Up 1-0 over the Illawarra Hawks in the NBL best-of-five Grand Final Series, the Perth Wildcats are itching to extend their lead in this evening’s Game 2 in Wollongong. Moustache and beard styles images.
As part of the drive towards the club’s first back-to-back championship since 1990-91, the Wildcats are all growing Grand Final beards. All players and coaches – even Managing Director Nick Marvin – have committed to letting their facial hair grow until a champion is crowned.
Neck hair, sideburns, the lot – if it’s generally considered facial hair it is not allowed to be touched.
“I’ve never had an itchy beard in my life until now,” Wildcats captain Damian Martin told NBL Media.
“I think they’re horrible but it’s something that the guys have all bought into. It’s a team thing and apart from the itching and the ugliness it’s something that brings the guys together.”
According to vice captain Greg Hire, the growing of the beards began almost immediately after the ‘Cats advanced through the semi-finals. Everyone was given one day grace after completing their sweep of Cairns to, as Hire describes it, “lock in their look.”
“If you wanted to go clean shaven or you wanted a start-up or whatever you wanted to do, the next day was the final day,” Hire explained.
“With the moustache and the chin hair, I probably should’ve trimmed it up but I was a bit lazy with the newborn.”
Playoff beards have become something of a tradition in North America’s National Hockey League over the years and have been seen on occasion within basketball circles.
The NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers grew playoff beards in 2012, although they didn’t last long with the Clippers being swept out of the second round by the San Antonio Spurs.
The Charlotte Hornets all wore headbands throughout the 2001 NBA Playoffs while the Indiana Pacers implemented a memorable nude-nut approach during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998. For those who saw it live, the image of a bald Rik Smits is one that will stay with them forever.
In the NBL, the Townsville Crocodiles made a pact to not shave their beards after starting the 2002-03 season 3-11. The pact led to a remarkable run of 16 consecutive victories by the Crocs and a trip to the semi-finals. By late January, current Melbourne United assistant coach Mike Kelly resembled Harrison Ford in ‘The Fugitive’.
Moustache and beard styles images
Different teams implement different rules when it comes to these types of things. The Clippers, for example, were not allowed to shave their beards down but touching them up to keep them shapely was permitted. For the Wildcats, having a hair-cut is considered okay but messing with the facial hair in any way, shape or form will come with consequences.
“If you do get caught shaving or whatever it might be, there’s a bit of a punishment,” Hire told NBL Media.
“A couple of the new guys, like Dexter (Kernich-Drew) has sent me text messages randomly at times late at night asking me if he can shave his sideburns. I’m like, ‘mate, if it’s part of your facial hair it’s a no-go zone.’”
Truth is, this era of Wildcats have actually attempted the beards in previous finals campaigns but have never before managed to achieve total buy-in amongst the squad. This year, everybody’s on board.
“We’re all in, everyone is under strict orders until a Grand Final result happens,” Hire said.
“Even guys like Casey (Prather), Jameel (McKay) and Bryce (Cotton) are in which is quite rare because the imports generally like to get ‘lined up’, as they say.”
Prather, a dominant force for the ‘Cats on the floor, has been struggling somewhat to keep pace off it. Nonetheless, he’s into it.
“It’s my first time ever growing a beard, I didn’t think I could get any facial hair at all,” Prather told media on Monday.
“I’m kind of happy that the guys made me not shave.”
Casey Prather declares which Wildcats have the least impressive playoff beards. pic.twitter.com/3I3jqyKTtY
Hire, who describes his own look as “disgusting” but also a little “Johnny Depp-like”, says the idea is to unify the group during the most important part of the season. He credits assistant coach Matt Nielsen with driving the concept and binding the team together.
“He’s a massive part of all the culture stuff we’ve got,” Hire said.
“We have an in-house player’s award, named after (former Wildcats player) Eric Watterson, which the players vote on after each game and Nelly drives that pretty hard too, making sure the guys send in their votes after every game.
“With his experience, being a Boomers captain and what he’s accomplished over his career, he’s the first guy you go to regarding this kind of culture stuff.
“As a vice captain, Damo and myself have had plenty of discussions with Nelly in terms of culture and ‘buying in’ and that sort of stuff. He’s perfect for that.
“This sort of stuff that’s quite simple and quite fun, he sort of drives that and he has that great rapport with every single player and has that great balance between being a coach and being a mentor and a friend too.”
Okay, so who has the best growth?
“Someone like Matty (Knight), who already has a beard coming into it and can’t touch it now, he’s going to look like Dumbledore by the end of the series,” Martin laughed.
“At least mine you can kind of see, someone like Jarrod Kenny you have to get up close to see the seven hairs on his face.”
How about Hire, the vice captain?
“The poor guy just can’t grow anything except the sideburns and the goatee. He’s just got a couple of random hairs sprouting up,” Martin added.
As difficult as it was to admit, Hire agreed.
Moustache and beard styles images
“I can’t grow anything on the side, mate, I’ve been trying,” he said.
“Even when I was a young kid I used to shave the sides just so that it would grow back faster.”
In the end, it’s all about defending their 2016 title and capturing the second back-to-back championship in club history.
“It might seem insignificant but it’s these little things that get the full buy-in throughout the whole team,” Hire said.
“With all that’s happened this season, that’s never wavered. We’ve had a lot of themes that have been resounding throughout the season but we’ve always had 100 percent buy-in which has been huge for us.”
For Martin, the beards and his head coach’s favourite phrase – ‘Wildcats basketball’ – are actually a pretty natural fit.
“We know it doesn’t look good,” Martin said.
“But we play a style of game that isn’t necessarily out there to look great but hopefully can get the job done.”
Written for by Liam Santamaria