PHOENIX — James Harden has become the primary basketball endorser for adidas, but while he’s waiting for his first official signature sneaker to drop (confirmed over the last few days to be sometime in December), Harden is spending his time helping other areas of the brand grow. His latest spot from Foot Locker features the adidas Ultra Boost — a performance runner that has been quickly snatched up by consumers who are wearing it as a lifestyle shoe.
Harden sat down with FOX Sports last month on the set of his commercial shoot to discuss a variety of topics, including his decision not to play in the Olympics, his relationship with new Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, his involvement in recruiting free agents to Houston, and of course, sneakers. Check out his new Foot Locker spots below and then keep going to read the complete Q&A session.
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FOX Sports: How’s the summer been treating you?
James Harden: Good, I’ve just been training here in Arizona with old college coaches. Just getting right, getting my body right, things like that.
FS: How do you balance taking time off to recover with jumping back into your training?
JH: I think it’s about smart training. I think you focus on things that are corrective, getting your hips and your body right, things like that. But being in shape and focusing on how great of a year you want to have next year – that’s what’s in my mind.
FS: Obviously you were on the long list of guys that chose for one reason or another not to participate in the Olympics. What went into that decision for you?
JH: It was a variety of things. I think last year with the Rockets was disappointing, individually and as a team. I think just getting back to that elite level where we need to be was one of the things I wanted to focus on, along with a couple other things. But that was the main reason.
Harden has played for Team USA in the past. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
FS: It’s funny you mentioned individually, looking at your stats from last season, your numbers across the board in the main categories (29.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 7.5 assists — all career highs) were actually better than they were a season ago. But I feel like that went overlooked for some reason because you guys didn’t have that team success.
JH: Individually, numbers were up, but we weren’t winning as much. I think, just myself, just a lack of focus at times, which, every player has it. Just getting back to that elite level to where I’m able to focus throughout an entire game, for all 82 games plus the postseason. So that’s where my mind is right now.
FS: You guys played a little bit better in the second half of the season, snuck into the playoffs and got a win against the Warriors. Is there anything positive you can take from that? I know it was a disappointing season, but can you take any positives from the way you guys played near the end?
JH: Yeah, I think the younger guys like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, with the addition of Michael Beasley, and then the experience — guys like Patrick Beverley getting experience in the postseason in really good games, tight games. That goes a long way, because when they’re in situations like that next year and the year after that, they’ll be more comfortable. So that was another positive we can take out of that.
FS: You guys obviously have a new head coach this season in Mike D’Antoni. Have you had a chance to speak with him yet?
JH: Almost every day. I was just out in Houston, and we met just him and I and we talked about our goals, and the vision that we waned to reach, and things like that. I’m excited about it and I know for sure he is. There’s going to be some good things happening.
Mike D’Antoni is the new head coach in Houston. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
FS: Anything specific you can share of what he’s talked to you about, in terms of what he wants to see out of you next season?
JH: Just different areas or spots that he sees me in, to where I can be successful. Just getting that team chemistry back to where it needs to be – everybody on the same page, everybody having the same focus and the same goal, and that’s to win. He brings that extra boost that we’ve been missing. I think the younger guys are excited, and I’m for sure ready to go.
FS: You’re obviously going to have some new teammates next year, just given the way that the roster looks and guys who are and are not under contract. We’ve got free agency starting in a couple of days, and you’ve been quoted as saying you’re going to try to talk to some guys and get some guys to Houston. How’s that been going so far?
JH: It’s been going well. As everyone knows, in order to have an opportunity to compete for a championship you need three, four, five — you need an entire team. So my job is to try to get as many guys as I can, great character guys obviously very skilled, but who want to win, and are really good locker room guys. That’s my focus on the importance of this summer.
(Editor’s note: It went well. The Rockets signed Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon in free agency, both excellent three-point shooters who should thrive alongside Harden in D’Antoni’s offense next season.)
FS: Let’s talk sneakers a little bit. I know you’ll be in the Crazylight Boost 2016, which is the first one with 100 percent Boost cushioning heel to toe. Have you been playing in these a bit, and if so, what are your first impressions?
Harden with the Crazylight Boost 2016. (Courtesy of adidas)
JH: First of all, they’re really comfortable. I just started wearing them a few weeks ago, but the relationship that me and adidas have is unbelievable. We communicate all the time, I go back and forth and tell them what I like in a shoe — what’s comfortable, what’s not comfortable, and they did a really good job of making it work and making it fit.
I put the shoe on, it felt comfortable and I was able to move and do my normal thing. That’s the exciting part about it.
FS: Alright, and what about the Ultra Boosts? adidas has been killing it with their designs lately, not only on the Originals side, but with these, which are technically running shoes. But people don’t buy them only as running shoes, they’re buying them just to wear as lifestyle shoes.
JH: It’s a very versatile shoe. You can wear them just walking around, working out — I lace ’em and just chill in ’em. They’re probably one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve had on in a minute, and they look good.
FS: Is that one of the things that sort of intrigued you about a partnership with adidas? Obviously you could have signed with any shoe company, but the fact that they had so much going on in other areas with running and lifestyle that were popular and emerging designs, was that something that was important to you?
JH: Yeah, across the board. Lifestyle is important, because as much as we’re on the court, we’re obviously off the court as well. We always have people watching us to see what we’re wearing, so all of those were a factor and played a big part in me joining the brand.
FS: I think you might be the first straight-up basketball guy to be doing commercials for non-basketball product, right? There have been some other basketball guys who have had off-court lifestyle shoes but they haven’t really promoted it. The spot you’re doing today is for the Ultra Boosts, just tell me about how that came about, because it’s definitely a little bit different.
JH: I’m a part of the brand, so I will do whatever it takes to build it up. That’s my job. It’s in me. Obviously we’re a partnership, but it’s genuine – not only with adidas, but with Foot Locker. Since I’ve been in the league they’ve had me in spots, and my relationship with them has been really good. Every spot that I’ve done has been a success, so we’re going to try to continue that.
FS: And you have a signature shoe coming, right?
JH: Yeah, we’ve been working on it for a minute. I’m all-in, so every detail, everything you see in the shoe is definitely going to be me.
FS: How much input are you getting to have on the design process?
JH: A lot. A lot. We have meetings all the time, asking me about different parts of it. It’s a constant communication, and for my first shoe that I got my hands on, I want it to be a piece of art.
Harden does the heavy lifting at his latest commercial shoot. (Courtesy of Foot Locker)