Brian Wilson vs. James Harden: The Battle of the Beards

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 6, 2011

PHILADELPHIA , PA - JULY 27:  Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants comes in the ninth inning to close the door against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on July 27, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Giants defeated the Phillies 2-1. (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Who has the best beard in sports? Is it James Harden, the up-and-coming shooting guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, or is it San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson? 

My good friend and fellow sports nut Bart Rich and I attempted to answer this question. Be sure to let us know both what you think and who won the debate in the comments section.  

The Unassuming Perfection that is James Harden's Beard
by Bart Rich

How do we decide who our favorite players are in sports? You may love someone like Albert Pujols for his individual dominance on the field, which is a perfectly understandable reason to buy his jersey and support him. However, as sports fans, we know that our decisions about the players we love, or love to hate, aren’t based purely on performance or stats.

My attention is held more by a player like JaVale McGee, whose abnormal triple-double and offseason name change to “Pierre” draw my eye as much as the 12 blocks he recorded in one game. Will memories of Pujols’ greatness last far longer than McGee’s shenanigans? Of course, but in the moment, isn’t it fun to root for a character like McGee? The man has flair.

It’s why we love it when Heath Bell sprints to the mound during the All-Star Game, or Ron Artest shaves messages into the back of his head. We enjoy when athletes break the mold and make a lasting impression outside of their game.

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins is awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy after defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As the Boston Bruins recently proved, one valuable aspect of an athlete’s personality is his facial hair. Would Tim Thomas have finished off the Canucks and won the Conn Smythe Trophy without growing such an epic playoff beard? Probably yes, but now you’re kinda thinking just maybe he might not have.

Most sports fans love it when they see their favorite players sporting a sick beard. It can add an entire new dimension of awesome to a man you already revere and respect for his athletic feats. Beards are important.

So, naturally, as with everything else in the sports world, they need debating. How do we properly evaluate which beard is best? It’s not just about the look of the beard. How does the player consider his beard? Does he accept it, harness its power, pay homage to his facial hair forefathers?

These things are crucial to determining which beard is best. And they are the reasons why, despite all of its publicity and acclaim, Brian Wilson’s beard falls short in light of the glory of James Harden’s beard.

The explanation for that can be summed up in one word: SWAG.

For starters, Harden’s is tops because he doesn’t abuse the power of the beard. Wilson has used the beard as a publicity tool, shining a spotlight on his testosterone-fueled creation in order to increase camera time. While I can appreciate a man who strives to entertain us all, don’t insult your ability. Respect it.

DALLAS, TX - MAY 25:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts in the second half while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 25, 2011 in Da
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The evolution of Wilson’s beard has become a punchline for the national media. Because of the combination of his deadpan sense of humor with the beard, he can hide behind extravagance and bad jokes. Wilson has even said in interviews that he can say anything to the media, and it’s funnier because of the beard.

It’s almost as if he’s become weary of the great burden accompanied by growing epic facial hair.

James Harden, however, takes his beard in stride. Any publicity or mention of his beard comes from other people; he feels no need to flaunt it unnecessarily.

Similarly, in the face of channeling such timeless greatness, Harden pays his due respect to the pallbearers of the beard in the sports world. In a recent interview, he mentioned Baron Davis as a model and mentor. As we all remember, many a young man was inspired to grow out a beard after Baron’s insane facial hair propelled him to great heights over top of Andrei Kirilenko in the 2007 playoffs. 

It is Harden’s humility and appreciation of the power and awe that accompanies such a thing that gives him, and his beard, higher standing.

As far as examining the actual beards: Harden is the victor here too. While Wilson’s may be longer or thicker, Harden’s is perfectly sculpted. Never scraggly, ungroomed or allowed to run rampant.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 23:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts in the first half while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at Oklahoma City Arena on May 23, 2011 in O
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Wilson has even faced allegations that he could commit the heresy of dying his beard to make it seem fuller. Such vanity and disrespect disturbs the sacred responsibility he has as a man trying to attain perfect facial hair.

In combination with his understated but increasingly extraordinary mohawk from this year’s playoffs, Harden’s beard easily wins out.

