NBA Icon James Harden Is Playing the Wine Game to Win | Wine Enthusiast
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NBA Icon James Harden Is Playing the Wine Game to Win

James Harden walks into a room in his Philly pad decked out in a stylish lime green tracksuit. Even at 6’5”, his stature is less imposing than it appears on TV. When asked how he’s doing, The Beard (as he’s known) says he’s tired—just getting back from practice. I ask when he started: “24 years ago,” he deadpans.

You may remember Harden’s reaction when he was first informed he’d made the Athletic’s list of the greatest 75 NBA players in history. In a video, he is surprised by the news, humbly clarifying the superlative with the interviewer. At the end of the clip, he quietly slides on his designer sunglasses and once more asks in shock, “Ever?” before sauntering calmly out in a chic white and yellow outfit.

James Harden has always been, and continues to be, something of an enigma but is just a multifaceted guy who is constantly changing the game on and off the court. His sartorial selections always delight (Harden is even on the board of Saks Fifth Avenue). He’s collaborated with Trolli to make Weird Beard gummies. He’s built an impressive wine cellar in his Houston home and owns a restaurant called Thirteen in that city. He’s into art and music and a million other things, it seems. It should have come as little surprise last summer when he announced J-Harden Wine (in collaboration with J-Shed Wines and Accolade). All roads lead to bubbles— next up is a Prosecco from the nascent Beard brand to add to the California Cab and California red blend.

The wine world can come off as inaccessible and this NBA icon, when he got into the game, said he meant to change that. Harden may be humble, but he plays to win.

How did your journey with wine start?

Mine was pretty simple; just at dinner a friend told me to try this Cab. I’m used to drinking hard liquor. So, the wine was just a little bit different, as far as the taste and the way it made me feel. But as I got older, especially these last couple years, I couldn’t keep drinking hard liquor. The wine wave is kind of the wave that I’ve been taking.

How did the partnership with J-Shed and Accolade come about?

They came to me, actually. And it was perfect timing, honestly. It was brought to me a little over a year ago, and it was just an opportunity to make some noise in the wine industry, in the wine game.

How involved are you?

I’m involved in every process. From the beginning, the initial conversation and then we had meetings throughout the course of last [NBA] season. We had tastings to make sure the wine was what we wanted to accomplish, the designs of the bottle, just everything.

The artwork is very much in keeping with your personality and style.

In one of our meetings, we put maybe 8 to 10 bottles up, and most of them were black and white—they were pretty simple and basic. But I wanted to bring some excitement into it—as far as the way we look, the way we present ourselves, and then bring that fashion and art aspect to it as well.

James Harden
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LAURA JUNE KIRSCH

Wine can feel really stuffy and inaccessible: How would you open it up?

Blow it out. Just blow it out just like the tequilas or the cognacs. I want this wine to be like that. I want it to be everywhere. It has the bottle for it. Whether you’re at art shows or fashion shows, it fits. You can put it in there, everybody can be sipping on some wine or some bubbles. It blends into what I’m into, and I feel like what a lot of people are into as well.

OK, you’ve just won a big game. You’re excited. What are you cracking to celebrate?

I’ve been dealing with a lot as far as injuries and trying to get back on the court, trying to stay healthy or whatnot. And liquor isn’t good for me. So, after a game, I sip on some wine, relax and just catch my little vibe and that’s it. As much as I’m focused and locked in, I still need times where I want to have a sip of wine and just feel good about myself. I mean—14 years of pro basketball, you need time to wind down and just be within yourself.

Let’s say you’re having a dinner party. What are you wearing?

It’s my party, so I got to make sure I’m best dressed. That’s first of all. Which I think a lot of people are going to come to my party trying to try to compete with me. And that’s a good thing. If you come to one of my parties, you’ve got to know that I’m going to put it on.

You’ve got the wine brand rolling; what’s next on the fashion front?

I want to do my own line. That’s in the process, I’ve been talking about it for some time. But I don’t want to just do anything. I want to make sure whatever I put out just makes sense and is accessible to everybody. So that’s something that I’m working on and just continue to try to build this Saks business up, continue to try to push the needle and the envelope on everything that I’m attached to, everything that I’m a part of.

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!