Had it not been for his wife's fancy pants work event, Jarrod Bowley would still have his beard.
He's not sure how he'd feel about it now.
That's because the Coweta man started growing the beard last year because of his favorite team, the Thunder, and one of his favorite players, James Harden.
Now, of course, Harden wears Houston red. He and the Rockets are the Thunder's first-round playoff opponent, and Harden tribute beards are so last season.
“That would be kind of awkward,” Bowley said of still having a Hardenesque beard.
Much about this series is bound to be awkward for Thunder fans. Not even a year ago, Harden was still a big part of this team and a big favorite to its fans. There are still “Fear the Beard” shirts tucked in drawers and fake beards stored in closets.
How has life gone on without The Beard?
It hasn't necessarily been easy because people really loved this guy.
“Harden was probably my favorite player on the team when he was here,” Thunder fan Blake Shropshire said.
“He was a guy we could count to provide a spark and energy off the bench,” Thunder fan Jared Homer said.
“It just felt like he was born to be part of Oklahoma City and this organization,” Thunder fan Derek Cody said. “I thought he was the perfect fit.”
Then came the trade.
We went from hearing that contract negotiations were ongoing to learning that Harden had been shipped to Houston. The news came quickly and harshly that October evening.
Shropshire remembers hearing about the trade when he was in Norman watching Oklahoma play Notre Dame. But as big a fan of Harden as he was, he didn't feel sad to see his favorite player leave town. He didn't feel mad that the two sides didn't get a deal done.
“I was fairly excited,” Shropshire said of the trade. “I had grown tired of hearing him talk about sacrifice but not make any.”
Harden talked a good game about wanting to stay in Oklahoma City, but the longer the contract negotiations went on, the more hollow those words sounded.
Since the trade, we've learned more about the behind-the-scenes wheelings and dealings. The Thunder offered Harden a big contract, a deal that would've financially extended the franchise in ways that would've been dangerous to its long-term stability. But Harden wanted a max deal, something that the Thunder didn't have available to give him.
That knowledge has left a bad taste in the mouths of many a Thunder fan.
“Angry is still a good adjective to describe my feelings toward him and the situation,” Homer said. “He was saying one thing and went and did the opposite.”
It felt like a slap in the face to the season-ticket holder from Yukon.
“He chose his own selfish greed over a city that adored him,” Homer said. “That right there tells you everything about him.”
Cody said, “I really thought he ... was committed to team more than he was.”
The Oklahoma native who now lives in Mississippi insists that he harbors no ill will toward Harden.
“At the same time,” he said, “I hope we sweep him and Houston and he gets a very loud reminder of what he's missing.”
Life after Harden has been good for the Thunder, so moving on has been easier for Thunder fans. Plenty of them are fired up about playing Harden and the Rockets in the first round.
Bowley isn't among them.
The man who grew his beard for a year remains a Harden fan to this day. He still cheers for him, still pulls for him. But he is a Thunder fan first and foremost.
“I'll still pull for the Thunder,” Bowley said. “I hope Oklahoma City welcomes him back, gives him some cheers.”
Will it happen?
We'll know Sunday night.
But Bowley is mindful of all that Harden did for Oklahoma City before leaving for Houston. He hit big shots. He helped win games. And The Beard was an attention grabber. It was just one more thing that hooked fans.
For that, Bowley is forever grateful to Harden.
“It's unfortunate that it didn't work out and you weren't able to stay,” Bowley said. “We appreciate what you did while you were here.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.