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As an eight-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA First Team selection, Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden has established himself as one of the greatest scoring options in NBA history. His moves are flashy, to be sure, but it’s his beard that has made him an instantly-recognizable figure. In fact, it’s why he’s called “The Beard.” There was a time, however, when the former No. 3 overall pick played without any facial hair at all.
Harden attended Artesia High School in Lakewood, California. He led the school’s basketball program to state championships in his junior and senior years, then later earned an invite to play in the 2007 McDonald’s All-American Game. There were several future NBA players in this matchup, including J.J. Hickson, Kevin Love and Michael Beasley.
Look closely and you’ll see a beardless Harden in his No. 13 jersey:
Following his high school days, Harden became a star at Arizona State. As a freshman, he averaged 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game while leading the Sun Devils to a 21–13 overall record (tied for fifth in the Pac-10 but relegated to the NIT).
Ahead of his second and final season with Arizona State, Harden landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball preview issue as a preseason All-American. He finished his sophomore campaign with averages of 20.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. For his outstanding play in that season, he was named Pac-10 Conference Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. Unfortunately, though, James and the Sun Devils were defeated by Syracuse in the second round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
To recognize his importance to the team and its history, Arizona State decided to retire Harden’s No. 13 jersey in 2015:
Harden declared for the 2009 NBA Draft after his sophomore season at ASU and was taken 3rd overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was around this time that he began growing a beard, though it hadn’t came to its fullest fruition just yet.
Other baby-faced assassins in this class included Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry and Detroit Pistons big man Blake Griffin:
Harden’s beard didn’t truly begin to take shape until 2011. Playing alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the time, James’ facial hair began to become a trademark. It seemed as though Oklahoma City would be a dominant team for years to come, but it wasn’t to be. For various reasons, several key members of the roster went in different directions.
In 2018, Harden noted that he would be open to the idea of cutting his beard — for a hefty fee:
“Oh yea, I would cut it,” James Harden said, via Bob Garcia of sportscasting.com and The Ringer. “I mean because it’s going to grow right back. Yeah, $10 million minimum is where I am like ‘alright.’”
As made evident from the photos in this article, Harden’s beard has evolved quite a bit over the years. Aside from his three-point shooting prowess and ankle-breaking ball handling skills, it has become his signature. And to be frank, it has helped him earn numerous marketing and business opportunities. Where it will grow from here remains to be seen.