HOUSTON -- The fans show up prepared to honor their favorite player.
They wear fake beards and chef hats.
On Twitter, some fans have altered their profile pictures to an image of them wearing a beard.
At the Houston Rockets team store, they sell fake beards for $10. It’s a small display, near the cashier, in the midst of the different hats, T-shirts, jerseys and bobbleheads being sold.
Rockets guard James Harden has a famous beard, one he said he might shave off for ESPN if his team reaches the NBA Finals.
For fans who attend the games at the Toyota Center, he better keep The Beard.
“I wear the beard because I feel like the beard is his power,” said 41-year old Maya Jones, who sits with a group of fans in Section 114 known as the Red Rowdies. “If he touches it, he feeds off it. It’s the grittiness of it.”
Harden’s beard has become a story unto itself during a wonderful season in which he’s among the top MVP candidates and has traded the scoring lead with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in the last month of the season.
On the road, some Rockets fans wear beards and yell at Harden as he walks onto the court. Sometimes, Harden’s demeanor seems immune to the attention he’s receiving.
When asked about fans wearing fake beards, he lights up.
“They’re loyal, man. That’s how I know they’re my fans, if they’re rocking the beard with me,” Harden said. “I’m appreciative and thankful for that.”
At a recent home game, 22-year-old Chris Lamb, a Houston native, had a poster-sized board of Harden with red bloodshot eyes and a thick beard that had "Fear the Beard" in glossy red written on it.
“A friend made it for me,” said Lamb, who sat four rows from behind the basket near the Rockets' bench. “I love James Harden and I got to support my team. You love The Beard and it brings a lot of people together in my family. He’s brought a lot of attention back to Houston because of the beard and what he’s done this season.”
Harden’s season has pushed him to superstar status after serving as a sixth man in Oklahoma City playing behind Kevin Durant and Westbrook.
The 2012 trade that brought Harden to the Rockets set the table for the 2013 acquisition of Dwight Howard in free agency.
Now the Rockets have two star players trying to mesh and get this franchise to a deep postseason run.
Rockets fans believe the man with the thick beard will achieve that.
“James Harden is my favorite player,” said Melinda Hamidian, 26, who wore a fake beard at a Rockets game. “He’s just a hero to us after he came here from OKC. It was a like a gift and that beard is special.”