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kottke.org posts about Philadelphia

LeBron James and the Philly Beard Theory

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 22, 2017

LeBron James Beard.jpg

LeBron James, as a basketball player, is arguably better now than he’s ever been. More importantly, LeBron James’s beard is inarguably better now than it’s ever been.

Look at that fullness, that thickness, that beautiful roundness! That, my friend, is the beard of a man with a dietician, a dermatologist, and a barber on retainer.

It is the beard of a dad and a daddy both.

It is a beard fully realized. It is a Philly beard.

Here I need to explain. I was born in Detroit, but lived for many years in Philadelphia. The men of Philadelphia, and particularly the black men of Philadelphia, are known for their lustrous beards. Some of it is the influence of Islam; some of it may just be needing to be outdoors in cold weather. But it’s a source of civic pride and power.

This was the first video I ever saw on the Philly beard, made by the now-defunct Phillybeard.com in 2009:

The local PBS station made its own version, emphasizing some of the qualities needed for a proper Philly beard:

Even Al-Jazeera America got in on the action, with this excellent essay on the Philly beard by Hisham Aidi, tying to the city’s hip hop and jazz traditions as well as Islam:

But overseas the moustacheless, bushy beard is not so identifiably hip-hop and has caused considerable controversy, with security officials in Europe and the Middle East mistaking the Philly for a jihadi beard. In February 2014, for instance, Lebanese police arrested Hussein Sharaffedine (aka Double A the Preacherman), 32, a Shia rapper and frontman for a local funk band. Internal Security Forces mistook him for a Salafi militant and handcuffed and detained him for 24 hours. In Europe hip-hop heads such as French rapper Medine — a Black Powerite who wears a fierce beard that he calls “the Afro beneath my jaw” — complain of police harassment. French fashion magazines joke now crudely about “hipsterrorisme.” European journalists are descending on Philadelphia to trace the roots of what they call la barbe sunnah and Salafi hipsterism.

But just as not everyone who rocks a Sunnah is Sunni, it’s a mistake to conflate the moustacheless Sunnah with the Philly beard as such. For instance, check out Questlove and Black Thought, two classic examples of the Philly beard, avec une moustache:

roots-questlove-black-thought.jpg

These, I think, are the key criteria for a Philly beard:

  1. A full beard, trimmed only at the edges of the cheek and the neck;
  2. A trimmed moustache. The lips should be visible;
  3. That roundness. A Sunni muslim might grow out their beard long, so it gets that verticality. The Philly beard is round — as Medine says, it is an “afro beneath the jaw”;
  4. It has to be well-cared for. A Philly beard is not unshaven; a Philly beard is deliberate.

Even though LeBron James does not live in Philadelphia, nor has ever lived in Philadelphia, nor had anything to do with Philadelphia other than beating the Sixers and occasionally saying nice things about our rookie Ben Simmons, if I had to point to an example of a Philly beard, after the guys from The Roots? I would point to LeBron James.

This of course, leads to the obvious question: is LeBron, who has never before worn a beard quite like this, announcing without announcing, hiding in plain sight, via the medium of his face, his preferred free-agency destination in 2018?

The answer, for any fan of the Philadelphia 76ers, is clearly yes.

Naysayers, like my brother, would say the beard’s meaning is ambiguous. Perhaps it signals his intention to join James Harden with the Houston Rockets. But James Harden’s beard is not a Philly beard. Harden has to wear that thick moustache on top to hide his baby face. Harden’s beard is not round, but rectangular. It’s an impressive beard. But it is not the beard LeBron James is wearing. LeBron’s is a Philly beard.

Harden beard.jpg

Look: suppose you had to choose between playing in Los Angeles with Lonzo Ball (no beard, no hope of one), Brandon Ingram (sick, scraggly beard), Kyle Kuzma (my guy is from Flint, represent, but still), and maybe Paul George (who plays your position already) — OR you could play with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, and MAYBE JJ Redick, for an equally storied franchise, but one that hasn’t won a title since 1983, AND you can stay in the Eastern conference and stick it to Dan Gilbert and Kyrie Irving forever — why would you not sign with the Sixers? Play in a city that would love you, love your children, is just a few hours away from home in Akron, and would love the hell out of that beard?

I think the choice is obvious. LeBron will be a Sixer in 2018. He’ll teach Simmons how to shoot, Embiid how to become indestructible, and be Magic Johnson and Dr. J rolled into one. I’ll make this promise now, with the web as my witness: I will move back to Philadelphia if this happens. And I will love every second of these young talents filling in around LeBron’s dad-game.

Trust the process; believe the beard.

LeBron James - Hat and Beard.png

Photo gallery of an urban model railroad

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2005

Photo gallery of an urban model railroad with scenes modeled after the streets and tracks of Philly, NJ, and NYC. The modeler even painted some tiny graffiti on some of the buildings and walls. (thx, malatron)