The Beard lies crumpled in a back corner of Ronnie Ketch's store.
Last summer during the NBA Playoffs, he turned the front of his home interior business into a huge tribute to James Harden. Ketch used black AstroTurf to transform the arched facade into the bearded, Mohawk face of the Thunder's star reserve.
“It just kind of got thrown in the corner when he left us,” Ketch said.
And that's where it remains today.
Plenty of folks in Oklahoma City have tried to do what Ketch did — throw memories of Harden in some dark, back corner. But as the Thunder prepares to face Harden and the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, the reality may be rough for Thunder fans.
There's no avoiding The Beard now.
In the event you've grown tired of the how-the-Harden-trade-affected-the-Thunder storyline, you might want to wear earmuffs for the next few weeks.
This series is going to be all about Harden vs. the Thunder. The Beard vs. his buddies. It's what the broadcasters will talk about, what the newspapers will write about and frankly what the fans will muse about.
Should the Thunder have traded Harden?
Does OKC miss him?
Does he miss OKC?
Those questions will be asked ad nausea during this first-round series, making for the most uncomfortable of days in Oklahoma City. No one who works for the Thunder or cheers for the Thunder wanted this playoff matchup. Thunder-Lakers? Absolutely. Thunder-Jazz? Bring it on. But Thunder-Rockets means everyone with an opinion gets to pick apart fallout from the preseason trade that sent Harden to Houston.
Some of the dissection is sure to be hard on the Thunder.
But not all of it. It can't be.
For starters, we know that Harden said no to the Thunder, not the other way around. The team offered him as much as it could — and probably more than it should — but he decided he wanted something that the Thunder couldn't offer.
Harden wanted a max deal, and the Thunder didn't have a max deal to give him, so off he went to the Rockets.
Things worked out well for him.
Worked out pretty well for the Thunder, too. This is a team that won 60 games during the regular season, that finished at the top of the Western Conference, that carried on just fine, thank you.
When Harden was traded, Ketch wondered if that might not happen. Even though he had a beard on his building, he is more of a Thunder fan than a Harden fan. He has even adorned the outside of Ketch Design Centre on Western Avenue in huge red Russell Westbrook glasses as well as a Durantula.
He wanted what was best for the team, and as he digested the trade last fall, he thought the team might ultimately be better in the long run.
“Give credit to Presti or Clay Bennett or whoever's running the show,” Ketch said. “The management of the Thunder, I think, knows what they're doing.”
Not to say that he wasn't like most Thunder fans when he heard about the trade. He was disappointed. He was down.
And he had a huge beard that suddenly he didn't know what to do with.
Ketch tried to find a new home for his beard in The Beard's new home.
“At one point, we put it on Craigslist when he got traded to Houston,” Ketch said, “and nobody hit on it.”
He took down the ad after four or five days.
“You think about the Houston market with football and baseball,” Ketch said, “and I don't know if the Rockets are as popular maybe in Houston as the Thunder are here.”
Of course, the Rockets might be more popular in Houston now than they were before. Pre-Harden, the Rockets struggled. Fought to finish above .500. Missed the playoffs three straight seasons. Weren't all that much fun to watch.
Now, they play a high-scoring, up-and-down brand of basketball that has them back in the playoffs.
Finding a beard buyer in Houston might not be so difficult anymore.
“Maybe we need to try it one more time,” Ketch said.
Then again, with The Beard coming back to town and bringing all sorts of attention to this series, maybe Ketch doesn't want to sell.
“How could we put that beard up and still use it?” he mused. “Could we cross it out?”
“Maybe we should hang it upside down.”
“How 'bout that?”
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.