James Harden made his first appearance back in Houston after being traded to the Nets, receiving a mixed reaction from the 3,000 person crowd in attendance.
Amidst a chorus of cheers and some boos, he went about his business leading the Nets to a 132-114 win, recording his eighth triple-double in a Nets uniform with 29 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.
"A lot of mixed emotions from the fans but I knew that was going to happen," Harden said. "I just wanted to come out here and give them a show."
Prior to the game, Rockets Governor Tilman Fertitta expressed his gratitude for Harden's run in Houston, confirming the nine-time All-Star will have his jersey up in the rafters once it's all said and done.
"James Harden will always be a Rocket," Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle. "Of course, we will retire his jersey. He made my first three years of owning the franchise unforgettable. The success he brought this franchise over eight years and the memories he created for our fan base/community [are] truly remarkable."
Below, find some of the best sights and sounds from Harden's return to Houston.
A fitting tribute
The Rockets honoured Harden with a touching tribute video on the big screens, chronicling his time in Houston - from arriving from OKC, limitless highlight-reel plays, to growing into an MVP, as well as his huge impact on the city.
Welcome back, @JHarden13! Thanks for 8 great seasons in Houston. pic.twitter.com/ijOrPNMpAG- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 4, 2021
The Houston crowd delivered an ovation of cheers after the video played, thanking Harden for his time in Houston.
The 31-year-old continues to give back to the Houston community, who have been affected by recent winter snowstorms. He donated 3,000 meals for needy residents as well as 100 meals a day to five different schools, and assisting a low-income senior center.
During the timeout when the video played, Harden thanked the few fans in the arena with a wave.
🙏 pic.twitter.com/mdMrHwL9NS- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 4, 2021
Harden shared a moment with Rockets General manager Rafael Stone.
....and his good friend P.J. Tucker, who played alongside Harden for three seasons in Houston.
After the game, Harden signed his sneakers and tossed them into the crowd, into the arms of a pair of Houston fans.
.@JHarden13 showing love to the Houston fans pic.twitter.com/h8elnzZcNp- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 4, 2021
Whil the relationship between the star player and the franchise deteriorated, leading to his trade to Brooklyn, it was a happy homecoming at Toyota Center.
"A lot of mixed emotions from the fans," Harden told ESPN after the game. ... "Credit to the ownership of the Rockets, the Fertitta family for putting my jersey in the rafters. Hopefully that shows - on the court, off the court - the contributions that I had to this city.
"I appreciate the support, love - the show goes on."
A lasting legacy
When his jersey is eventually retired by the Rockets, he will be just the seventh player to receive the honour, joining Calvin Murphy, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Rudy Tomjanovich, Clyde Drexler and Yao Ming.
In his eight full seasons with the franchise, Harden led the Rockets to the playoffs every year, including two Conference Finals appearances in 2015 and 2018, winning three scoring titles and an MVP.
With career averages of 29.6 points, 7.7 assists, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.8 steals in 621 career regular-season games, Harden is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in franchise history.
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