When the Dallas Mavericks (16-31 host the Houston Rockets (33-12) Wednesday night at the American Airlines Center, one face will stand out.
More to the point, Houston guard James Harden and his easily-identified beard has a sort of cult following around the NBA.
But his bearded look has become a common sight in sports these days.
Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Maliek Collins likes his beard because he doesn’t grow hair too well on the top of his head. For backup quarterback Cooper Rush, it traces back to his family heritage of the Irishman and red beard phenomenon.
Offensive lineman Chaz Green has gone with a beard since college since, well, his Roman Catholic high school wouldn’t allow facial hair. And backup center Joe Looney has a beard … at least until his wife tells him to shave it off.
Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Justin Turner’s massive red beard got some serious TV face time in the World Series.
A stroll through the Cowboys locker room during the season showed the trend is alive and well in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“It just looks cool,” Looney said. “It’s got that manly, scruffy look to it. You know, that blue collar look to it.”
Cowboys All-Pro center Travis Frederick might have the most recognizable beard, a burly mountain man kind of look to it. The facial hair fits considering his Wisconsin roots and being on the offensive line.
Ezekiel Elliott is another standout player who sports an easy-to-spot beard.
For most of the players, though, it’s something that they’ve been doing for years.
“I’ve had mine ever since my freshman year at Nebraska,” Collins said. “I cut it off and went to a goatee once and I hated it. So I’ve had the beard for a while.”
Asked why he wanted one in the first place, Collins smiled, pointed toward his head and said: “I got a beard since I can’t grow hair up here.”
Rush is approaching his three-year anniversary with the red beard. He started growing it in December 2014 while at Central Michigan, and has found no reason to turn back.
“I’m Irish. The red beard and Irish kind of go together for sure,” Rush said. “So it works.”
But don’t expect Rush to follow in the footsteps of fellow red beard savant Turner.
“That thing is unbelievable,” Rush said. “That’s probably years of work and preparation.”
For Green, it started as a freedom thing. His high school, Tampa Catholic in Tampa, Florida, told him he couldn’t have a beard, so he never had one until he started growing it out his second year at Florida.
“I used to switch it up beard to goatee, but I like the beard,” Green said. “It was kind of a freedom thing cause I came from a catholic high school and we had to shave, so I just grew it out just cause I could.
“Then when people started applauding me and getting jealous of it, I was like, ‘Man, let me just keep growing this thing.’”
Green doesn’t have the length of Frederick’s to the naked eye, but it’s longer than it might appear.
As Green uncurled and straightened it out, he said with a chuckle: “See, I’ve got some hang time.”
The maintenance of a beard can vary for each player. Green says he’ll trim it occasionally, but has let it grow for the most part for the past three or four years.
Rush trims his beard about every two weeks, and Collins does it every Friday.
Looney, meanwhile, goes to the clean shaven look whenever his wife tells him to do so.
“I can probably push it about a month and then she’ll start complaining,” Looney said. “I love my beard. I think it looks cool, makes me look older. But my wife doesn’t really enjoy it. She likes the clean look.
“So when she says it’s time to go, it’s time to go. You know, happy wife, happy life.”
All of the players say the beards don’t really have any adverse affects on them in terms of itching or issues with the chinstrap.
After all, most of them have had beards long enough that they don’t really notice much these days.
“I think it actually helps when you’re wearing a helmet because it fills in some cushion,” Looney said.
Added Green: “It’s been a while since I haven’t had it, but it does add an extra sense of padding.”
The Cowboys are certainly fond of their beards and it doesn’t appear the trend is going away anytime soon. There are plenty of strong beards within the locker room, from Rush’s red beard to Elliott’s signature look, but the overall consensus centers on one man with the best beard.
“Travis Frederick. No question,” Looney said. “That thing is awesome. I just want to go pull on it.”
There are a lot of players with beards in the sports landscape. Here’s a look at a few notable players:
The All-Beard Team
Tim Howard, USA Soccer Makes him looker even taller and makes for an intimidating presence, even with his 6-foot-3 frame.
James Harden, Houston Rockets Fans, particularly young fans, wear fake beards to games.
Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers, Bat in hand, glaring at the pitcher, the beard makes him even more scary. His floppy hair completes this hair set.
Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR, Gives him an edgy look in a sport that requires it in the car.
Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys It’s so fitting that other guys give him his props for the look.
Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers He left enough room for a smile, whenever he wants to show one.
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros, It looks heavy, but maybe that’s part of the charm. The beard might even distract a hitter.