Imagine being in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, sitting in the upper tier of the historic bowl with a Bernard King jersey on.
You look across the floor and see the retired numbers of Walt Frazier and Willis Reed hanging from the rafters.
You look in the newspaper and realize an organization that’s been to the playoffs just four times since 2001 is 10-36 after going 29-53 last year.
You look at your bench and realize the most compelling personal story of the season has been about your politically active Turkish center, Enes Kanter, saying he fears he’ll be assassinated by his government.
And then you realize you are witnessing one of the greatest individual performances in MSG history and, as usual, its someone else’s player authoring it.
We have news for fans who’ve lost their interest in the NBA because Lebron James hasn’t played since Christmas. There are many other great players worthy of your time and attention.
The greatest of them might be James Harden of the Houston Rockets. If he’s not, he’s certainly been playing lately like he is.
Just the other day, the Rockets bearded wonder was saying he hoped one day to have a career game at the Garden – a moment, he called it. He wanted to do something that would be remembered, not only for this season, but indefinitely.
And guess what? On Wednesday, Harden pulled it off. He was Sinatra singing “My Way.” He was Billy Joel performing for the 105th time before a sold-out crowd. He was Ali vs. Frazier.
Harden scored 61 points, tying Kobe Bryant’s record for a visitor at this latest iteration of MSG, to lead the Rockets to a 114-110 win. And his breakaway dunk was the final exclamation point.
“This is one of the historical buildings in the sport that we have,” said Harden. “Obviously, the fans are one of the best that we have in this league. And so it’s pretty cool to come out here and put on a show for them.”
While The King sits because of his groin injury, while Stephen Curry shares time with the Warriors’ Gang of Five, Harden is making his case for another MVP as its leading scorer.
This season, Harden who has already scored at least 50 five times, scored at least 30 for the 21st straight game, the fourth most in league history. The other three were by Wilt Chamberlain, whose 65-game streak is the record. Good luck with that, James.
If you’ve lost count, this is going to take more than two hands: Harden has scored 261 points in his past five games . According to the human abacus, the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the second most by any player in a five-game span over the past 50 seasons. Kobe Bryant had 268 points over that timeframe in March 2007.
Harden surpassed his average of 35.7 points by halftime, putting back his own miss as the buzzer blared to give him 36.
The points did not come easy. He had to be persistent to get them. He shot poorly (17-of-38 from the field) and made only five of 20 three-pointers. By the end, he had taken over 34 percent of all his team’s shots (90). But the Knicks helped him out, fouling him time after time after annoying time.
In the process, he became the first player in league history to attempt both 20 threes and 20 free throws in a game and the fifth to have more than one 60-point games. It’s a pretty awesome list: Wilt (32), Kobe (six), Jordan (four), Elgin (three) and Harden (two).
Oh, we almost forgot something: Harden also had 15 rebounds. By doing that, he became the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000 to have a 60-15 game.
“The guy is just good,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached the Knicks from 2008-12 so he obviously understands the difference when he sees it.
The Knicks were led by Allonzo Trier, who tried hard with 31 points. He is averaging 10.2 points this season. That pretty much says Knicks all over it, doesn’t it?
Meanwhile, Harden spent the night rocking to the syncopation of the crowd.
“The [the fans] couldn’t figure out what they wanted to do,” said Harden, who admitted he was booed and cheered. “I appreciate them, honestly. Tonight, they kept me going and made the game exciting for me. … That’s why this place is special. I’m just happy to give them 61.”
You couldn’t blame them for being excited when he got the ball. They knew what was coming. Harden hasn’t had an assist in his last five games.
“Sometimes it’s a little hard for the other guys because he scores every time,” said D’Antoni. “We just have to be mentally tough and strong and enjoy what he’s doing.”
If you are wondering, Carmelo Anthony holds the all-time MSG record with 62 points. He did that in January 2014 against the Charlotte Bobcats. That was some Knicks team. Pablo Prigioni, Toure Murry and Cole Aldrich gobbled up many of those minutes.
By the way, there’s a legit reason that fan was wearing his King jersey. King has two of the eight top-scoring games in Garden history. He scored 60 on Christmas Day 1984 and 55 on Feb. 16, 1985.
You can’t blame a guy for sticking with his team. But it can Harden your heart sometimes.