A good beard can get you a long way in life. Just ask James Harden. Harden’s play this season (and his beard of course) have propelled the Thunder all the way to the NBA Finals.
While Harden has had his beard for several years now, many others grow theirs specifically for the playoffs, most famously in the NHL. That tradition dates back to the 1980’s when the New York Islanders had four games in five nights and didn’t have time to shave. Since then, come playoff time, players in nearly every sport will follow the tradition and hope the superstition proves useful.
But the effects of impressive facial hair have been well documented throughout sports history. Let’s take a look.
Baron Davis: Just as Baron’s beard reached its maximum volume, miracles began happening for the 2007 Golden State Warriors. Finishing the season 16-5 to earn the 8th seed with a 42-40 record, the Warriors faced the NBA’s best team in the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki coming off of an MVP season. The rest, obviously, is history.
Davis and the Warriors dismantled Dallas and nearly snuck by the Utah Jazz in round 2 in a series that featured arguably the best play of Davis’ career. Davis and his beard gained notoriety after that season, as Boom Dizzle himself details in this video.
Brian Wilson: Moving across the Bay, Wilson followed in the path of his fellow Giant Barry Bonds in achieving greatness through frowned upon measures. Pledging at the beginning of the season to not shave until his team won a World Series, the eccentric Wilson took that a step further by dying his beard black. He pushed aside the accusations by claiming the beard was “just really tan.”
Despite the tainted beard, the Giants also had some playoff miracles, particularly in their NLCS matchup against the Phillies. In Game 1, Cody Ross hit two home runs off Roy Halladay, who had yet to give up a hit in the playoffs, and the Giants went on to win the series 4-2 behind Wilson’s 3 saves and 1 win.
San Francisco moved on to face the Texas Rangers in the World Series and won the title with relative ease in 5 games. After that, Wilson’s beard became a legend, prompting obligatory “fear the beard” chants every ninth inning and his own t-shirt.
Johnny Damon:The 2004 playoffs was another big win for beards. Damon, sporting a massive beard rivaling many a vagrant, helped propel the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series title since 1918.
After falling behind 3 games to none in the ALCS matchups versus the Yankees, Boston rallied back to win the series, bolstered by Damon’s game-winning run in the 14th inning of Game 5 and his 2 home run, 6 RBI game 7. Having reached the World Series, Damon’s home run to lead of Game 4 propelled the Red Sox to victory, sweeping the Cardinals and winning its first title in 86 years.
Brett Keisel: With a beard that could earn him a role in The Hangover 3, Keisel may have the most profound facial hair on this list.
Following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ failure to make the playoffs in 2009, Keisel began growing what he dubbed “Da Beard,” hoping to improve his team’s fortunes. It clearly worked, as the Steelers made it all the way to the Super Bowl the next season, eventually losing to the Packers.
Keisel’s beard has its own website and raised over $40,000 for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC when it was cut off at the “Shear The Beard” ceremony, making it the most philanthropic sporting beard of all time.
Rollie Fingers: The most famous moustache in sporting history has proved itself as lucky as its lower lip counterparts on this list. Fingers is a 7-time All-Star, 3-time World Series Champion, winner of the 1981 AL MVP and AL Cy Young Award, the 1974 World Series MVP, and only the second relief pitcher to make the Hall of Fame.
The other end of the spectrum holds true as well. Players with pathetic fuzz have received some poor luck in the playoffs.
Adam Morrison: Sporting perhaps the worst moustache in the history of mankind, Morrison has felt the consequences of his poor life decision to grow it.
Gonzaga’s memorable late game collapse at the end of the 2006 Sweet Sixteen led to Morrison crying on national television and a virtually nonexistent NBA career for the NCAA’s leading scorer.
Joe Flacco: I have no idea how Flacco decided a handlebar moustache would be a good choice, but the experiment did not end well for the Ravens’ quarterback.
Thought by many to be frontrunners for the Superbowl, Baltimore missed a field goal at the end of their AFC Championship Game against the Patriots that would have sent the game to overtime. Flacco quickly shaved the stache off after the game, but its damage was done. After the season, Flacco further hurt his karma by calling himself the NFL’s best quarterback. “I think I’m the best. I don’t think I’m top-five, I think I’m the best,” Flacco said. Clearly he hasn’t learned his lesson.
With the long history of outstanding facial hair being accompanied by outstanding success, it will be interesting to see if James Harden and the Thunder can continue the trend.