On this, the final day of an action-packed NBA regular season, Houston Rockets superstar James Harden has one more chance to make his case for league MVP.
It’s been a long, circuitous ride for Harden since he was a prep standout at Artesia (Lakewood, Calif.) before heading off to Arizona State, then the Oklahoma City Thunder, and now Houston. Harden’s high school coach, Scott Pera, joined SI Now on Wednesday and discussed his prized pupil.
Even a prized pupil could use some motivation to become a complete player. Pera (now the head coach at Rice University) used hamburgers as a motivational tactic, something that was mentioned in Lee Jenkins’ Sports Illustrated piece on “The Beard” in February 2015.
Jenkins wrote two years ago:
To turn Harden from a sniper into a driver, Pera put him through daily X-out drills, in which Harden had to convert eight straight layups while Pera punished him with an arm pad. They made a standing bet: If Harden shot more than six free throws in a game, Pera owed him a hamburger; if Harden shot fewer than six, he owed Pera sprints. Harden discovered ways to contort his limbs through and around defenders, collecting whistles and patties.
On Wednesday, SI Now’s Maggie Gray brought up the motivational patties to Pera. The current Rice head coach discussed what went into that playful wager.
“I think he can buy the hamburgers now,” Pera told Gray. “It’s funny, you just try different things with different kids. I wanted him to understand the importance – he came to me as a very good standstill shooter. So any kid that is good at something, that’s what they naturally want to do all the time. And I kept trying to talk to him and tell him that if you want to be a great scorer or a really good player you have to add different things to your game, so you need to learn to take contact. And I told him, every time you get knocked down, you’ve got to get back up, not look at anybody funny, not talk to the refs or the other team, get to the free throw line and give them two points. So that’s where that bet came from, to challenge him a little bit, and he takes things to the next level.
“I think I probably bought a lot of hamburgers.”
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Harden leads the NBA in free throws per game with 10.9 while averaging 29.1 points per outing. The second most frequent free throw shooter? Harden’s closest competition for MVP, former OKC teammate Russell Westbrook, at 10.5.
For Harden, the burger motivation appears to have paid off.
You can see the full SI Now, including Pera’s full interview, here.