James Harden is known for getting salty about what he believed were MVP snubs. In 2020, he notably insulted Giannis Antetokounmpo’s game by implying the Greek Freak didn’t have any basketball skills. Now his trainer is throwing his two cents into the conversation by claiming his client should be a multiple MVP winner at this point.
Harden won the award in 2017–18, the first of his three straight 30-point-per-game seasons. His Houston Rockets finished an NBA-best 65–17. That helped Harden’s case: MVP voters have long shown a tendency to favor the best player on the best team. That fueled Antetokounmpo’s MVP run in 2018–19 as well.
Can a case be made for Harden? Sure. But there are other one-time winners from the past that could make similar arguments.
James Harden has been in the MVP mix several times
Before his win in 2017–18, James Harden was runner-up for the NBA MVP honor in both 2014–15 (behind Stephen Curry) and 2016-17 (Russell Westbrook). Since getting the trophy, Harden finished second to Antetokounmpo in 2018-19 and third in 2019–20, trailing Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.
Last season, he was in the conversation for his role keeping the Brooklyn Nets afloat while Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were injured. But a hamstring injury ended his candidacy (he did get one third-place vote).
But Harden is far from the only NBA superstar with a single MVP award. Among contemporaries, Durant is a notable one-time honoree. Historically, all-time greats Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Julius Erving were selected by most voting media just once each.
On a grander scale, Michael Jordan probably should have won more than five times. James won four MVP awards in five seasons from 2008–13 but has also been a victim of voter fatigue of late.
If there is one truth about the NBA media and fan base, it is a desire for different results. At least until they get them, then they clamor for dynasties, both individual and team. In essence, it is possible in the 21st century to make a large chunk of people unhappy all the time.
Harden’s trainer accused the MVP voters of theft
Justin Allen, a Houston-based trainer, has worked with James Harden since the NBA shut down for the pandemic in 2020. Allen owns All-en Sports in Houston and appeared on the Netflix documentary series Last Chance U.
He comes from an athletic background. His brother is former NFL tight end Dwayne Allen, a John Mackey Award winner at Clemson, while Justin played collegiately at New Mexico State.
As far as he’s concerned, Harden should have more than one MVP award. Many more, per the New York Daily News.
“I think he’s been robbed in about three of them. I think he should be a three- or four-time MVP for sure. You’ve got some great players out there. And you can’t take anything away from the guys who won it. But I definitely think James Harden will be in the conversation until it’s time for him to hang up his shoes.”
“A lot of people who have something to say, half of them didn’t play the games to understand the game. But James is a very unselfish individual, both on and off the court.”Justin Allen on James Harden
But if Harden has a popularity problem, much of it is of his own making.
James Harden can do petty
In the wake of the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, James Harden was feuding with Antetokounmpo over comments the Milwaukee Bucks star made during the All-Star draft. Antetokounmpo selected Kemba Walker over Harden while taking a swipe at The Beard’s ball-heavy style.
During an interview with Rachel Nichols of ESPN, Harden didn’t find the incident amusing.
“I don’t see what the joke is. But I didn’t even see it. I don’t pay attention to stuff like that. I just know that none of them can mess with me. When it’s all said and done, they’ll appreciate it more. But I wish I could just run and was 7-feet and run and dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball. How to have skill. I’ll take that any day.”James Harden in 2020
Antetokounmpo grabbed bragging rights last season, beating the Nets en route to an NBA title. Harden didn’t cover himself in glory in that series, trying and failing to draw a foul against Antetokounmpo with a blatant flop.
James Harden is an offensive force like few others the NBA has ever seen. If he’s healthy, he’s always a threat to be in the NBA MVP discussion. But robbery accusations from a trainer probably aren’t the way to increase his popularity with fans or voters.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.