Who’s On the NBA’s 1st Team All-Hair?

As the NBA season wraps up, it’s time to highlight the guys who had a hair game head and shoulders above the competition

(OffTop Illustration)

Lately, the NBA’s popularity has been bursting at the seams like Chris Christie’s lap band after a 50-piece McNugget meal. Why? Well, there are a handful of factors contributing to the boom.

Global ubiquity.

Unsurprisingly, the sports that can be played with only a goal and a ball tend to permeate more of society than the games that require expensive equipment and facilities. On a recent trip through parts of central and South America, every town I visited had paved courts with a hybrid soccer goal — basketball hoop on either end. I didn’t see a ton of kids walking around with their hockey skates or lacrosse sticks.

You can watch an NBA game on TV without worrying that you might witness someone’s death.

I don’t know about you, but when I watch an NFL game, I am enthralled. I’m on the edge of my seat, because the athleticism and teamwork is elite, but also because on any play I could witness a live decapitation. For a lot of people, that makes them too uncomfortable to watch. You know which sport those people can watch without having to struggle with that moral conundrum? Basketball.

The talent level has exploded.

As approaches to training and health have advanced, NBA rules have shifted to favor perimeter players, and the financial incentive to succeed has increased, an incubator for basketball talent has been built and set to “Max”. Basketball players (and coaches and front offices) are better than they’ve ever been. I mean, c’mon, Dennis “I’m-so-fast-I’ll-blow-by-you-and-get-a-layup-without-being-touched” Schroder is considered (rightly) to be in the 20th percentile of starting point guard talent. Where would Schroder rank in 1997? That’s my point.

The marketability of the players.

Unlike Football, hockey or baseball, NBA players are visually accessible. They don’t wear helmets, face masks or hats. They wear shorts not pants. And they (usually) don’t even have sleeves (I honestly can’t understand for the life of me how sleeved NBA jerseys are still a thing after more than four years. It’s like Adidas thought that fans who are too embarrassed to show off their upper arms are also too stupid to think of a way to wear a tank top and a t-shirt at the same time. Luckily this might be all over next year.) This accessibility has translated to social media too, where “unfiltered”, player-initiated interactions have further cemented the NBA as the most accessible league for fans.

It’s #4 that we’ll focus on right now: The “rawness” of the player marketability. 82 times a year you can see your favorite ballers, up close and personal with just a few clicks of the mouse or taps of the tablet. Some players embrace the exposure — Draymond, Russ. Others merely put up with it as a facet of their job — Kawhi, DRose.

Likewise, some players’ hair thrives in the limelight, like it has some alien form of photosynthesis, triggered by cameras. Other players’ hair maintains a workmanlike subtlety, and still others’ slowly withers away (sorry ‘Bron).

Today we are going to recognize the players whose fuzzy domes have flourished under the media microscope. These guys bring it on a nightly basis, and by “it” I mean their styling mousse, mirror and a fine-tooth comb. They embrace the game, rightfully, as a beacon of entertainment by keeping their fades as tight as their sneakers. They are the sultans of the slick-back, the dons of the dreadlock and the barons of the beard.

These are your NBA All-Hair 1st Teamers.


First of all let’s outline the requisite qualities that get a player into this exclusive group.

Outlandishness.

To earn a position on the 1st Team All-Hair squad (and the subsequent endorsements) a player needs to break the mold. And even break the mold of the mold-breakers. Is it unfamiliar? Is it bizarre? Yes? Good.

Uniqueness.

Are other players not willing or even unable to do that with their ‘do? Major points. This is a category that would have garnered consideration for a player like Kawhi in years past. Sure cornrows are a known quantity, but nobody was rocking them. As they’ve crept back into the stylistic repertoire of the league, the ‘vintage-classic’ points for rows have diminished.

If it makes you ask, “Doesn’t that make it harder to play?”

