Greatest Afros in NBA History

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2012

Greatest Afros in NBA History

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    The culture that has permeated from the NBA into the mainstream over the years started with a single hairstyle, growing from that into a rash of clothes, music, language and overall style. That hairstyle, of course, is the afro.

    First of all, let me be completely serious with you guys. If I could grow myself an afro, I totally would. Unfortunately I was cursed with this straight hair that just grows out and down, instead of out and up.

    There's something about the majesty of an afro blowing in the wind behind a guy as he runs that is unrivaled by any other hairstyle. It's hypnotizing, it's enthralling, it's just—the epitome of cool.

    From Shaft's minifro (Richard Roundtree as Shaft back in 1971, not Wesley Snipes, who made an equally cool bald Shaft) to Bob Ross's mesmerizing white-man poof of hair, the afro has a quality to it that automatically endears the 'fro wearer to the public in general.

    It's one of the greatest types of hairstyles that grew from the ABA into the NBA and just continued on from there from era to era. 

    So I've decided to pay homage to the frizzy topped men of the past and have gathered together the best afros in NBA (and a little from the ABA) history.

13. Josh Childress

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    Whenever I see Josh Childress' afro, it always makes me sad. Had he never gone overseas and played in Greece, he surely would have become a fan favorite and rocked an even bigger, more dominant afro.

    Hell, with a little cooperation between him and Ben Wallace, they could have brought the hairstyle back by themselves.

    Unfortunately, we'll just have to sit around and wait for the next afro to come along. Norris Cole rocked the flat top at Cleveland State; maybe we can convince him to pump out his own frizzy puff.

12. Moochie Norris

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    Moochie Norris had an afro that would appear once and then go into hibernation for a few weeks back in its original corn-rowed form.

    However, when he unleashed it, it had the flop of Anderson Varejao's mess of hair and the ferocity and intensity of Artis Gilmore's intense 'fro.

    I'm pretty convinced that he stuck around the league for nearly a decade as such a mediocre player (he scored 2,200 points in nine seasons) solely because of that enticing hairdo.

11. Anderson Varejao

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    Some will argue against the merits of this hairdo, claiming that it's not an afro, but rather, a mop. But I say if it's got the spirit of an afro, then it's an afro.

    Anderson Varejao's hair has the movement that Julius Erving's used to have and the curly bounce that is unrivaled up to this point.

    It may not be a full-on afro, but it's a damn impressive head of hair. I think in honor of his playing style, I'll have to deem this the "Flop-Fro." 

10. Rich Jones and Collis Temple

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    The San Antonio Spurs were like the Oakland Athletics of the ABA, except instead of handlebar mustaches and brightly-colored uniforms, they opted for afros and mop-heads.

    Two of the foremost members of the Spurs to rock the afro, and rock it well, were Rich Jones, who is No. 33 in the picture to the left and Collis Temple, No. 40.

    Jones' afro seemed to have more of a wild-child look to it, while Temple's was more of a perfectly kept Steve Harvey do. 

9. Wes Unseld

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    There's just something about Wes Unseld's afro that's unsettling. In fact, it kind of reflects the way he looks when I think about it.

    It's a nice looking afro, but it seems too short on top and too wide, kind of like somebody pushed down on the top of it and it just kind of stayed that way. When you compare it to Unseld himself, he was a center who was a tad too short and a tad too wide, but a great player in general.

    For some reason, just like Unseld himself, that afro just worked.

8. Randy Denton

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    Randy Denton easily has the most unique afro in the history of basketball.

    The big guy out of Duke looked like the demonic love child of John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell just after Ferrell got done shooting Semi-Pro.

    I'm glad he played back in the '70s—any other era and this epic white-man afro would have never happened.

7. Mel Bennett

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    I want to take Mel Bennett, throw him into a time machine and put him on the Portland Trail Blazers today looking just as he is in this picture (he's got the bigger afro). The hipsters would love him. Hell, I would love him.

    Maybe throw a pair of goggles on during a game for the Kurt Rambis effect and keep rocking that bodacious hairstyle and you've got yourself a fan favorite.

    Mel ended up playing just four lousy seasons in the NBA, so he's not nearly as well-remembered as that afro should have made him.

6. Kobe Bryant

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    I'm starting to think that there isn't a list you can put together relating to basketball that somebody won't make an argument for Kobe Bryant to be on.

    In this case, I'm completely sold, as I think Kobe rocked the best mini-fro in NBA history.

    It was always well kept, it was neat and tidy and it gave Kobe the look of a young kid coming into the league fresh-faced and ready to completely take over, which he completely did.

5. Darnell Hillman

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    Dr. Dunk, Darnell Hillman split his career between the ABA and NBA, spending most of his time in Indiana as his monstrous afro wowed the crowd night in and night out.

    What made Hillman's afro so special was that at times it bordered on huge, and I'm talking Oscar Gamble huge, while still being neat and tidy.

    I can only imagine seeing him streak up the court with that beauty of a bouffant swaying in the breeze above him like a halo of cool.

4. Bill Walton

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    Who can forget the grizzly man himself, Bill Walton. 

    Walton truly knew how to rock the curly locks coiled high and tight, more so than most other white dudes back in his day.

    His 'fro never got too big, mostly because his hair turned into an angry mane of ferocious red locks once it grew out, but it was always stylish and always reflected just how cool a character Walton was himself.

3. Artis Gilmore

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    Here we have a picture of Artis Gilmore playing basketball with a couple giraffes. What did you expect to see when you clicked on this wonderfully crafted piece?

    Giraffes aside, Gilmore's afro usually came with an accomplice—an accessory, if you will—and that was his ever-changing facial hair. He would rock the pork chop sideburns alone, with a goatee, with a mustache, a full beard, beard with no 'stache and my personal favorite, this indescribable beauty where his sideburns nearly connected to his mustache with a Scott Spiezio soul patch for good measure.

    Gilmore was 7'2" if you measured to the top of his skull, but 7'6" when you took the afro into account. That's got to be an intimidating mountain of man.

2. Ben Wallace

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    The best afro of our generation, nay. The best afro since the culture of the '70s died away and Dr. J switched over to a more conservative look has to go to Ben Wallace.

    The undersized paint enforcer who showed off his poof of hair in Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland looked as big as anyone on the court when he had his hair picked all the way out.

    My favorite story about Ben Wallace's afro has to be from a murder trial a few years back. Everyone remembers music producer Phil Spector going on trial for killing Lana Clarkson, a model and actress, and if you don't remember that trial, surely you remember Spector's hair, which was an afro of unheard-of proportions. According to his wife, Rachelle, Phil had that mess of hair on his head as an homage to Ben Wallace's afro.

    When your afro can inspire a guy who's on trial for murder to look like a crazy person in court, you know you've done something right.

1. Dr. J

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    Was there any doubt in your mind when you started reading this that there would be anyone else at the top of this list?

    Sure, Artis Gilmore's afro might have been more intimidating and Darnell Hillman's might have dominated when comparing size, but no afro is as iconic as the one that balanced so gracefully atop the head of Julius Erving.

    No image takes you back to the '70s more than Erving streaking to the hoop during the 1976 ABA Dunk Contest, afro afloat behind him as he leaps from the free-throw line for his most famous dunk.

    Erving's 'fro seemed to lean slightly forward on top of his head as if even it's excited to see what he might do next.

    It was the perfect hairstyle for the perfect superstar in a wonderful era of basketball.

    If you are one of those twitterers, you can follow me @JDorsey33.