James Harden Isn't Playing Around

The outrageous blossoming of the NBA’s most exciting player, Via GQ.

Via GQ - James Harden knew what he was getting into, back in 2016, when he signed with Trolli, arch-nemesis of candymaker Haribo, the dominant player for decades in the Gummi space. He approached Trolli, and together they were taking a shot at the king—Haribo, the Golden State Warriors of the Gummi world. Harden will make $28 million from the Houston Rockets this season, plus $15 million more from Adidas, but it is clear which of his benefactors has his true heart. Teams and shoe contracts come and go—Harden is already on his second of each—but candy is forever.

"It's a match made in heaven," he says.

What unites Harden and Trolli is a kinship of temperament, also known as a "brand identity," which, Harden tells me, boils down to one word: "weird." So far their partnership has yielded sour Gummis shaped like Harden's line of Adidas sneakers; a set of MVB (Most Valuable Beard) trading cards, including one that depicts Harden surfing through space on the back of his bulldog, Zeus; and one of the most surreal series of ads ever filmed by a pro athlete. In one spot, a bunch of Harden-head nesting dolls pop open, including one that has laser beams shooting from its eyes.

Harden says his creative process with Trolli is: Trolli comes up with some bonkers idea "and they bring it to me, and then they're like, 'Oh, I don't think he would do that—it's just too crazy.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' " It's not so much that he likes to zig when everyone else zags, or that every day is opposite day for James Harden. It's more like a genetic urge to subvert expectations. He's constantly staring at the Matrix, trying to figure how to be the glitch.

Which is all well and good, but, in candymaking as in basketball, is weirdness really a recipe for knocking off a juggernaut...

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