This is a heavily weighted category. You know the guys. A kid who’s never watched basketball could pick them out instantly. Winning big in this category requires visual obstruction and constant fiddling.

‘Rodman-o-meter’

This means added color. This means added designs. This is where Marcus smart lost his eligibility when he hacked off the honey badger top, and where ‘Boobie’ Gibson earned his with the infamous star etched on his coconut.

Variety and Consistency.

Both ends of this spectrum deserve respect. If you can re-roof every couple games, the effort and experimentation involved are worth recognizing. Similarly, if you can remain unwavering once you’ve keyed on a signature look, props.

Iconography.

Is your nickname based on your hairstyle? Is your brand value as a cultural entity influenced by your hair? Does your hair have an insurance policy?! Then you might have what it takes to join the ranks of this prestigious club.

This is a highly scientific and objective process (obviously). But the bottom line is: does the gaudiness, crispiness or obviously overthought design of your hair add value to the viewing experience of the masses? It’s entertainment after all right?

Here we go.


Guards

Elfrid Payton

I’m honestly not even sure what you call this. Was it inspired by the Weeknd? Is it designed to provide shade from the blazing Orlando sun? Is it an alien symbiote that’s going to engulf his body and turn him into a Marvel super villain? We don’t know. What we do know is that it looks like a plant trying to grow toward the light. We also know that it scores Elfrid perfect marks for outlandishness, uniqueness and making people (like serious people) ask, “Does Elfrid Payton’s hair block his own shot?”

(Orlando Sentinel / Ringer Illustration)

James Harden

When your nickname is “The Beard”, you have become a hair icon. When they sell replica beards at the arena for fans to wear, you have become a hair icon.

Harden, who, after another MVP caliber season has cemented his place in beard lore just above Santa Claus and just behind Abraham Lincoln, scores high across every category. It’s rumored that he has electromagnetic sensors in his beard that allow him to sense impending contact so he can prepare a dramatic flail. Does the beard make it harder to play? Obviously not for him, but we’re asking. The consistency is remarkable. The beard is outlandishly large, and he even adds the closely cropped Mohawk for a couple style points. I personally think the beard is facial protection he needs for practicing against Patrick Beverly on a regular basis. Whatever it is, it’s working.

(Business Insider / OffTop Illustration)

Honorable Mentions: Jeremy Lin, Patty Mills, Iman Shumpert, Dennis Schröder

Jeremy Lin was a perennial All-Hair player until he moved on from the super saiyan Mohawk. He put forth a solid effort this year with the braid variations, but we know he can do better. Shout out to Patty Mills for making a run this season to accompany his 1st Team All-Towel Waving accolades with an All-Hair Team nod. If he maintains his lil-smokies style mini-dread Mohawk into next season, he will be a frontrunner to snag a 1st Team spot. Iman Shumpert leads the league in variety of styles ever since he bailed on his signature high top, but he needs to think further outside the box than braids and buns to crack into the starting rotation. Schroder earns points for holding tight to the Wiz Khalifa style gold patch despite its dwindling popularity. Unfortunately for Dennis’ open teammates, he also holds tight to the ball.


Forwards

Jae Crowder

Crowder actually uses his hair as a counterbalance while calibrating his three point shots, a technique that has quietly led to his consistent improvement from beyond the arc — 29% (2015), 34% (2016), 40% (2017) per BasketballReference.com. When combined with his knockdown 3-point shooting, Crowder’s uncanny ability to use his remarkably thick dreadlock-dreadlock as a Pugil stick on defense has helped him establish himself as one of the league’s premier three-and-D players. There are even reports that Disney has reached out to Crowder’s hair in hopes of signing it as the magic beanstalk in the new Jack and the Beanstalk feature. Dreadlocks are nothing new, but the dreadlock-dreadlock? That’s called “breaking the mold”. Monsanto executives actually use a green-tinted image of Crowder’s hair when they show the asparagus department their ideal product. He’s consistent, outlandish, unique and when people ask, “doesn’t that weigh him down?” I tell them, “No. It’s actually the source of all his power.”

