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SPORTSRockets fans have at times been criticized for their lack of fervor. Outside of the Red Rowdies, the Toyota Center can be a staid place, even during critical games. But much of that is owed to the fact that the most expensive seats — those often occupied by corporate interests rather than hardcore fans — are closest to the floor. That doesn't mean Rockets fans aren't serious about their team, as evidenced by Miguel Molina and Derek Finley.
Friends and rabid Rockets fans, Molina, 28, who works in IT support, and Finley, 28, who works in computer disposal, created a T-shirt based on guard James Harden's beard. A play on the Keep Austin Weird shirts, these shirts seem to have arrived at just the right time since the Rockets are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
We talked to Molina and Finley about how this whole thing came about.
How did this get started?
Miguel Molina: Well, for years now we've done our best to crack the other one up with stupid jokes and lame puns and plays on words. We'd occasionally think we had a brilliant one and say, "That would look great on a shirt." We're avid supporters of [online T-shirt companies] shirt.woot, Threadless, among others, and thought maybe someday we could come up with a sports version of those sites. But none of our ideas really ever made it past that initial drunken night, or at best a few days afterwards, before realizing that we'd be the only two wearing the shirts.
Derek Finley: Miguel and I were friends who met on ClutchFans.net maybe around ten years ago. In 2007 I moved to Houston, and we were roommates from then until 2009. We had some mutual weird obsessions (The Simpsons, NewsRadio, NBA Live 97), so it was a natural bromance.
Around November of 2012, when the Rockets asked ClutchFans to help come up with a new slogan for the season involving a beard since "Fear the Beard" was already taken, I immediately thought of "Keep Houston Beard" and I mentioned it to Miguel about how it might make a great shirt. A couple months later, while I was between jobs and taking care of my one-year-old son, Miguel approached with the idea of actually doing the shirt and selling it. The hardest part was convincing my wife to let me spend money on a "beard shirt," but now she's wearing it proudly and telling all her friends.
MM: The shirt thing had become a running joke between us anytime one of us said anything even remotely humorous, entertaining or even worthy of a raised eyebrow. Once we all learned of the James Harden trade, it wasn't long afterwards that Derek had the idea of the shirt, and we pretty much clicked on it immediately.
Who came up with the design and how was that created?
DF: The design was done by our mutual friend and huge Rockets fan Kurt Rankin, who was actually in Denver [for the Rockets game last week] with some friends and got some major air time with the 40 percenters that can actually watch every Rockets game this season. We already had the idea of the shirt and a rough idea of what we wanted, but we've got to give him credit for the great design and taking the idea and running with it. The silhouette of the beard taking the place of the A was pretty genius. We just met at Jake's Philly Steaks to watch a Rockets game back in late February, pitched him our idea and asked what he could come up with utilizing his design skills. A couple days later, he had some initial designs for us to check out, and at that point we realized we may actually have something sellable here. The cool part is, everyone involved with the project is a huge Rockets fan.
How many shirts have you sold on keephoubeard.com?
MM: Well, let's just say we've nearly sold out of our initial run and are having a second run printed as we speak before the playoffs start.
Has the Rockets organization or any of the players/broadcasters, etc. given you any feedback?
MM: We haven't gotten any direct feedback, although to be honest I wasn't able to hear the broadcast of the game [during the Nuggets game], so if they mentioned anything while they were showing Kurt and his friends in Denver, I wasn't able to hear it.
DF: Matt Bullard didn't mention the shirt, but he mentioned Kurt and his friends by name, which was really cool. It must have been really awesome for him (Kurt) to get on TV wearing the shirt he designed, so we were just thrilled to see it on TV at all.
It's a take on the Keep Austin Weird, obviously. Is it just about basketball, or do you see this as something more about Houston in general?
MM: Well, it's partially basketball because of our background and the entire reason we ever became friends in the first place. We're both huge Rockets fans, and ClutchFans.net is where that fandom was allowed to flourish. Lately, I think there's been a trend in Houston, and across many other cities as well, where beards are in more so than ever. Even before James Harden. Everywhere you look, you see some pretty magnificent beards. If you've never met my buddy Barry, and his beard, you've never lived.