It was just after 5pm on Wednesday, and Philadelphia was waiting for news. Not about the upcoming 4th of July weekend, not about surgery for an ailing baseball star, but a decision from the still newest member of the Philadelphia 76ers. It was the deadline for when players with a player option for the 2022-23 season had to announce whether they intended to opt in or opt out by, and James Harden had the opportunity to opt in to a year of getting paid $47.4 million. In what world does a sane human being decide against taking a guaranteed near $50 million?? Well, that’s exactly what Harden did. Rather than opt in to the maximum amount, he chose to forego that and will at some point in the near future take a deal for less money that will give the Sixers significantly more flexibility in free agency. Now, Philly sits in a spot where they can actually make significant improvements to their roster in hopes of making a championship run this season.
A lot of people have said it since the news of Harden opting out came down, but allow me to echo the sentiment: James Harden, you are the man. When was the last time we had a superstar athlete not only force their way to play in Philadelphia, but then take significantly less money to stay here and try and set their team up for a championship? I can’t think of one. The Eagles had players restructure ahead of 2017. The Phillies made some solid signings ahead of 2008. But to see a player give up owed money at the back end of their career to chase a ring? That’s not something we’re used to in this city. We’re more the “players seem to regress when they’re here, superstars pick destination cities or tax break states over us” type of place. Except to one man, that is.
Now, it could have more to do with Joel Embiid and Daryl Morey than the city of Philadelphia, but hey, we’ll take it. It doesn’t matter what Harden’s true motivations are; the fact of the matter is that the Sixers are in much better shape because of the sacrifice (yes, I know it’s relative sacrifice and Harden is still very wealthy) of one guy. There is plenty of critique for James Harden, including numerous times where his desire to win was fairly questioned based on his off the court enjoyments. Well, we shouldn’t have those questions here in Philadelphia anymore. It may not work out, but James Harden is making every effort to put this team in place to win a championship. For that, he is the man.