When the Houston Rockets acquired James Harden in late October, General Manager Daryl Morey finally found the superstar that he longed for. Houston would go on to post billboards around the city featuring Harden with the caption, "The Beard Has Landed!" So far, Harden has delivered, as he is one of the best in scoring, steals and getting to the line, making him a shoo-in for next month's NBA All-Star Game.
He also holds the title of the league's best beard (sorry, Ronny Turiaf). Harden, and his beard, follow a long line of Rockets whose luxurious locks and grizzly facial hair had fans asking how they could maintain such beauty. Here are a few examples.
Mike Newlin (71-79) When the Rockets relocated from San Diego to Houston, they brought along with them newly drafted Mike Newlin. Newlin, a key piece to a team that would feature future hall-of-famers Moses Malone and Calvin Murphy, was a solid swingman with his best season coming in 1976, averaging 18.6 points and 5.6 rebounds. However, he had something that separated him from other swingmen in the '70s: Samson-like hair combined with a gnarly beard. He had the look of a barbarian, approaching each game as if it were a fight to death (kind of like Nikola Pekovic). His steady contributions helped bring the Rockets into relevance. Who knows, maybe he could've saved that piece of crap TV show Cavemen. Probably not.
Dwight Jones (76-79) In '76, the Rockets acquired former Houston Cougar Dwight Jones from the Atlanta Hawks. Statistically, he was nothing remarkable. But he did bring the '70s style to the team, as he rocked a perfectly rounded afro and thick mutton chops that made Clyde Frazier smirk. After getting waived by the Rockets, he played for the Chicago Bulls and had a cup of tea with the Los Angeles Lakers before calling it a career, and is now taking gigs as ?uestlove of the Roots.
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Paul Mokeski (79-80) The Paul Mokeski era in Houston is something probably no one remembers. He was a second-round pick by the Rockets, played 12 games and, at the end of the year, the Rockets sent him to the Detroit Pistons. But dammit, he had the look that would definitely put butts in seats. He had a gorgeous white-guy afro to go along with the quintessential '70s porn star mustache. After trading Mokeski, the Rockets had a brief drought in gorgeous hair. They have since learned their lesson.
Robert Horry (92-96) The curse of trading Mokeski wore off when the Rockets drafted Robert Horry in 1992. He came into the league with a fade, which automatically signaled success. One can point to Hakeem Olajuwon's dominance in '94 as what led the Rockets to their first championship. Or you can look to Horry's fade. Aside from the '90 Pistons, what do the rest of the NBA Champions in the '90s have in common? A fade. Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and Robert Horry wore them proudly and were champions.
Moochie Norris (99-03, 05-06) The early 2000s saw a rejuvenation of the once-popular afro. Ben Wallace's was obviously the most popular of the era, but Moochie Norris was a cult favorite. Norris and his afro became instant fan favorites. But his afro was much more than just a novelty; it was his source of power. He saw his most consistent minutes with the Rockets until he hacked off the 'fro and it went downhill from there. The Rockets sent him to the New York Knicks (in one of Isiah Thomas's first moves during his hilarious tenure as general manager of the Knicks), which would lead him to bouncing around the NBA and overseas. Well, at least he got a bobblehead and a rubber ducky made in his likeness!
Luis Scola (07-12) The other day, I was speaking to a friend of mine and I uttered the name Luis Scola, which immediately changed her mood from glee to sadness. Scola was a fan favorite with his sweet mid-range J, the ability to grab rebounds with only a 2-inch vertical, the scruffy beard and glossy hair. Scola's popularity even led Toyota Center to give out Scola wigs to fans who showed up early. Hell, I liked Scola so much that I even dressed up like him in high school with those very wigs. Unfortunately, he was a casualty in Morey's pursuit of Dwight Howard. Now fans are getting fake Harden beards to replace the Scola wigs.