James Harden trade: Clippers assemble California high school super-team

The Los Angeles Clippers’ trade to acquire 10-time All-Star James Harden from the Philadelphia 76ers ended a turbulent period for the East Coast team, but it also made the squad in the West even more representative of Southern California.

Harden is a native of the area who attended Artesia High School in Lakewood, California. He joins Clippers stars Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles — who all attended Southern California high schools, as well.

When local youngsters visit Arena to get a glimpse of the new-look team, it’s likely one of the stars on the court once dominated high school hoops in a town nearby.

A seven-time All-NBA selection, Harden returned to his alma mater in 2021 for a jersey retirement ceremony that came a day after he and the Brooklyn Nets defeated the Los Angeles Lakers. Lakewood borders Long Beach and is located about 23 miles away from the arena shared by the Lakers and Clippers.

“This is basically the school that raised me,” Harden said at Artesia’s event in his honor. “Falling in love with the game of basketball, learning what friendship is about, having a scheduled routine.”

After winning back-to-back state championships his junior and senior years (2006-07), Harden continued his basketball career at Arizona State. He was selected with the third overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Already familiar with the area surrounding his new team, Harden is also acquainted with one of his teammates. He and Westbrook played together for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets.

Westbrook was a standout at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, California, about 20 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles. During his senior year (2006), he averaged 25.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2.3 assists as he led the team to a 25-4 record. Like many others on the Clippers roster, he opted to stay in California for college and committed to UCLA.

Leonard, a five-time All-Star, is potentially more Southern California than any other Clipper. He transferred to Martin Luther King High in Riverside, California, from from Canyon Springs High School in Moreno Valley during his junior year.

In the 2008-09 season, Leonard put King’s program on the radar. That year, he and Tony Snell helped the team to a 30-3 record and earned a No. 7 MaxPreps national ranking.

James Harden joins a Clippers team that has a lot of Southern California roots. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
James Harden joins a Clippers team that has a lot of Southern California roots. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) (Tim Nwachukwu via Getty Images)

Leonard averaged 22.6 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.0 blocks per game in that effort and was named California Mr. Basketball. He went to San Diego State University before being drafted by the Indiana Pacers with the 15th overall pick in 2011. He was traded to the San Antonio Spurs on draft night.

Snell played college basketball for the New Mexico Lobos and was drafted with the 20th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls.

"It's a dream come true for both of us. Our senior year playing together, working out, and having this goal of being NBA players,” Leonard said in 2020 when Snell was playing for the Atlanta Hawks. “For us to both be here is amazing."

George, a six-time All-NBA selection, went to Knight High School in Palmdale, California. He averaged 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds during his sophomore season on the varsity team. But he bloomed in his senior year (2008), averaging 23.2 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 3.1 steals and 1.7 blocks per game en route to the Golden League championship. He went on to claim the league’s Most Valuable Player award. George didn’t go too far from home for college, attending Fresno State before he was selected by the Pacers with the eighth pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

The Clippers even have Southern California roots in their reserves. Guard Norman Powell went to Lincoln High School in San Diego. He went on to play collegiately at UCLA. In 2015, he was picked 46th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. He won an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors in 2019. He arrived back in his homstate via a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2022.

Ultimately, the Clippers’ extremely California roster is a testament to the state’s basketball strength. It's also a nice reminder that there’s no place like home.