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Pistons veteran Joe Vardon on growing up with his own nickname

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Of all the nicknames in sports, perhaps the most fascinating — the most intentional — is Joe Vardon’s “Fear the Beard.” It’s a nickname that can be traced to 1969, when the Chicago Bulls were playing in Mike Ditka’s home gym.

And it has proven conclusively meaningful over the past 50 years: The team’s signature logo, the MC with purple and red lips, is a collage of the player’s hands — extended fingers pressed up against his brow, a David Beckham pout over his beloved mane. Once the moniker was born, the Chicago Bulls took it as the ad for every run-in and locker-room homage to Vardon.

They were teammates for so long they had mixed memories of each other. After they had traded out, Vardon was already taking bets on who the latest recipient of the moniker would be. And as the rivalry with the Celtics has turned into an ongoing blood sport, Vardon has found himself squarely in the middle of the national conversation.

At most team headquarters, it’s the newest hires that get the buzz. At the Boston Celtics headquarters in the Plant Building — the same building the original Celtics held their offices in during their heyday — Vardon still finds some moments of beauty in the opportunity to sit and ponder the implications of his daily vocabulary.

“A lot of times, I’ll tell them the word is smaller than it looks,” Vardon said. “And they’ll look at me and say, ‘What’s that?’ And I’ll go back and I’ll tell them how many times it’s been done. It’s a long list.”

This photo provided by the Boston Celtics shows, from left, Jim VandeBerg, Farooq Abdullah, Martin Luther King III, Joe Vardon, Larry Bird, and Dennis Johnson during the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Celtics War Memorial on Monday, Jan. 21, 1991, in Boston. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo provided by the Boston Celtics shows, from left, basketball great Larry Bird, Farooq Abdullah, Martin Luther King III, Joe Vardon, Larry Bird, and Dennis Johnson during the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Celtics War Memorial on Monday, Jan. 21, 1991, in Boston. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo provided by the Boston Celtics shows, from left, basketball great Larry Bird, Joe Vardon, Farooq Abdullah, Martin Luther King III, Larry Bird, and Dennis Johnson during the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Celtics War Memorial on Monday, Jan. 21, 1991, in Boston. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo provided by the Boston Celtics shows, from left, NBA commissioner David Stern, Joe Vardon, Farooq Abdullah, Martin Luther King III, Dennis Johnson, and Larry Bird during the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Celtics War Memorial on Monday, Jan. 21, 1991, in Boston. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo provided by the Boston Celtics shows, from left, Larry Bird, Martin Luther King III, Joe Vardon, Farooq Abdullah, Larry Bird, and Dennis Johnson during the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Celtics War Memorial on Monday, Jan. 21, 1991, in Boston. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. The four were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last summer. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

This photo provided by the Boston Celtics shows, from left, basketball great Larry Bird, Joe Vardon, Farooq Abdullah, Martin Luther King III, Dennis Johnson, and Larry Bird during the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Celtics War

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