E:60’s extensive profile of James Harden results from “trust,” producer says

What was the most challenging aspect of putting this profile together?
The most challenging part is always access with these players, and the amount of time you get with big-name athletes. But in this case, Harden went above and beyond giving us time outside of the main interview to make this profile special. I had a vision of filming Harden by himself on all the courts of his life, from the street courts of Compton, Calif., to Artesia High School, to Arizona State, to Oklahoma City [his first NBA home], and finally Houston. He gave us time on each and I can’t recall the last superstar to work with us to make that happen.

James Harden is in the midst of his seventh straight NBA playoff appearance, but his Houston Rockets are down 2-0 in their first-round Western Conference series against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The superstar is one of the quirkiest and perhaps most misunderstood players in the league. He scores and distributes at will but comes under fire for his approach to defense. Who is James Harden? E:60’s profile of Harden, debuting tonight (10 p.m. ET, ESPN), is the result of unprecedented access to the man known as “The Beard.” Senior producer Martin Khodabakhshian previews the piece for Front Row.

What can fans take away from this piece?
I think the audience will learn that James Harden is an enigma. He’s loud but quiet. Confident, yet humble. Silly and focused. He is truly one of the most interesting high-profile athletes I have ever come across. He is kind, engaging, respectful, polite, and actually cares about what you have to say whether you’re the producer, talent, cameraman, audio tech, doesn’t matter. He goes out of his way to acknowledge everyone in the room, and I think that’s just the way he was raised by his mother, Monja.

Busy NBA Playoffs slate on ESPN platforms

The NBA Playoffs continue on ABC & ESPN with seven games this weekend, including Game 4 of the Golden State Warriors-Houston Rockets series (Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN Radio). For more information on ESPN’s NBA coverage, visit ESPN MediaZone.

How were you able to gain such extensive and exclusive access?
Trust. From Day 1, I explained what we needed to make this story complete. And I promised we wouldn’t abuse Harden’s time. His mother, Monja, is his manager. By the time we were done filming, she was treating me like her own family, as were Harden’s siblings. We stay professional, objective and report things out in the field and all the way through production. But to get elements like Harden speaking about his father who was in and out of jail, or other sensitive topics that Harden and his family have never talked about, or home videos that they have never shared, you have to build that trust. I think [reporter] Tom Rinaldi and I did that extremely well. In fact, after we were done filming with James during a three-game stretch in which they lost every game we shadowed him in January, Harden walked all the way back from the bus, through the tunnel, to thank each and every one of us on the crew for all the work we had done, instead of just hopping on the bus and leaving. He didn’t have to do that. But he did.

On Front Row’s Facebook page, E:60 producer Martin Khodabakhshian answers the question: What will fans be most surprised to learn about Harden?