The Houston Rockets are in town to play the Warriors. The visiting team will probably enter Oracle Arena about 5:30 p.m. tonight. Which means James Harden’s beard would make its entrance at, say, 5:29.
The beard may be attached to one of the NBA’s best players, but it has taken on a life of its own. The candy company Trolli acknowledged as much when it produced a commercial that featured Harden’s disembodied beard answering questions at a press conference. A Twitter account for “James Harden’s Beard” has 17,600 followers.
Granted, Harden’s chin hair is magnificent. Regal. Timeless. He looks like a modern-day Hannibal who, having guided his elephants over the Alps, has stopped to shoot free throws. He’s a 6-foot-5 pharaoh with a step-back jumper. Harden’s beard is so substantial that it should be eligible for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
And Harden is not alone in his hirsute glory. We are in the Golden Age of Sports Scruf. Never have so many hairs graced the chins of so many athletes.
Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Ryan Fitzpatrick can turn an NFL game into a stare-down of Civil War generals. MMA champion Conor McGregor and MLS soccer player Nat Borchars appear to have imported their beards straight from the Scottish highlands. The variety is practically endless, from the crisply manicured geometry of Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz to the always-perfect stubble of NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson to the bullpen burliness of Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo.
“I’m known for it,” admitted Romo, the Giants closer. “Everywhere I go, there’s no way I can sit there and say I’m not who I am when people come up and ask me, ‘Hey, are you Sergio Romo?’ I can’t sit there and say no or make up something witty or funny, because of the dang beard. I’d venture to say it’s somewhat unique.”
Locally, Wilson and Romo are the patron saints of beards. It began during the 2010 season. Romo was the Giants setup man then, and Wilson the closer. They got hot at the same time — “we hadn’t given up a run for like a month,” Romo said — and decided that razors would jinx the streak. In other words, it was not a shave situation.
Because Wilson was the guy throwing the ninth inning, he received most of the attention. Ballpark vendors made a killing selling “Fear the Beard” T-shirts that featured an outline of Wilson’s facial hair.
“I kind of figure like he and I started it together,” Romo said. “And I will say, he made it cool. He made it visible and out there. He gave it that more popular vibe.”
Wilson almost certainly dyed his beard black, though he never admitted it. Whatever. It made him a legend. In 2013, a company called 800Razors.com reportedly offered Wilson, then with the Dodgers, $1 million to cut it off. He declined. Later that year, another report stated that the Yankees were interested in signing Wilson (then unemployed), but wanted him to shave. Again, he said no.
Meanwhile, Romo’s voluptuous beard had replaced Wilson’s on the mound at AT&T Park.
“I was surprised at how full it was,” Romo said. “Like, I didn’t have any spots. It didn’t have one area lighter than the other. It was just, boom!, you have a beard. I was like, ‘Oh, cool.’ ”