But finally, the main reason that Harden takes the crown is that he is James Harden, not The Beard.

Brian Wilson has become synonymous with The Beard. I can understand his desire to forge a new path and change his name, especially when it still reminds me of the crooning falsettos of the Beach Boys. But his personality has adopted an almost parasitic relationship with this beard. Its weight is overcoming him, perhaps figuratively and literally.

Gone is Brian Wilson, lights out closer for the world champion San Francisco Giants. His power and celebrity is now fueled by The Beard, taking strength from it almost like a Bizarro Crimson Chin. Many in the sports world consider his prowess and ability on the field an afterthought, and for someone so talented, it is unfortunate that the magnitude of his undertaking now overshadows his performance.

It begs the question: would we love him the same way if there were no beard to fear?

DALLAS, TX - MAY 19:  James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts after making a three-pointer in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA Playoffs at American Airlin
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Thankfully, Harden has learned to balance this plight. He has embraced it. He isn’t defined by his beard. Though it is one of his most remarkable characteristics as a sports figure and athlete, he is equally known for his smooth lefty jumper and slick scoring ability.

When he pulls up and drains a 25-footer in your face, the humiliation is only amplified by the cool and charisma he exudes. You can only shake your head (that is, if you’re an NBA player with world-class talent ) and wonder, “Could I embarrass people like that if I had that beard?”

Because of the beard, everything about this play is cooler: from the crossover to the sweet finish, to the off-the-scales celebration afterward. Harden’s beard complements everything he does, enhancing his identity as the Thunder’s sixth man secret weapon.

Simply put, Harden’s beard is swagged out. You can’t define swag, you can’t control it and you can’t quantify it. You just see it and know it when it’s there, and Harden’s got it. That’s why he has to fight off the so-called “swaggerjackers” around the sports world who are trying to follow his trend.

There’s humility, but also a brash acceptance of his pursuit for greatness. On the court and off the court, this man is a leader with the confidence to do his thing and let you deal with the aftermath. If that means growing a beard to triumph over all others, then sucks to suck, world.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 24:  Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates after defeating the Milwaukee Brewers at AT&T Park on July 24, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Bravo, James Harden.

The Superiority of the Beard that Owns Brian Wilson
by Adam Fromal

What exactly makes a great beard? 

Part of it is each and every tiny hair follicle coming together to form a mass of awesomeness, but that's by no means all that comprises greatness in the facial hair department. A beard is only as great as the man who owns the now-covered face on which it resides. But even that definition of excellence fails to truly capture the incredible nature of Brian Wilson's beard.

You see, Brian Wilson does not have a beard. The Beard actually has a Brian Wilson. It's a parasitic relationship of sorts as the cluster of black hair is drawing off Wilson's fame in order to achieve its own greatness. But that point has been passed as well and now The Beard is its own separate entity. 

In its infancy, The Beard was simply a prop, used to highlight the eccentric nature of the San Francisco Giants' All-Star closer. It made Wilson appear more intimidating up on the mound as he attempted to slam the door shut on game after game for the eventual World Series champions. 

Both fans and opponents alike feared The Beard. Hell, even Barack Obama admitted that he feared the beard. But now we've reached the point where Wilson himself has no choice but to fear what the uncuttable, unmatchable beard has become. 

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 11:  National League All-Star Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants looks on during the Gatorade All-Star Workout Day at Chase Field on July 11, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Norm Hall/Getty Images

Sure, you may argue that Wilson's beard is only so famous because of all the self-promotion that he has done. But the fact that one piece of facial hair has captivated the sports world's interest for so long is telling in itself. It's not as though the Wilson jokes have lost their luster.  

Be honest with yourself. You laughed when you saw the commercial where Wilson revealed the Irish dancers in the right portion of his beard under the chin. You had the same reaction when Josh Elliot and Jay Harris learned that they really should fear The Beard or else face the monster that lies beneath it. 

This self-promotion is one of the three factors that make Wilson's facial epicness more impressive than that of the Oklahoma City Thunder's James Harden.

