This is the second installment of a three-part oral history exploring the story of James Harden’s beard, as told by the people who were there. Support my fact-finding endeavors by donating to my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/downtobuck
PART II: ORIGIN OF THE BEARD
JAMES HARDEN: It wasn’t until high school that I had to start shaving my facial hair because it was getting itchy. My dad was in jail at that time so I asked my brother how to use a razor.
AKILI ROBERSON (James Harden’s Brother): By that point, James was pretty good at basketball so he could have pulled in the chicks no matter what kind of patchy crap was growing on his chin. But I did the brotherly thing and showed him how to shave. It would have been a big bonding thing but he cut himself pretty bad and had to go to the hospital.
MONJA WILLIS: Two words: blood geyser.
JAMES HARDEN: The first time, I think I nicked myself and had to use a bandaid. I didn’t like shaving but I did it every once in a while to stay looking fresh.
AKILI ROBERSON: He almost died. The hood nearly claimed another victim that day.
JASON GLOCKLIN (Former Editor, Teen People Magazine): In the mid 2000’s, when James Harden would have been in high school, beards weren’t popular in any culturally-relevant age or gender bracket. Stubble was as far as most celebrities would go. Even teens with the ability to grow a full beard weren’t doing it. I personally had to photoshop multiple beards out of the pages of our esteemed magazine to avoid offending teenaged sensibilities.
JAVAUGHN ATKINS (James Harden’s Childhood Friend): Nobody had beards. Not James. Not me. Not anybody. You told me we were gonna talk about James’ highschool basketball career, but we’ve been sitting here talking about beards for fifteen minutes.
JAMES HARDEN: If any of my classmates had a beard, I don’t remember it. That was a long time ago.
AARON REINHARDT (Winner, 2006 National Beard Championship): I had a very magnificent beard in those days. I like to think that, in the media frenzy that surrounded my come-from-behind upset victory over three-time national beard champion Dave Phillips, James Harden was exposed to images of my waist-length beard, and that those images spurred him to one day grow a beard of his own.
JASON GLOCKLIN: Times have changed. If Teen People were in print today, I’d be photoshopping every guy to have a big bushy beard. My friends call me “Jason the Photoshop Man.”
JAMES HARDEN SR.: When I got out of jail, I went to see my son play high school ball at Artesian. He didn’t have a beard, but he didn’t need one. He was unstoppable with or without the beard. Did I tell you about that time he called Michael Jordan a bitch? MJ was sitting right there on the sideline and James just went over there and said “you a bitch”. I was so proud of him that day.
JAMES HARDEN: On the court I let my game do the talking. I didn’t talk trash because I didn’t need to talk trash. At most, I called somebody a “margarine-dick”. In fairness, he was being a bitch and trying to fuck the game with his margarine dick. Calling him out was justified.
JASON GLOCKLIN: Is this oral history thing gonna have pictures in it?
SCOTT PERA (James Harden’s High School Coach): James did not have a beard at any point when I coached him.
MONJA WILLIS: I remember when James went off to college in Arizona, he still looked like a kid. But when I went to visit him for the first time, he had grown a beard. To me, it was symbolic: he had left home and become his own person. The beard symbolized that. Internet porn didn’t make him a man: the beard made him a man.
JAMES HARDEN: I had a small beard at first to see if it worked for me or not.
JAVAUGHN ATKINS: When James would come back to visit, it seemed like he had grown up into a different person while everybody back in the hood had stayed the same. That was real sobering for me. I was like, “There’s nothing for me here.” So I moved to Long Beach, and there’s nothing for me here either, but at least I’m a different person now.
HERB SENDEK (James Harden’s College Coach): James made our team better as soon as he walked in the door. Right away you knew all the high school hype was real. The window to win was small because he was clearly going to go pro. We’re lucky we got two years out of him.
KRAIDON WOODS (James Harden’s College Teammate): Yeah, I know James is known for his beard these days, but I honestly don’t remember if he had one when we were Sun Devils. I’d have to look up pictures. I do remember that none of us could stop him in practice. It was brutal, but it made us better.
HERB SENDEK: James had a beard.
JAMES HARDEN: I had sex with a lot of women those two years. I’m not sure if the beard had anything to do with that. It was more like, here’s a future NBA player. Not like, here’s this sexy beard guy, I should have sex with him. Speaking as the woman; I obviously didn’t have sex with me. I didn’t need to.