The Beard blew up the most anticipated debut of a Philadelphia athlete in a dozen years. Bigger than Bryce. Bigger than Carson. Think, T.O.

As Ben Simmons remains inactive with Brooklyn, James Harden wrote his first chapter of Sixers lore Friday in Minnesota, his balky hamstring healed, his wandering heart happy, and his skills fully intact at the age of 32. He’d been traded for the second time in 14 months just 15 days prior, but he’d been pursued by Sixers president Daryl Morey for more than a year, so it seemed like a lot longer than 15 days.

This was why Morey so badly coveted Harden -- but Harden, after all, had participated in just one real practice with his new team.

Would Embiid be out of sorts with a ball-dominant former scoring champ playing point guard? He scored 34 points.

“That was probably the most wide-open I’ve ever been in my career,” Embiid told the postgame broadcast interview. He was delighted for the offensive help: “You should’ve seen my face!” He said that twice.

Would Tyrese Maxey, the emerging shoot-first point guard who’d played in place of Ben Simmons, find himself frozen out? Maxey scored 28.

Harden finished with a quiet (quiet?) 27 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds. It was the most points in a Sixers debut since Allen Iverson dropped 30 in his first NBA game in 1996. Harden completed two four-point plays. The Sixers’ fast break appeared for the first time since Simmons took himself off the court after last season. The Sixers won, 133-102.

“I thought they worked great together,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said.

It all happened so ... organically. Point guards are supposed to make everyone better, and Harden was a plus-35, his best rating since Nov. 30, 2019.

“I can be a playmaker. I can be a scorer and just take the shots when I need to,” Harden said. “My job is to come in and add to each and every player’s game.”

He did. He barely sweated. He was in no hurry.

Harden didn’t even look at the basket on the Sixers’ first eight possessions. He didn’t need to. Embiid shot four times, missed twice, and got fouled twice. Then, it was time.

Harden got the ball in the left corner, crossed over Anthony Edwards, burst past and made a left-handed layup, drew a foul, and made the free throw.


Next possession: Wide-open, step-back signature three ... short. Brick. Not so vintage. Well, he hadn’t played in 23 days, after all.

He got better. He showed everything: basketball I.Q., his passing ability, his propensity to get fouled, and his keen sense of moment.

With Embiid and Maxey benched by fouls at the end of the second quarter, Harden canned a step-back three-pointer and got fouled by Jarred Vanderbilt. On the next possession, Harden split a double-team near halfcourt, which eventually led to a last-second put-back slam by Matisse Thybulle that meant a 16-point lead at intermission.

It was 26 just over 2 minutes into the third.

Harden’s fingerprints were all over everything.

» READ MORE: Who has the better step-back move? Joel Embiid weighs in.

Better than advertised

For fans whose familiarity with Harden has been limited to his supporting role in Oklahoma City, followed by seven seasons of flawed rosters in Houston with Morey, then a year and a half with the nonsensical Nets, this is what Morey knew he’d have in Harden all along.


That was the gamble. The main concern in adding Harden was whether Embiid’s offense -- he leads the NBA in scoring -- would work with Harden running it.

Would Harden disrupt the chemistry the Sixers had built in the first 58 games? The Sixers held the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference despite Ben Simmons’ boycott that led to the trade that landed the Beard. They’d won three of four after Harden arrived from the Nets, including wins over Cleveland and Milwaukee, despite losing sharpshooter Seth Curry and backup center Andre Drummond in the trade.

Those concerns were unfounded. About 5 minutes into the game, all five starters had scored. That’s all that mattered. Because that was the worry. Not Harden’s scoring line. Not even the game’s outcome.

The question: How would it look?

The answer: Smooth.

» READ MORE: The James Harden trade: As it happened

You are The Man

When Bryce Harper and his $330 million contract debuted in 2019, the Phillies weren’t expected to win anything, so the ramifications of Harper’s arrival don’t compare.

No, it’s been 12 years since the last time a star landed in Philadelphia with these sorts of expectations. That’s when Roy Halladay joined a Phillies franchise that had won the last two National League pennants. He won his debut, and finished the season with his second Cy Young Award.

Terrell Owens had been to four straight Pro Bowls when, in 2004, the Eagles added him to a team that made it to the three previous NFC title games ... with Donovan McNabb throwing to James Thrash and Todd Pinkston. Owens went to a fifth straight Pro Bowl after 2004.

That’s the magnitude of James Harden’s arrival. Like Harper, and Halladay, and T.O., he has it all: The three-ball, the layup-foul, the floater, ripped passes, good rebounds, cool execution.

Harden was everything Morey hoped he’d be.

And, probably, a little more.

That was pretty good.