From the court to the rafters, James Harden’s legacy fills up Wells Fargo Arena

Feb 19, 2015, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:22 pm

James Harden walked the same path Wednesday night that he had dozens of times as a student-athlete at Arizona State University.

Out of the locker room, down a steep set of cement steps in Wells Fargo Arena, through a tunnel and onto a brightly-lit court, surrounded by fans in gold.

“Right down memory lane,” he said. “I walked the same way going down the stairs just like old times.”

He wore a crisp maroon two-piece suit this time instead of maroon basketball shorts; and yes, his signature beard is a little longer than when he wore an ASU jersey.

But the feeling he had to be back at Wells Fargo Arena, he said, was the same.

Harden had his jersey retired in a halftime ceremony during Arizona State’s 68-66 win over UCLA. The players said his presence may have amped them up a little, but they’re used to him, too — he plays pickup ball with them over the summer.

As a guy who’s leading the NBA in scoring and who is on pace to be its Most Valuable Player, the Houston Rockets guard may not know what it meant to the ruling set of Sun Devils to have him around.

“That definitely broadened our eyes,” said forward Savon Goodman, who is in his first year at ASU. “It was a pleasure having him on the sideline, I think it definitely boosted our energy…having the NBA leading scorer here supporting us.”

Added ASU head coach Herb Sendek, who recruited Harden way back when, “The entire Sun Devil community is just extremely proud of James…the thing that makes me feel so good inside is, he hasn’t changed. He’s exactly the same guy he was when he was here before all his successes.

“He just represents us the right way.”

At the half, Harden watched a tribute video made for him that recapped up his difficult-to-summarize collegiate career: All-American honors, 5-0 against Arizona, Pac-10 Player of the Year, to name only a few.

Then he watched his jersey unfurl from the top of the arena, and slowly lower into its forever-home in history.

“It’s hard to describe,” he said. “My mom got teary-eyed, she almost had me teary-eyed…that’s the thing, when you’re a kid you dream of…just for it to be happening now, I was caught in the moment. It’s an amazing feeling.”

He added, “That was one of the reasons I chose ASU, was to make sure I could leave a legacy here.”

And from the pressed gold jersey at top of the rafters to the funky foam beards the students wear to honor him, Harden has done just that.

He used to walk through the same building every day.

Now, he fills it.

Penguin Air

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From the court to the rafters, James Harden’s legacy fills up Wells Fargo Arena