Last night, I couldn't partake in the game experience that was James Harden Back In Oklahoma City. Nope, every Rockets game on TV is blacked out in Houston thanks to the fact that Comcast Sports hasn't gotten its shit together is still negotiating deals with major cable providers to air the Rockets games. Still, judging from the reaction from Thunder devotee Eddie Masionet - it probably felt weird watching Harden take his lefty stroke from deep in Rockets red instead of Thunder blue.
Sure, Harden struggled in his first game back and got picked on by the OKC defense who swatted six of his 16 attempts from the field and the Rockets never really figured into the game after the second quarter. But it still felt like a valid reason to stir up the emotion of that "damn, that guy used to play for us and be one of our young guns" if you're a Thunder fan. If you're a Rockets fan, it's more of a malaise reaction to watching Kevin Martin, deemed "The Other Guy" in the trade put up 17 points off the bench.
However, you know what it means to Oklahoma City fans. The guy who had pretty much been their glue guy off the bench was in different colors and had been treated quite unfairly by management and they had won a small battle.
"We don't need him," fans may have seethed.
"We beat their guys by 22!"
They're saying this at the exact same time they're clutching onto that picture of Harden, Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook huddled together at the end of Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals. They didn't look ready to accept defeat there and they knew they were going to get another shot at it next year. Then they were broken up, inexplicably and nobody really knows where to point the finger.
This was argued a month or so ago when the trade went down but we'll bring it back up for old times sake. If you're pro Harden, you know that Sam Presti basically gave him an hour or so to determine whether or not he was going to take a $54 million extension or get shipped out of town. Pro Thunder feels like the team would have sank much of its player salary into four guys while neutering the other 8 players that needed to make up the team. Fact is this, the Thunder can no longer be considered a "small market" team when it grossed $126 million last season, consistently sell out their building, have a die hard fan base who will buy up any and all merchandise for them and have essentially created a cash cow economy in America's heartland.
Durant said after the game, "But we wanted this win bad for all those days in practice that him, Daequan and Eric Maynor beat the first group, I wanted this game real bad". It was pride for him. For us fans, we wanted Harden to stick a big "Eff You" to Sam Presti, all the fans who burned his jersey and anybody else who couldn't figure him out to be a star. He was never reluctant, hell he even WROTE A LETTER to Sam Presti wanting to be on the bench in OKC because he saw the potential. He knew his role and played it.
Now he's playing the role of slightly scorned ex who still somewhat has a soft spot for his old flame.
And it's weird as hell.