There is no doubt that hip hop culture and basketball culture overlap significantly. At times, it is difficult to determine which is greater- rappers admiration for ball players or vice versa- perhaps it’s more a mutual respect for each other's abilities. Whether it’s Jay-Z rocking a Nets jersey at a concert or its Russell Westbrook walking to the locker room in Lil Wayne-esque skinny jeans, it’s easy to see that entertainers in both fields closely identify with the other’s swagger. But the style sharing doesn’t stop with the latest clothes and shoes- it includes hairstyles as well. From D Brown’s infamous aerodynamic fade to Jordan’s bald head, each era has its own signature hairstyle that has shaped not only basketball and hip hop trends but American culture as a whole. Let’s take a look at the hairstyles that created trends throughout the NBA, Hip Hop and pop culture in the past four decades.
The early 70's was the era of the afro. During a time where the civil rights movement was still very much alive and people were more anti-establishment, Afrocentrism and Hippiness ruled the day. No doubt the influence of artist such as James Brown (one of the forefathers of Hip Hop) and his late 60's production "I'm black and I'm proud" paved the way for many players to grow their hair out naturally and stray away from relaxers and waves- at least until the Jehri Curl gained traction in the late 70s.
The 80's saw Hip Hop take a meteoric rise. There were no bigger influences in barbershops around the country than the likes of Bobby Brown and Kid & Play. Their Gumby style fades had players in the 80's dropping the Jerhi Curls and rocking the square top- light on the sides and thick on the top. Today, you can catch the likes of Norris Cole and Iman Shumpert on the court with a similar cut.
It should come as no surprise that arguably the best player of all time had a strong influence on hairstyles (or better yet the no-hair style) during his era. Although to be fair, the bald head has always been a popular "do", especially for those who are forced by nature to shave it all off or rock the comb-over/patchy look (myself included). But seeing the top players in the league wear their shiny heads with pride sure made things a lot easier for the normal people sitting at home. The likes of 2PAC, DMX, and LL Cool J fell in line with their smooth headed athletic counterparts, even if only by force of receding hairlines.
Iverson was the first player to play in an NBA game while wearing braids. A.I. and his braids made their debut in the NBA's 1997 rookie game and were not cut until 12 years later in 2009. Latrell Sprewell was the next to follow in Iverson's footsteps before the league was overrun with copycats. It is highly unlikely that another player will come along and have the impact Iverson did on the culture of a sport as a whole from tattoos and flashy chains to "do rags" and baggy pants. He was an embodiment of mainstream Hip Hop culture and his equally flashy game created an easy platform for international influence. You could catch Hip Hop stars Ludacris, Lil Bow Wow, and Sean Paul, like Iverson, all sporting the corn rows during this time period.
Today's go to hair-style that most overlaps with Hip Hop is the mo-hawk (seen worn by hip hop stars P Diddy and Chris Brown). Popularized in the NBA by the likes of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Anderson, the narrow strip of hair coming to a peak in the middle of players heads is the most current look, with as many variations as you can imagine. Still, you can find flashes of history every now and then, whether it's Andrew Bynum rocking the 70's afro, Nerlens Noel with the 80's box cut, or Kawhi Leonard as the last player alive wearing Iverson braids. Who knows what's next, maybe everything has been done before and it's time to start over, or perhaps we will discover that hip hop and hoop avant garde is truly everlasting.
x Martinis Jackson
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