James Harden's connection with one special Thunder fan
COMMENTARY — Leola Boyd loved James Harden's game so much she offered to take up a collection to keep the guard in OKC. Now that he's gone, she's going to try to get over it. But Sam Presti would be wise to steer clear for a while.
OKEENE — Leola Boyd called me a few weeks ago. She had an idea to help the Thunder keep her favorite player.
Miss Leola is 85 years old. She was born before Bob Cousy and Dolph Schayes but has lived long enough to fall hard for James Harden.
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“I liked all of them,” she said of the Thunder. “But I decided I liked Harden the best. I don't know why I was drawn to him. It wasn't his beard.
“His smile. He seemed to be a very speedy player. He would try things other players wouldn't try.”
So Miss Leola was concerned when the Thunder/Harden negotiations seemed to stagnate. And she hatched a plan.
Miss Leola wanted me to rally all the fans to pitch in and make a donation that would supplement the Thunder's contract offer.
“I felt like, since I'm not able to go down there and support them financially, I would be more than willing to do my share for the honor of watching them play on television,” she said.
Miss Leola is on Social Security and admitted she couldn't give much. But she was willing to give $40.
Miss Leola fell hard for Harden, but I fell hard for Miss Leola. Last week, I grabbed videographer Damon Fontenot, and we headed out to this hamlet in Blaine County, 90 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.
I had to meet the woman who would give $40 to help the Thunder pay James Harden $13 million a year.
Miss Leola, wearing a blue Thunder shirt that was a gift on her 85th birthday, was a delight as she told us of her life and her nights spent watching Harden on Fox Sports Oklahoma. Even the West Coast games. Even the postgame show on the West Coast games.
“When the Thunder started down here, I really wasn't all that big a fan of basketball,” Miss Leola said. “I started with them and enjoyed it. Gradually got to know the characters.
“I've always liked Harden. I don't know why. I love to see him and (Nick) Collison play together. To me, they made the perfect pair.”
You know the rest. Over the weekend, before I could write up the charming tale of Miss Leola and her devotion to the Bearded One, the Thunder, convinced Harden wasn't going to sign for anything less than a maximum-money contract, traded its star southpaw to the Houston Rockets.
What a story, these Thunders and the passion they've invoked.
A woman raised in Depression-era Oklahoma, who graduated Okeene High during the gas-rationing days of World War II, lived all her life in God's Country of northwestern Oklahoma, went to college after her kids were grown and started a career in library sciences, felt a deep connection with the hip-hoppest player on the most popular team in the hip-hop NBA.