James Harden, Sacrifice and Leadership

Once the dust settled I became a little more okay with the James Harden trade from my Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets. I basically had to settle on, “It is, what it is!” The trade created lots of great discussions for the City Of Oklahoma City, The Thunder, The NBA, Value and Leadership.

There were some one one side of the spectrum that thought Harden should have just conceded and took the deal that the Thunder offered ($53 million over 4 years). Harden and the Thunder were off about 1.25 million per year.  There were others on the other end of the spectrum that thought the Thunder should have just ponied up and gave Harden what he was asking for. You only get a few opportunities to make a run at an NBA Championship and Harden is the most popular visible figure on the Thunder roster second to Kevin Durant. Conclusion – The Thunder gave Harden hour to make a decision and the end result was a trade of Harden to the Houston Rockets.

Often times when it comes to leadership, roles, contributions and value organizations and leaders like to play the sacrifice card. Harden should sacrifice to be a part of a winning team. Harden should sacrifice, it’s just a few million dollars. Harden should sacrifice, look what Ginoboli did for the Spurs. Harden should sacrifice, he’s not even a starter. “You have to sacrifice, we sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice.” I’ve seen it in every type of organization that you can imagine.

Speaking of sacrifice, Harden kicked off his Debut with the Rockets last night and he went “Beast Mode” as the young folks say. With only two practices under his belt, The Bearded One dropped 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals, and a block. Harden is only the 4th player in NBA history to do so. You might ask, “Who are the other 3?” Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Dwyane Wade… that’s some pretty good company in your debut as a starter.

When it comes to sacrifice, maybe the real sacrifice was James Harden gracefully coming in off the bench and contributing everything he had as the 6th man for the Thunder. Maybe the real sacrifice was Harden taking the 3rd role seat when clearly he’s a first role player. Maybe sacrifice was playing Robin’s little brother, when clearly he’s a Batman. Maybe sacrifice was playing for less money, when he clearly could have gotten more.

Check out the highlights from Harden’s debut game last night… they are very telling. James Harden is not only a Super Star; he’s a Super Star that makes his teammates better. Oh and Harden’s deal with the Houston Rockets $80 million over 5 year$. When you watch the highlight video, you will hear the announcers keep screaming that $80 million dollars is a value.

I agree, $80 million is a value and I believe we have to be careful when we throw around the word sacrifice because it’s really difficult to know what those around us are sacrificing and it’s also hard to truly assess someone’s value, worth, contribution and sacrifice to your organization and your team.

James Harden, Sacrifice and Leadership.

Watch the video below and share your thoughts on this post and Harden’s debut.


  • Sacrifice? When we’re talking millions of dollars to play a game, no one is sacrificing anything. (You’ve been to Nigeria, you know what I’m talking about.) I enjoy sports very much and I love our Thunder as much as anybody, but until BOTH the players AND owner’s (in all professional sports) are willing to “sacrifice” enough of their treasure so that an ordinary person can afford to take their kids to watch a game, I will NEVER feel the least bit of sadness for the loss of any player; or lockout; or whole season for that matter. No, Scott, the word “sacrifice” doesn’t even come close to fitting this context: The only reason Harden left, is because his greed could not coexist with that of Mr. Bennet. Sacrifice and Leadership had nothing to do with it.

    • ScottWilliams

      Perry I disagree… I think sacrifice is relative term. many were saying that Harden should have sacrificed to stay with the thunder. I’ve heard churches, non-profits and businesses say that employees should sacrifice to be a part of the organization… that being said I think there was some sacrifice.

      As far as greed, I’m not going there because that’s a heart issue. I think its more a matter of worth and accordng to the rockets not only is Harden worth $80 million, they feel like its a steal. Anyone could look at anything that any of us do and say we are not worth that and we could take less. Value and Worth are important.

      The thunder is about the most inexpensive ticket you can get for an NBA team, they have $15 packages for upper level seats, not much more than a movie these days.