(USA Today Sports / OffTop Illustration)

Gordon Hayward

It’s rumored that six of Mitt Romney’s eight wives are employed part time by Hayward to cultivate a garden of special herbs that, when cold-pressed and added to a concoction of cutting edge ingredients including coconut oil and Miles Plumlee’s tears, create a clear adhesive, ten times stronger than concrete. Hayward uses this adhesive to keep his meticulously parted comb-over in place while embarrassing unsuspecting rim protectors. Hayward’s hair evolved alongside his game. Today both are great, and thanks to an extended postseason run by the Jazz, both got the shine they deserved in 2017. His consistency, iconography and uniquely crisp part give Hayward the edge for a 1st Team forward spot.

(USA Today Sports / OffTop Illustration)

Honorable Mentions: Jimmy Butler, Kelly Oubre

Unfortunately for Jimmy Butler, the high top, baby-fro / spiky-fro has gained steam over the past couple years with guys like Russell and Ingram in LA, and Rose and Lee in New York adopting versions of the look. Did anyone else have a hard time telling Rose and Lee apart this year? It may have been butler himself who has sparked the trend. Either way, a previous shoe-in for the first team, Butler will need to revamp his hair game this summer to take back his spot. Kelly Oubre is an up-and-comer. If he can translate the boldness and irrationality of his body check of Kelly Olynyk, to his cranial coiffure he could make the leap.


Center

Anthony Davis

The simple fact that Davis has gone all-in on a look that has been conclusively relegated to the lowest caste of facial hair existence is all that’s needed to catapult him to elite status. He is “The Brow” and “The Brow” is he. And while it is often hard to tell whether Davis’ furrowed expression is a reflection of his disgust at the New Orleans Pelicans’ mismanagement or merely his natural RBF (Resting Brow Face), it is nonetheless delightful watching a guy with a unibrow pull down his pants and defecate all over his defenders, night after night.

(USA Today Sports / OffTop Illustration)

Honorable Mentions: Robin Lopez, The Stache Bros, Nerlens Noel

The Robin Lopez mop-top scores full marks in the “Does that make it harder to play?” category. The constant tucking behind the ears and careful removing from in front of the eyes frustrates me as a viewer, but his unwavering dedication to becoming a mascot upon retirement is impressive. “The ‘Stache Bros” of Oklahoma City are another force, like Davis, fighting for a marginalized facial style. Watching two such diametrically opposite post players unite around a common taste in upper lip grooming is like watching one of those “unlikely animal friends” videos on YouTube. It’s adorable, but you have a feeling it’s not going to end well. Lastly, Nerlens Noel, who’s hair — not unlike his game — has a high ceiling, went from one of the most powerful high tops in the league to some sort of mini-dread mop-top this season. He also mixed in some braids. The experimentation is respectable, and the potential is intriguing. But Noel, and all aspiring 1st Team centers will need to make a major leap in order to unseat “The Brow”.


Looking back over this ensemble cast of renegades, it’s actually not a bad team! Maybe there’s a correlation between pushing the boundaries of how one looks on the court and how well one can perform on it. Really, all things equal, does wilder hair correlate with greater success on a basketball court? I know one thing for sure: if I’m drafting a team in NBA 2K, I’m taking Elfrid Payton (rated 75) over Michael Carter Williams (rated 75) every time. Could it be that a creative game like basketball selects for players with creative dispositions? Maybe. And, maybe, the more creative a player is — whether they express that through their hair (Harden), their clothes (Westbrook) or their raps (Lillard) — the better they are on the court.

Ok. That’s a stretch.

There’s one thing however, that I’m sure we can all agree on: The NBA is better because these guys give Jeff Van Gundy something to talk about in the fourth quarter of a 30-point blowout.

Thank you 1st Teamers, and congratulations.

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