When was the last time you heard about Harden's beard during anything but a Thunder telecast? It may make the lefty shooting guard look pretty damn cool as he drives past defenders on the way to a thunderous (pun intended), rim-rattling slam dunk, but that's only during the game.

His beard isn't an accessory off the court, one that can accompany a spandex tuxedo to the ESPYs and look convincing. The facial hair is a part of Harden, and a truly great one at that. But that's all it is.

DENVER, CO - APRIL 19:  Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants looks on during batting practice prior to facing the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 19, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Wilson's beard has become a character. He talks about it during interviews, even quoting commercials about it. The Beard, amazing as this is, has its own trading card at this point. To the best of my knowledge, this is a first. As anachronistic a statement as this may be, not even Abraham Lincoln's beard had its own trading card. Harden's certainly doesn't. 

The Beard has gained such prominence not only because of its awesome looks but also because of the dominance of the athlete it has taken over. Therein lies reason number two for the superiority of Wilson's beard over Harden's.

If you cut off Wilson's beard and placed it on my face, it would not be as epic simply because I'm not Brian Wilson. I now feel compelled to apologize to both Wilson and The Beard for even thinking about cutting it off. I promise I didn't mean it. 

With his mohawk and unique celebration, during which he crosses both arms before pointing to the sky, Wilson has helped the Giants morph from a bottom-feeder into a perennial contender. As the San Francisco Chronicle informed its readers, the three-time All-Star is "the face (and beard) of the team," a team that can currently call itself the defending champion.  

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 17: Brian Wilson #38 of the San Francisco Giants pitches during the 11th inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on July 17, 2011 in San Diego, California.  The Giants won 4-3.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Harden, on the other hand, falls well short of that same moniker. In fact, he's only the third-best player on his own team, a claim which Serge Ibaka may, perhaps justifiably, take exception to. The Thunder still belong to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, not the third-year shooting guard with the awesome beard who has never averaged more than 12.2 points per game.

Harden is on the rise and may be a breakout star next year, but Wilson has already broken out in a big way. 

But even if Harden eventually becomes a star that shines as brightly as Wilson does right now, his beard would still pale in comparison, although only figuratively since both beards are jet black.

Without any further ado, let's move on to reason No. 3. 

For those of you who will be concerned with the legality of the following hypothetical scenario, let me assure you that public urination is the only crime that will be committed in it. Both men are of the legal drinking age as Wilson is 29 and Harden is about to turn 22.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's analyze the looks of the beards in the style of the newly released movie, The Change-Up.

It's just your average Saturday night and the two beards are out drinking. After a night of drunken revelry (let's be honest here, the beards are awesome enough that they can pretty much get what they want), they start to float home and stop at a nearby fountain to relieve themselves. While that happens, Harden's beard expresses its jealousy and Wilson's reciprocates, not because he means it, but because it's the kind thing to do.

Voila. Thunder. Lightning. Bright lights.

Beard switch.

After assessing the absurd situation, the spirit of Harden's beard would be completely lost in the scraggly greatness of Wilson's beard, exclaiming, "I don't know what to do! There are lumberjacks in here and I think I may have even found the Fountain of Youth!" It would be utterly overcome by the situation.

Meanwhile, the spirit of Wilson's beard would be left rather disappointed. "Come on man, this is basically just what I was like a few months ago. Been here, done this," it would say.

You see, Wilson's beard looked like Harden's once: perfectly manicured, neatly trimmed and looking like it was just painted on with three-dimensional paint. But it moved past that point so that it could reach its full potential.  

Wilson's beard is already more awesome and it hasn't even come close to realizing that full potential. Just imagine if it does.

I originally posed a question asking what exactly made a beard great. Well, even though I can tell you which one of these two beards is superior, I'm not the man you want answering that question. 

Only Brian Wilson can provide you with the true answer, but you'll have to wait until he finishes raging

Adam Fromal is an NBA Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer. Follow him on Twitter.

Bart Rich is an English major at the University of Georgia and a lifelong sports fan. He is incredibly jealous of both Wilson and Harden because he cannot grow a beard. 


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