Reddit user ejwise went through the admirable and important work of creating a James Harden Beard Timeline — i.e., a chronicle of the magnificent face-adornment's path to absolute glory since James "Jim" Harden first gained the ability to sprout hair out of his face. Building off that idea, let's take a walk through history, where we'll discover that there's something SYMBOLIC about the beard.
High School. Beard Status — Nonexistent. The Face As A Blank Canvas, Just Waiting For A Beard.
Harden was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school — Yahoo had him as the country's 11th-ranked player, and he received offers from most of the major schools in the West. Their take? " How much stronger he gets will have a lot to do with how far he takes his game."
Arizona State, January 2009. Beard Status — Gestating. Bristling With Potential.
Coming off a spectacular freshman season, during which he shot 52% from the field and 41% from three, Harden had a massive burden to shoulder as a sophomore: get Arizona State into the NCAA Tournament, which they missed in his first campaign.
Arizona State, March 2009. Beard Status — Capitalizing On March Madness. The Best It's Ever Been.
Harden got Arizona State to the tournament and more. He won first-team All-America honors as well as the Pac-10 Player of the Year Award, scoring 20 points a game.
NBA Draft, June 2009. Beard Status — Restrained. Neat And Impressive, But Could Turn Into Anything.
As a result of his impressive sophomore season, Harden went a justified third overall to the Thunder — the franchise's first-ever draft pick since moving from Seattle. Observers saw him as a very NBA-ready player; the question was, how high was his ceiling?
Rookie Year, January 2010. Beard Status — Contained; Solid But Unspectacular.
Harden actually struggled during his rookie season, shooting only 40% from the floor, though he did still account for 9.9 points per game. Most surprisingly in retrospect, Harden received zero Rookie of the Year votes. (Landry Fields and Gary Neal, two very minor players in 2013, got a few.)
Second Season, March 2011. Beard Status — Beginning To Erupt. Actualized But Still Notable For Its Possibilities.
In his second year in the league, Harden appeared in every Thunder game but still struggled to score efficiently — he got his field-goal percentage up to 44%, but his three-point shooting fell to 35%. That being said, he'd already started to make an impact as a sixth man for the Thunder, and he showed huge improvement over the course of the season.
Prior To Third Season, December 2011. Beard Status — In Place, With Room To Grow.
What's a lockout good for? Letting that beard sprout.
Last Summer, Olympics, July 2012. Beard Status — Majestic, But Poised For Dominance. Hungry For Gold.
Harden exploded in his third season. He made enormous strides in efficiency, shooting 49/39/84 and averaging 16.8 points per game in 30+ minutes. All of a sudden, the Thunder had a big three, and that squad took them into the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Heat. He even qualified for the U.S. Olympic team. Would Oklahoma City be able to afford Harden and his now-massive beard?
Before This Season, October 2012. Beard Status — Rick Ross-ian; Probably Going To Kick Your Ass.
They would not. The Thunder decided to trade Harden to the Rockets for cap flexibility and a decent package of picks and players, and Harden prepared to start his first season as not only a regular starter but also a team's premier player.
Right Now. Beard Status — Glorious. A Tarantino Revenge Film Distilled Into Beard Form. All You Could Want From A Beard And More.
Of course, it went better than anyone could've possibly expected. The Rockets are one of the league's biggest surprises, Harden's scoring 26+ a game, and there's little doubt that he's now one of the 15 best players in the NBA. Meanwhile, the beard has taken on a life of its own — it looks like someone stuck a shovel blade on his face.
H/T to ejwise at reddit.com/r/nba