Most players start to decline in their early 30s, according to studies. The only real question is how much, and how quickly. Even the greatest stars begin to sense their athletic mortality, realizing they have more basketball years behind them than ahead. “You reminisce and then you’re like, ‘All right, I was just an 18-year-old kid, and then I was just 21,'” Harden says, taking a break during a recent event to introduce his new shoe, the Adidas Harden Vol. 4. “Where the hell did nine years go? And then like, what’s next?”
Michael Jordan was 35 when he made his last All-NBA team. Kobe Bryant was 34. Dwyane Wade was 31. Jordan won his last championship at 35. Bryant and Wade, at 31. Nearly every elite guard of the last 30 years has started to fade between 30 and 34. Harden listens intently to the list, then smiles ruefully. “You just messed me up with that one,” he says. “That was some elite company right there.”
At 30, Harden is old enough to understand how difficult it is to win and how foolish it is to define a career on rings alone. But championships do matter to a star’s legacy, and Harden has reached the stage where the “L” word is increasingly on his mind. “Of course it matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”
And the late withdrawals, a list of talent that includes James Harden, Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard? If they want to play next summer? “We’ll deal with those cases individually,” Colangelo said. “It’s important to field as strong a team as possible.” Indeed. When the U.S. suits up its A-Team, it’s unbeatable. In 2016, the U.S. routed Serbia in the gold medal game by 30. The average margin of victory in that Olympic cycle: 22.5 points. In 2020, the schedule is ideal; the Olympics open in late July and conclude in early August. The chance to be part of another Redeem Team should be motivating.
Storyline: Olympic Games