The Check-In: Ex-Clipper Maurice Harkless isn’t going to the playoffs, but he’s going places
There are worse places to shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic than the sleek style house on the leafy Venice side street, the one with a ground-floor wine cellar and a pool steps from the kitchen.
But the real show-stopper is the rooftop. From the deck’s couches, its gleaming outdoor kitchen and table with seating for six, there are views of the hills above Santa Monica to the north and the planes approaching LAX to the south.
Moe Harkless, the 27-year-old forward traded in February from the Clippers to his hometown New York Knicks, bought the house last fall and has spent every day there since the NBA suspended its season in March.
Like so many of his peers Harkless wants the season to resume, even if he no longer plays for a championship contender. That isn’t to say the alternatives aren’t attractive. All this unfettered time has allowed Harkless a wide-angle perspective on his career while planning for what happens when it ends, a future he wants to revolve around an array of passions that include art, wine, fashion and real estate.
On a recent afternoon, under a postcard-perfect blue sky, he sat on the deck smiling while considering such plans. Turns out, it’s easier to see the big picture from four flights up.
“It’s kind of weird, it’s kind of like a preview of retirement,” Harkless said. “It just puts things in perspective like, damn, this can all stop at any time — because it did. It just stopped, and nobody was ready for it and nobody knew it was coming and that’s how your career can end, plain and simple, if we’re black and white. It’s like, OK, now I’ve got to figure out what’s life going to be like.”
The 6-foot-7, long-armed Harkless has averaged 23 minutes per game during eight years in the NBA because of an athleticism that could keep him in the league for years to come. Clippers coach Doc Rivers called Harkless a Swiss Army knife, then used him to guard everyone from 7-footers on the block to 6-foot slashers beyond the arc. Harkless has proven to be as versatile away from basketball, as well.
He drew in sketchbooks while growing up in Queens and upon moving back to New York in February chose to live in its Chelsea neighborhood because of its proximity to art galleries. In early March, he attended New York’s high-end Armory art showas a guest of its curator, while posing questions to the artists. When he played for the Trail Blazers from 2015-19, he escaped to wine country west of Portland to sample wines with teammates straight from the barrels during private tours. He already owns a home in Orlando, his first NBA stop, where his mother and grandmother live, another in Sherman Oaks and several rental properties.
Since the season paused March 11, he has made deeper inroads into those interests. He is as intentional about understanding why he enjoys Peter Michael’s Au Paradis cabernet blend, a shirt by the menswear brand Rhude or the art of Marcus Jahmal and Nina Chanel Abney as he is sniffing out an opposing point guard’s pick-and-roll tendencies.
“You can sit at home all day long and do nothing or you can just find something you’re interested in and try to find a way to be productive,” he said.
That has meant taking virtual tours of L.A.’s Getty Museum and The Broad while thinking about turning his home collection into a private gallery itself. Maybe the tour will include his garage. He’d like to hire a graffiti artist to use its white walls as a canvas — so long as a blank area is kept open where Harkless can paint with his nieces and nephews.
Harkless, who has had a Wine.com membership since he turned 21, has discussed his favorite varietals on “Wine Wednesdays,” the live Instagram show on LeBron James’ Uninterrupted platform he co-hosts with a sommelier with his rooftop as his background. Last week, he started an online course to earn his real estate license in California. It will take 135 hours.
“Why not just use this time and take this course and cut the middleman out?” Harkless said. “Eventually I can get to a point where I’m comfortable enough to broker my own deals and stuff like that.
“That, to me, is growth, when you’re learning the value of yourself. If I can come out of here and just feel like I accomplished something, that to me is big-time growth and it’s another tool for my tool box.”
The seeds were planted during his trip last summer to Milan, where he met with fashion designers, vintners and business leaders as part of an international business course offered by the National Basketball Players Association and saw the possibility of eventually channeling his side interests into his main pursuit.
“It taught me how to think bigger,” Harkless said.
Remembering that lesson has proven instructive with basketball, too, as the NBA weighs whether to bring back all 30 teams for the season it hopes to restart in late July at Walt Disney World. One possibility includes non-playoff teams playing perhaps fewer than 10 games in order to satisfy local television broadcast agreements. The Knicks were 9 1/2 games behind the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when the season was suspended; what is the risk, or reward, of playing games that might have a preseason feel?
The induction ceremony for Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the rest of the class will take place in early 2021, separate from the 2021 induction.
“I think it’s a couple different ways to look at it,” said Harkless, who has trained at a private gym with a court while in Los Angeles. “Obviously, everybody coming back, there’s a huge risk of injury, just across the league people are going to have to pay close attention to make sure that everybody is not overexerting themselves and take care of their bodies. There’s that risk. There’s the fact that it’s like OK, we come back to play after not playing for two months, now we’re going to play seven games for nothing, you know what I mean? Some guys look at it that way.
“And then there’s a way like this: We’re all coming back, playing seven games, and you’ve got to look at it from a business perspective. If it’s for a betterment of the league to recoup all the wages that were lost and if this is for the betterment of the league I think it’s not a bad idea.”
Harkless doesn’t believe his passions for his day job and off-court interests are mutually exclusive. This is, after all, a player who saw the creativity of Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan as art unto itself. The through-line is the discussion each sparks, he said.Talking about a painting, or a Bordeaux from 1993, his birth year, takes him back to Queens, where his mother loved to entertain and conversations flowed between his aunts, uncles and cousins during backyard barbecues.
“Art is an expression, and I like to see how people express themselves,” he said. “You look at two pieces, you see two completely different things. You might love it and I might hate it, it might make you mad, it might make me happy. It starts a conversation and that’s cool to me. It’s thought-provoking.”
The conversation continued as Harkless walked from his deck to his ground-floor kitchen, trailed by Biggie, his Maltese-Yorkie mix. After unwrapping four-foot tall figures designed by New York artist and designer KAWS, he posed for a picture near an island scattered with bottles of Oregon’s Domaine Serene Pinot Noir. A regulation NBA basketball rested underneath.
Around him were boxes still to unpack and art yet to be hung. Unfinished but littered with inspiration, the house reflected his future plans.
“Just for fun, I want to do paint-and-sip parties,” he said. “I could do it on my roof.”
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