Hard(en) DecelerationMay 3, 2021
According to Marcus Eliott, who has analyzed the biomechanics of hundreds of NBA players, Brooklyn Nets basketball player James Harden is pretty pedestrian by all traditional performance metrics. But when Harden came for a closer examination there were several areas in which Harden was an outlier—not only among basketball players, but among thousands of athletes. And they were all related to the same underlying trait: Harden is the best at slowing down. The force he generates when he stops his downward momentum ranked in the 98th percentile, and his “rate of eccentric-force development” was in the 99th percentile. To play this way requires an extraordinary amount of body control. It’s more common to see players who are better at the exact opposite: accelerating quickly and decelerating slowly. Acknowledging the ability to slow down as an elite type of athleticism is seen as a radical idea.
James Harden’s counterintuitive ability combined with the notion of hara hachi bu, eating until you’re 80% full, inspired the shrink choreography “The 5&1 Step-back”. This simple move is executed by simply taking five steps forward and then taking a step back. While taking the step back there’s the subtle experience of the creation of space. Harden’s creation of time and space is the result of a rapid slowdown, a distancing himself from the forward motion the others are entangled with. That’s why The Incredible Shrinking Man loves him.