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The Mane of Valhalla

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

I have quietly struggled with inadequate facial hair all my life. Some portion of my genetic code has clearly been damaged and unfortunately for me, it is the genetic material responsible for administration of follicle thickness and weight. My beard carries all the gravitas of Steve Buscemi and my hair cut was inspired by cotton candy. I’ve tried all sorts of things to inject some hard edges, to project some forceful intentionality. In high school, bobby pins straight out of the shower did nothing to tame my Farrah Fawcett feathers and the purple pony-tail, shaved underneath, was a disastrous as it sounds. Equal parts wisp, puff and scraggle my hair has always been regrettable or forgettable.

Josh McRoberts is everything I ever wanted in a beard and a haircut–a splendid interweaving of manicured chaos, with a sweaty sheen that projects just the right amount of danger. McRoberts has been carving out his NBA niche with creative playmaking from the elbows and an increasingly reliable outside shot. At the same time his beard has been cruising around Charlotte in an impeccably maintained panel van with an airbrushed painting of a viking riding a unicorn stretched across the side. The van smells of Miller High Life, impromptu sex and stale joints. The music of Foreigner is woven into the upholstery. McRoberts’ beard is the JukeBox Hero that Mick Jones was dreaming about.

While his beard has been carousing in fast food parking lots and introducing itself to the latest crop of high-school chicks (the beard has Wooderson’s accent and approach to dating) McRoberts’ hair has been traveling with a regional carnival as an alligator wrestler. The alligator is mostly trained but there’s always a chance something could go wrong. In his younger days McRoberts’ hair was a black mask anarchist, hurling smoke bombs at the WTO protests in Seattle and monkey-wrenching BLM facilities in the Southwest.

McRoberts’ hair and beard met at a bar in Tijuana. Not one of those shiny glittery clubs that pull in collegiate gringos from SDSU, it was off the beaten path at the end of a long and lonely valley. It could charitably be described as a shack. A hot wind whipped dust through holes in the salvaged wood siding. The tequila was even hotter than the wind. Hair downed most of the bottle but Beard ate the worm. A man with an eye patch and a knife flecked with dried blood brought them beans and fried calabacitas. That night an easy friendship began. They agreed to find a way to blend their gifts, becoming a whole greater than the sum of their parts.

Josh McRoberts carries this history with him on and off the court. His hair and beard pulse with the soul of revolution and debauchery. They are the purest form of rock-and-roll, steeped in mescalin and dusted with dreams. They are illegal drag racing and the leather of well-worn saddles. They are sandstone and muddy water and Muddy Waters, knife fights and month-long games of Risk that have to be set on top of a book case each night so that none of the pieces are jostled. They are featured in the origin stories of more than a few indigenous cultures and are undeniably what every beard and haircut should aspire to–style and form, rough and raw with no trace of irony.

The future of my own beard and hair is a slowly rattling death spiral. There are no more hormonal changes to save me, no gene expression to alter the shit hand I’ve been dealt. But seeing McRoberts, and knowing there is such beauty in the world, makes everything seem a little less dark, a little less desperate.

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