The unofficial host of the NBA's All-Star weekend in Houston isn't Mayor Annise Parker, league Commissioner David Stern, or even that zany Rockets mascot and Care Bear look-a-like named Clutch.
It's the 23-year-old from Los Angeles with a lumberjack beard and a nasty Euro-step who has been in town for four months — Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden. And what a four months it has been.
In the city where Yao Ming's retirement in the summer of 2011 seemed to put basketball on the back burner again, Harden — who was traded from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Rockets on Oct. 28 and three days later signed a five-year, $80 million maximum contract offer — has revived hope since the day he arrived. He'll be one of seven first-time All-Stars in Sunday's game, but he's much more than that to a team that looks primed to rise.
He's their everything.