By: PJ Guippone
There are many great nicknames in the Association. There is “The Process” in Philadelphia, “The Brow” in New Orleans, Boogie, and “The Polish Hammer” in Washington. But there is not a nickname so ingrained in someone’s identity like James Harden and “The Beard.” He began to grow the greatest beard in sports following his freshman year of college at Arizona state, and his game began to explode more and more as his facial follicles began to produce the wonderful chin lettuce we know and love today.
But what if Harden shaved his beard tomorrow? What if he woke up one morning and made a decision how all great decisions are made: impulsively. He goes to the Rite Aid down the street, blindly grabs an electric razor that seems good enough (he is far removed from the world of shaving products), and chops up his beautiful, luscious, cloud-like beard.
So now it’s game day. He pulls up to the Toyota Center in his yellow Camaro. The security guy at the door is excited to see those pearly whites making that goofy smile he does through his beard. What greets him instead is a man that resembles Don Cheadle. He sees the young face of a man. His chin is smooth as a baby’s bottom, but the man smiles the same way as the bearded one and greets the security man with the same goofy smile and their personal handshake (I imagine James Harden has handshakes with all the Rockets’ staff), “Hey, Larry,” he says in a voice shockingly like Harden’s. Larry stands there, stunned, not sure if he should approach the imposter, or believe that Harden is no longer “The Beard.” He feels the same way he did during The Dark Knight Rises when Bruce Wayne goes into a brief retirement, or like he felt in Skyfall when James Bond took a vacation to do nothing but fuck and drink in a tropical location.
Then Harden goes to the locker room with his headphones nestled on his fuzzy Mohawk. Ryan Anderson looks at him like a confused dad, but Harden thinks nothing of it because that’s how Anderson always looks. Clint Capela mumbles something inaudible, so Harden just says hi and moves on. Eric Gordon is giving him a weird look, and Lou Will says something like “Da fuck you doin, J.”
Harden is not thinking about his face. He has already forgotten his impactful decision. He has not seen himself yet to remind him of his brief moment of insanity. He is still in that daze that takes over after someone makes a big decision where the act hasn’t fully settled in yet. “Just getting ready to ball, Lou Will,” he responds. Lou Will shrugs and walks away, rapping one of his own songs.
Now it is game time. D’Antoni announces the usual starting lineup, and this mystery man steps on the floor in place of James Harden. During lineup announcements, the usual raucous applause that resounds through the Toyota Center slowly quiets as if everyone in the crowd is falling off a cliff. By the time Harden is doing a handshake with a confused Mike D’Antoni, the arena is silent. Finally, Harden looks at himself on the jumboTron and realizes why everyone is acting like there is something wrong with him. It is because there is something wrong with him. He realizes the terrible mistake he made. He begins to panic. He hasn’t played without hair on his face since high school. He does not know what to do. Like Bible hero Samson, he feels as if all his power was shaved off gently by the bargain-brand electric razor.
The game begins and he misses his first six shots. He air balls all three of his three-point attempts. He has six turnovers in five minutes of play. The crowd starts to boo. Then he looks to the scorer’s table and sees Patrick Beverley sitting on the ground ready to check in with a disappointed Mike D’Antoni in the background.
In this moment he snaps awake to a dark room. His entire body is covered in ice-cold sweat, but all he cares about is his face. He grabs for his beard and is relieved to feel that it is all there in every ounce of its beautifully conditioned glory. Breathing correctly again, he tucks it back under his head and falls asleep soundly on the greatest pillow he has ever known. All remains right in the world