James Harden’s answer started fittingly Thursday night when he was asked about passing Allen Iverson on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
“The Answer,” Harden began.
He was reflective after moving past the Sixers legend during a comeback win over the Grizzlies.
“Being in the NBA was a far-fetched dream,” he said. “And now, telling me things like that, it’s just like, I don’t know what to say. Obviously, we know how important AI was to this league and to the city of Philly, but (also) the culture, the game of basketball itself. I’m just happy to be in the same conversation as him, and I’ve got a long way to go.”
Now 26th in league history with 24,386 points, Harden is set to catch Ray Allen (24,505 points) next.
Harden scored 31 against Memphis and was easily the Sixers’ top offensive player on a night where Joel Embiid played tremendous defense but had serious shooting woes. Harden made 6 of his 9 three-point tries, including a vital shot from the corner down the stretch.
He’s up to 39.7 percent from long range this season, which would be the best mark of his career. The Sixers have won 16 of their last 20 games heading into a matchup Saturday night against the top-seeded Celtics. Harden has played in 19 of those contests and hit 43.9 percent of his threes during that span.
On Thursday, he was glad to praise everyone who contributed to the team’s improbable turnaround.
“That’s what it’s going to take — five guys on the same page with that type of effort,” Harden said. “It was great for us. We don’t want to put ourselves in that situation where we’re down double-digit points for basically the entire game. But we found something today: That we’ve got a really good team that won’t quit. That’s always a good sign.”
Harden also didn’t mind putting aside the specifics of Thursday’s game to reflect on another topic.
As ESPN’s Malika Andrews detailed, Harden recently spoke on FaceTime with John Hao, a Michigan State student. Hao, who’s a fan of Harden’s, survived the Feb. 13 mass shooting on campus and is now paralyzed.
“My team found out about it — the people that work for me,” Harden said. “Things like that, you just sit back and think about real life and things bigger than basketball. I heard that he was a fan of mine, so I wanted to get on that ASAP and just see what I could do. So a couple of people from my team flew up there, were actually in the hospital with him, and brought him some things to kind of cheer him up, make him smile.
“They put me on FaceTime with him. He’s actually doing a little bit better. So the more I can just encourage and rub off this energy that I have and give him hope, I feel like that’s what I’m here for. That’s what I have this platform for. So hopefully he can recover and bounce back out of that. … I gave him my number so whenever he feels like he needs anything, he can call me and I can check up on him.”
While Harden and Iverson are obviously different in plenty of ways, the Sixers’ 33-year point guard recognizes that his stardom can be similarly powerful outside of basketball.
“I’m just fortunate and blessed to be in a position where I can make an impact in people’s lives,” Harden said. “That’s what I really care about. … It’s a tragedy. He wasn’t expecting that. It’s something that he can’t control, and that’s the craziest part about it.
“Anytime I can do my part, I do it.”