      • Fair enough, sacrifice IS indeed relative; subjective to the cost to the one making it. I would still argue however, that sacrifice is NOT occurring in this context. True, in comparison to the Thunder organization, Mr. Hardin seems to have been the one who gave up the most but, there is (or should be) a distinction made between ‘sacrifice’ and merely giving up a portion of one’s wealth, while still remaining wealthy. (What’s a million or two between friends…LOL!)

        Likewise, when one makes a real sacrifice, they receive nothing tangible in return and the cost is significant, commensurate to the wealth and/or ability (or lack thereof) of the one making it (e.g. The Widows Mite, Luke 21:1-4). An athlete giving up a couple million dollars out of a salary of many tens of millions is NOT making a sacrifice; it’s a carefully calculated business and personal decision that does not alter either their status or lifestyle. Granted, they might have to settle for the Citation instead of the Gulfstream, but then, times are tough all over. 🙂

        When it comes to sports, some say that athletes “sacrifice” their bodies for the game. Again, I disagree. This is not a sacrifice, it is a sale. The athletes knowingly pursue and enter into an agreement whereby they sell their skills, their personality and often their health to the highest bidder after having considered the cost and finding it agreeable. They are well paid for what will likely be a lifetime of pain; but, a sale is NOT a sacrifice. If one is paid for what they give, it is not a gift.

        SACRIFICE IS the family that spends their hard earned vacation time and money on a mission trip instead of the cruise they’ve planned for years. SACRIFICE IS the struggling single mom who skips lunch each day for a month so she can buy cleats for her kid that wants to play ball more than anything else. SACRIFICE IS the successful career person who leaves a comfortable, stable, well-paying job to follow God’s calling into a ministry for a fraction of the pay. SACRIFICE IS…

        I concede your point on my comment about “greed”. You are correct, it IS a heart issue and it was not correct, just, nor charitable for me to make such a judgmental statement.

        “Value and Worth” on the other hand, are terms at least as relative and subjective as “sacrifice” (or the cost of a ball game, but we won’t go there…lol). An athlete that brings millions of dollars in revenue to an organization is obviously ‘valuable’ to that organization and may well be ‘worth’ their salary to those paying it BECAUSE of that revenue. But, in the reality of the world around us and the society in which we live, how ‘valuable’ are they? Are they really ‘worth’ 50-60-80 million dollars (multiplied several times, over multiple contract periods)?

        Why is an athlete ‘worth’ more than a firefighter, or police officer, or soldier? Why do we, as a society, count our athletes more ‘valuable’ than our teachers? Are these ‘values’ based on what the individual contributes to society? If so, then the athletes should be the least paid of those groups mentioned.

        An athlete merely provides entertainment for a period of maybe 10 or 15 years. A responsible and good-hearted athlete gives from their wealth and time to improve their community and the lives of those who live there. This is admirable to say the least, but does that increase their ‘value’?

        In contrast, a teacher gives their heart, mind and strength to improving not only the daily lives of their students, but improving their students chances for a lifetime of success, often changing whole generations and their progeny for the better. Yet, we pay our teachers pittance, compared to what they give, often sacrificing (yes, really sacrificing) from their own pockets to supply their students needs!

        Firefighters, police and our military willingly place themselves in harm’s way for OUR benefit, often suffering physical injuries rivaling ANYTHING a professional athlete will face and suffering a lifetime of pain and disability. But, do we ever consider them ‘worth’ tens of millions of dollars because they “sacrifice they bodies”? WHY do we so easily excuse and justify the excessive salaries and demands of our athletes AND their organizations, when ALL they really give us is a few years of entertainment?

        You are correct Scott, “Value and Worth ARE important” (emphasis mine); but what is it that we are considering valuable and worthwhile, and why?

        Like I said previously, I REALLY enjoy sports, but this unhealthy, unbalanced obsession our culture has with sports and athletes has contributed in no small way to the up-ending of our values as a people…or is it the other way around?

        Thanks for a great discussion Scott! Michele says ‘Hi’!

  • That is a great post. I know I’m late to the party but I appreciate your insight on the topic and the parallels to leadership. Great stuff Scott!

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