LONDON — Growing up in Los Angeles, James Harden idolized the Laker greats of the early 1990s, including Magic Johnson.
Little did he know he would one day be competing on the same world stage with current Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant.
“Watching Kobe and now being on the same team as him for the Olympics and just being around these guys on a day-to-day basis, you know it feels good,” said the former Arizona State University star.
The 6-foot-5 bearded guard has contributed off the bench in Team USA’s 5-0 run. Going into Wednesday’s group-play game against Australia, Harden is averaging 6.4 points. He has drained four three-pointers, his specialty.
Harden spent two seasons playing for Herb Sendek at ASU. He left in 2009 and was drafted third overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although his time i the desert was short-lived, Harden has not forgotten what he learned there.
“That’s where I grew as an individual, as a person and as a basketball player. Obviously these four years that I’ve been in the NBA it picked up, but those two years at Arizona State really helped me become who I am today,” Harden said.
The past year has been a whirlwind for the 22-year-old. He was named the 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year and the Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat and Olympic teammates LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Harden thought he had seen it all — until he made the Team USA roster.
“Sixth man, NBA finals, now in the Olympics, it’s all been a dream come true, it’s been a dream. I’m very blessed. It’s definitely been overwhelming. I’m just taking it one day at a time and going with the flow.”
As overwhelming as the experience might be, Harden feels at home playing alongside his Thunder teammates Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
“That’s my brother, that’s my guy …” said small forward Kevin Durant. “It’s a blessing to have him on my team as a teammate in Oklahoma City and now to have him here going through our first Olympic experience. It’s just fun.”
Harden is soaking up the Olympic experience on and off the court. He and teammates Carmelo Anthony and Durant even helped USA beach volleyball players Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings warm up before a match last week.
“This being my first time, I try to go check out track and field and water polo, beach volleyball,” said Harden. “I just try to mix it up and try to enjoy the experience while I’m here. These are the best athletes in the world. Not just for the U.S., but for every country.”
Harden and the rest of Team USA have gold on their minds. “I think we are one team and we are going to remember this moment for the rest of our lives,” he said.