James Harden is notable for many things: his stepback three-pointer that looks like a travel. His ability to enrage opposing fanbases with uncanny foul-drawing ability. The fact that Sam Presti deemed his value in a trade to be equivalent to that of Kevin Martin. That funny commercial where he sang about taking his shirt off to impress a girl. But perhaps his most notable attribute is also his most visible attribute: his beard.
Despite being the most recognizable conglomeration of facial hair in the entire league, Harden’s beard has been the subject of astonishingly little journalism, and what journalism there is can only be described as “puff”. For some reason, major media outlets either can’t, or don’t want to, devote real journalistic effort to the subject. That changes now.
In this three-part oral history, we get the story of James Harden’s beard from the people who were there, in their own words. Let’s begin.
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CHAPTER I: THE EARLY YEARS
JAMES HARDEN: I don’t remember much about the first three years of my life. I certainly don’t remember the circumstances of my birth.
MONJA WILLIS (James Harden’s Mother): When I gave birth to James, he didn’t have a beard.
JAMES HARDEN SR. (James Harden’s Father): James was born beardless. That was disappointing.
TANYA JOHNSON (The Nurse who was Present for James Harden’s Delivery): I’ve never seen a baby born with a beard, or any facial hair at all. I do remember thinking when he popped out, “That little boy is going to grow up to be one heck of a basketball player.” That thought will always stick with me.
JAMES HARDEN: My mom says I cried a lot when I came out. From what I understand, that’s what babies usually do when they’re born.
TANYA JOHNSON: I was lying when I said I had premonitions about James’ basketball talents after he was born. Truthfully, I don’t remember anything specifically about that day. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a beard. Like, 99% sure.
JAMES HARDEN SR.: When James was three, he found a black marker somewhere and drew a beard on his face. When I found him sitting in the bathroom giggling to himself, I was mad at first, but then I thought, why shouldn’t kids have beards? If you ask me, God messed up the design process pretty badly.
JAMES HARDEN: My dad tells a story about how I drew a beard on my face, but I think he made it up. He also has a story where I was one year old and saw Michael Jordan on TV and called him a bitch.
MICHAEL JORDAN (1X All-NBA Second Team): I’m not a bitch. You can print that.
DAMON CARTER (James Harden’s Childhood Friend): I don’t know why you keep asking me these dumbass questions about James having a beard in elementary school.
JAMES HARDEN: Growing up in Compton was tough, but you learned to look out for yourself. Mom always made sure I was safe. Dad wasn’t really around that much. I don’t remember if he had a beard.
JAMES HARDEN SR.: I don’t remember if I had a beard. They hadn’t invented selfies yet so I had no way to know.
MONJA WILLIS: James was exposed to beards from a very young age. He’d see them on street corners, you know. Our pastor had a beard too.
REVEREND LANGDON BROWN III (Pastor, Faith in Christ Community Church): I told James that if he prayed hard to God every day, he could grow a beard like mine and like Jesus. But if he missed even one day of prayer, he would be tormented in hell for eternity. “There are no beards in hell. Only anguish,” I said. That’s a bible quote. Look it up.
JAMES HARDEN: It’s hard to pinpoint the exact origin of my desire for a beard. Not everything has to be a whole big complicated psychoanalysis. If you’re trying to uncover some kind of repressed trauma from my childhood, it’s not going to work.
MONJA WILLIS: The first time I noticed wisps of hair on James’ chin was when he was in seventh grade. He was tugging on them at the dinner table, not really thinking about it, just pulling on them. And I said to myself, “Oh my god, my little boy is a man now.” It was only a matter of time before he discovered porn on the internet and started tugging on something else.
JAMES HARDEN: The problem with America is that income disparity causes an education disparity. Rich kids, they get a computer class where they’re told about how web browsers keep a history of the sites you visit. Poor kids in the hood, they gotta figure that out on their own. Our school only had these old-ass computers that ran Windows 3.1. I tell people this when they try to tell me that privilege isn’t real.
TERRY JENKINS (James Harden’s Seventh-Grade Math Teacher): James liked to play basketball mostly. I had to fudge his test scores to make sure he passed the grade. I’m retired now, so it’s not like they can arrest me for it. Sometimes I think about blackmailing him. No, he didn’t have a beard in seventh grade. That’s a weird question.