping. And, don’t get me wrong: he does flop, and It’s cool as hell because Officer Krupke-ass refs getting fooled is funny and fun. But it’s also a gateway into some shit about James Harden that is on display during this whole fracas: my man is EXTREMELY FUCKING IN CONTROL of his shit, the NBA’s true Zen Master.
He doesn’t even THINK about retaliating when this shit goes down. He knows the game is the most important thing here, and if he lets Ingram's pissy little meltdown get to him, he is going to get kicked out and his team is going to lose.
As the hands go flying after Rondo decides to spit on another 30-Something human being, Harden just kind of ambles back to the scrap, there in case something bad happens, but totally, one hundred percent disengaged from the proceedings, knowing in his extremely powerful mind that getting involved will cost him money and cost his team the game.
If your mind is stuck in western, honor-bound type thought, you probably see Harden as weak. You are also fucking wrong. Let the power of equanimity flood your mind, see the truth as preached by Siddhartha, The Buddha. Submitting, as Ingram does, to the hindrance of vyapada, Ill will for one’s fellow man, would have been the TRULY weak thing to do here. Instead, Harden catches his breath, puts himself in a calm mindset, understanding the transitory nature of all things, and keeps himself out of trouble. It’s a superhuman accomplishment, really, the kind of thing we should be showing our children to teach them the proper way to act when confronted. If we could ALL control ourselves the way Harden does, there would be no war at all. Only peace, and lots of personal fouls.
After the fight and the ejections, Harden calmly sunk both of his awarded free throws, then proceeded to dominate the remainder of the game. He scored or assisted on 10 points in the last four or so minutes of the game and lead the Rockets to a nine-point victory like it was basically nothing. He didn’t care! If anything the vibrating madness around him—from the players, the coaches, the refs, the crowd, from Anthony Kiedis—made him play EVEN BETTER, because he was just so totally unconcerned with anything but the task at hand while everyone else was sitting there trying to figure out if Rondo SPIT ON CHRIS PAUL.
This kind of control of his shit is Harden’s on court superpower. He is constantly aware and in control of his mind and body, willing to exploit his opponent’s anxiousness for foul shots and skate through any situation without letting it get to him. He sees so far beyond the veil of reality, of bodies, to the deeper energies shifting beneath, and he yanks them around willy nilly, totally unconcerned about the things that are driving everyone else completely nuts. In the heat of this chaos, he flexed that MVP-level skill for a national audience. I, for one, stand in awe.