Miss Leola said that was the one thing she wanted to do after Harden was traded, give him a hug and say thanks.
The woman who called Berry acted like she could actually make all of those things happen for Miss Leola.
And she could.
She's Monja Willis — Harden's mother.
So, a little less than an hour before tipoff, in one of the back hallways of The Peake, Miss Leola met The Beard. She got one of his red Houston game jerseys, which she proudly wore all night.
“Very sweet lady,” Harden said. “Just bless her heart, she drove two hours to come watch me play. She was just so excited to be here.”
Miss Leola got her hug, too.
Several of them, actually.
“I think I wore him out before the game,” she said, laughing.
Maybe that explains what happened to Harden.
Even though there was very little manufactured fanfare — this wasn't Derek Fisher going back to Los Angeles; there was no tribute video — the drama was obvious. Not one but two television cameras followed Harden's every step before tipoff.
All eyes were on him.
What they saw wasn't pretty. He couldn't make jumpers. He couldn't finish at the rim. He couldn't do many of the things that made him into a star in Oklahoma City.
How bad a night was it?
Harden made only one more shot than the defensive-minded Kendrick Perkins.
“James loves Oklahoma City,” Houston interim coach Kelvin Sampson said. “He loves his teammates. He loves his fans. He loves what they did for him in the NBA. He had a lot of things swirling through his head.”
Harden pressed more than your neighborhood dry cleaner.
Worse for Harden, the boys in blue treated him like any other visiting star once the ball was tipped. They hounded him. They double-teamed him. They blocked his shots halfway to Okeene.
Six of his 13 misses were blocked.
He didn't make a single shot in the first half. Eight attempts. Zero makes.
Did he know this wasn't The Finals?
“I think he had to experience this,” Sampson said. “Sometimes, you've just got to go through the moment.
“The next time when he comes here, it won't be his first time back.”
But Wednesday was.
It was a night he'd just as soon forget.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.