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James Harden hopes to feel ‘love’ from Houston fans in return

Sacramento Kings v Brooklyn Nets

BROOKLYN, NY - FEBRUARY 23: James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on February 23, 2021 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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There are only about 4,500 fans at Rockets games right now, but that group is going to be vocal in telling James Harden how they feel when he returns to the city in a Brooklyn uniform Wednesday night.

Harden said he hopes he feels the love from those fans because he still loves the city.

Not sure that wish is going to come true, but here’s what Harden said in an interview with Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“The love and the appreciation that I’ve given to that city and that I still give to that city, I’m hoping that the favor can be returned,” Harden told ESPN...

“I feel like I’m a part of the community,” Harden said. “Me now being in Brooklyn, it hasn’t changed the way I feel about that city and everything it’s done for me. So whether it’s trying to feed as many people as I can, get water, as much water as I can to the people that need it.”

Despite playing in the borough of New York with the best bagels now, he has been active in helping Houston when it and much of Texas was devastated by a recent cold snap. He helped have bottled water shipped in, and his restaurant in the city gave away thousands of meals. Harden unquestionably still cares deeply for the city where he played for more than eight years.He also unquestionably left in an ugly way. After having a lot of sway in the organization and pushing out players like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, Harden decided it was time to move on and push for a trade. He asked to be moved to Brooklyn,
didn’t show up to training camp (but was partying in clubs), showed up out of shape, and was generally a disruptive force. Harden eventually got his wish and was traded to the Nets.

“I thought I would never leave that franchise,” Harden said. “I thought I was going to be in Houston, obviously, for the rest of my career. Things happened. I’ve got different goals, and I’ve seen a different vision for myself and my career and my family.”

He continued: “Like I said, it doesn’t change the fact of how I feel about the city. But it just didn’t go as well -- as smooth -- as I planned.”

When you have a team built around one player’s singular talents and that player leaves, things fall apart. Houston has lost 12 games in a row going into the Brooklyn game Wednesday.

Rockets fans will let Harden know how they feel on Wednesday night. But they should also remember how good this team was and how many great memories they have because of him — the franchise is retiring his number for a reason. It was the best run of Rockets basketball since the 1990s title teams.

But the wounds from Harden leaving are fresh. It’s going to be an interesting night in Houston.