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'GQ' Says James Harden Is The NBA's Most Exciting Player

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There was a photo spread in GQ Magazine recently. It's all pics of a guy who really stands out. There's the all-yellow tracksuit, the Gucci sunglasses and that long beard. Not one pic is from him at his day job though, playing pro basketball.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: A hard double spin, and he scores.

(CHEERING)

GREENE: That's James Harden. He's point guard for the Houston Rockets.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: What a goal for Harden. He is so good at what is called deceleration.

(CHEERING)

GREENE: That's from last weekend's game on TNT. Harden's style on the court is as distinctive as it is off. He has this ability to control his speed, to slow down, decelerate before he shoots. He has made a big splash in the NBA playoffs, and he'll be back on the court tonight. I spoke to Devin Gordon, who profiled Harden for GQ.

DEVIN GORDON: It seems almost counterintuitive that in a moment like that, the ability to control your speed could be an advantage in a sport where everyone's moving that fast. And Harden figured out that he was really good at this.

GREENE: And, I mean, that beard...

GORDON: The beard. I mean, the beard...

GREENE: ...Is so present on the court. I mean...

GORDON: The beard is - well, that's another example. I mean, he was told coming out of college by an agent that he should shave the beard.

GREENE: Well, and if he's as counterintuitive as you say, probably like, I'm going to grow that thing forever (laughter).

GORDON: That's exactly what happened. I don't think it was his agent, might have been another agent he was considering signing with, something like that, who said you shouldn't grow out that beard because you'll never get any endorsements.

GREENE: Well, here he is (laughter).

GORDON: And here he is, you know, a fantastic player, but maybe one who had - if he didn't have the beard would be like a lot of fantastic players in the NBA, who not many people have heard of.

GREENE: He told you something about the beard and he has trouble on dates.

GORDON: Yeah, I got thrown for a minute just because the idea of James Harden on dates was just surreal enough for me. But...

GREENE: (Laughter) He dated a Kardashian for a while, right? Khloe?

GORDON: He did.

GREENE: OK.

GORDON: Which is another reason why James - like, you go from Khloe Kardashian to going on, like, blind dates. What?

GREENE: Did you challenge him on the blind date thing? Like, how is it a blind date if you watch the NBA?

GORDON: No, I did.

GREENE: OK.

GORDON: I was like, it's only a blind date for you. Like, it's not a blind date for her.

GREENE: (Laughter).

GORDON: She knows you are.

GREENE: But what about the beard?

GORDON: Well, the beard - I mean, the beard thing was fascinating to me because I came in with this theory that he feels trapped by the beard. The only other time I had met him, years earlier, he had described the beard as a superpower and like, you know, that if he cut it off it would be like Sampson.

GREENE: (Laughter).

GORDON: But that was when he was, you know, relatively new and not the superstar he is now. And I wondered if he had been - become weary of it because it's the thing that makes him stand out. And he said no and that he insisted he still loves it. It's who he is.

GREENE: His mom is quite a character too, right? I mean, isn't she all over Instagram?

GORDON: Yeah, she's a great NBA mom, hilarious at courtside. It's just fantastic. And it's just also, you know, there's - when you come from circumstances like where James Harden came from, which is...

GREENE: Is that who he credits? I mean...

GORDON: Oh, yeah.

GREENE: I know when he talked to you - you wrote about how he's from Compton. He talked about being from a place that was - he described it as not safe, rough, distractions, gangs. Did that - she really raise him and inspire him?

GORDON: Yeah, I mean, when I asked James to just, you know, just picture his childhood and tell me what he saw, none of the words about his childhood were - they were all bad. They were all, you know, dangerous and crime. I even said - I'm like, you know, was there anything that you're nostalgic about or anything that, you know, was a good memory of there? And he just said, my mom. That's it.

GREENE: What do you think he's doing for the NBA?

GORDON: He's the kind of player that epitomizes why the NBA is in such good shape. It's a league, not just a sport. It's a league that encourages fun, personality, stardom in the - all the good senses of that word. All of those things are driving toward making guys like James Harden, who work hard, who are good people, don't get in trouble, fantastically entertaining on the court.

GREENE: Devin Gordon profiled NBA star James Harden for GQ magazine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABSTRAKT IDEA'S "DIEGO TO STOCKTON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.