What now? He’s gone. I mean, it is gone. The single most fascinating thing about the NBA playoffs has not been, “Were the Nets ever really a team? ” Or: “Whose death wish is better: Charles Bronson’s or Philly’s?” It’s not even: “Lord. What. Is. Ben Simmons. Wearing. To-night? ” The single most fascinating thing about the last two postseasons is obviously Trae Young’s hair.
And now the matter is shelved, because the Hawks were just eliminated in Round 1 by the Heat, which means Trae Young is gone, which means that the magnificent unsolved mystery of a haircut. I ‘m calling it a haircut. But that ‘s the thing about Young’s hair: cut where? How? This is a hair so rich with paradoxical intrigue that a season of “Serial” will not be unwarranted. It’s thin yet full, short and long, wet but also dry, seemingly “young buck” despite seemingly geriatric too, an optical illusion of barbering. There’s a fade, a part and bangs. It’s simply not a haircut. It’s a Michael Crichton novel.
The reason to pay any attention at all to this is that Young can be one of those thrilling, how-to-do-he-just-do-that basketball players, a Cubist’s rendition of a Houdini routine. On a good night, he seems to ooze between players on his way to the basket or while making passes that no regular body – no regular. NBA body – should be able to. He sprays his way to the basket. Makes sense, he’s 23 and at 6-foot-1 below the league’s average height, and thus a squirt. But he got the swagger of 30 7-footers. The hair completes the thrill. It’s the fuse on a stick of dynamite, candelabra flames. The swagger ‘s not a secret. It ‘s even got a nickname: Ice Trae.
Young ‘s an entertainer, and the hair’s part of the fun. His breakaway lob won Game 3 against the Heat. In this series, the hair was full in the back, like maybe a bustle was back there. Part of the fun of that particular game was how young any time Young took off, the back of his head seemed to gallop full on behind him, like something you could possibly fly to Pamplona in order to. Anytime he juked somebody on the heat, the hair could seem a-twerk. After his veritable game winner, the clock was stopped at 4.4 seconds, and Young strolled to the sideline where you might have noticed that the bangs had been upended, turned back, folded over, somethingGeneral Chat Chat Lounge On television, this short, dark coastline bore no immediate connection to the darker plume behind it. Except: of course they were related! It was a lawn in two phases: mowed and wild. It was a geologic table: Triassic and Neogene. It was a treat: cotton candy and fruit roll-up.
Everybody wants to know, what is the point of this hair? Is it falling out? Is it being changed? Is it still coming in? Are we looking at a technology in progress, an expensive science? Or is this simply, brilliantly, the art of nature? Nobody knows. But seemingly everyone with the NBA’s app and a Twitter account would like to. Denzel Washington just wants it goneGeneral Chat Chat Lounge “Tell that little boy to get a haircut,” he told Young’s Heat opponents on Sunday, after he ran into them in a hotel lobby and gave a pretty moving impromptu motivational speech. His advice for the “little boy” we all presume is poor Trae Young was just a bewildered aside: “What kind of haircut does he workin ‘with?” Um, Denzel: All of them! The real answer is none of our business. I just adore how it looks to be embolden young, to make him brasher, slyer, swaggier. Or at least it did.
Last year, in Game 7 of the Round 2 against the Sixers, Young was dribbling down the court at top speed when he was flattened by Dwight Howard, who must weigh what two Trae Youngs do (and, for that game, wore his hair in a golden dread mohawk that said “dancehall rooster”). Down on his stomach, Young proceeded to do a set of push-ups right there on the court. One thing to love about that hair is that it doesn’t stop young from doing stuff like that, straight trolling. The person wearing that hair wants you to think it’s going to bring him down.
Earlier in that run of the Hawks’, I watched them shock the Knicks in the opening game of their first-round series. We were all at Madison Square Garden and even the overjoyed, eventually crestfallen Knicks fans were, at least, appreciably flummoxed by how impossible Young looked. Slight yet completely assured, daring, pressing, artistic. Little that was on display this year. It was as if he was locked out of his own élan. The ‘do had lost its derring. And now it ‘s back at home.
I SUPPOSE WHAT Some people want Young’s hair to be a Devin Booker or a Jayson Tatum. Something with apparent shape. Hair that tells a story that does not require trips to a glossary or reliance on a family tree. Something to dam a criticism of is a flood of metaphors. Indeed, Booker, who plays for the Suns and is currently saddled with a bum hamstring, and Tatum, who’s superseded Young as this postseason’s astonishment, do more straightforward versions of what it looks like young “should” be going for. Booker’s hair piles into a substantial, substantially handsome box of subtle curds. (Yes, curds!) And Tatum’s waving, almost ringleted, faded incarnation, complete with a short, shaped-up front curtain, is really the Bizarro Trae. You feel like you can explain it in five words or less: Renaissance Cupid goes to Freaknik.
But the more time I spend with Tatum’s and Booker’s eligible-bachelor hair, the more I appreciate the gumption of Young’s. This hair is not an accident. (In fact, off-court, it’s tamed: a slick, glamorous number in a single inky shade.) Between games 3 and 4 of last year’s Knicks series, he got it cut. He didn’t cut if off. The back simply had less action than it did that month. Pure Ice Trae This haircut happened in the Atlanta area, where the Hawks play. You just don’t play basketball for a team whose home also answers to Chocolate City with that hair and not knowing that people are going to have questions, that barbershops are likely to twitch with exasperation, that many stylists are probably waiting to jump as you Knicks fans were. Nonetheless, he persists. Well, he did.
THE CLASH THIS MONTH Between the Hawks and the Heat was exciting for its contrasting superstar hair. Jimmy Butler is the captain of Miami’s ship. For years, he had the single best hair in the NBA, an intricate tower of curls, twists and maybe dreads. In a league currently rich in cornrows and swinging plaits, thick spilling meringues that may or may not require the aid of a hair sponge, there was nothing else like Butler’s geyser. Every time I saw it, I wanted to teach his hair a class in structure, imagination and fades (fades that would have tickle Mark Rothko). This did not look like easy hair to maintain. How, for example, did he keep a consistent ratio between hair that seemed to dread, hair that twisted and hair that did something else? A delightful, loosely instructive video exists of Butler’s first post-NBA-bubble haircut after the Lakers had beaten the Heat in the finals.
And now? Well, that’s an index of video’s glorious, bygone era, because all season he’s been playing with his hair braided. In poured inevitable comparisons to Allen Iverson’s cornrows. What Butler’s got is more artisanally illustrious than Iverson’s, which, nonetheless, is the yardstick by which all other braided basketball hair is measured. He’s his Xerox, its Kleenex. Butler’s new hair, which is seemingly redone for every game, achieves grandeur (rivers, rivulets, lightning bolts, sculptures, crop circles, braids that clasp behind his head in a bunlet that rests just above the headbands he has been playing). This hair is a clear kick for him. There it is in another Michelob Ultra ad as its owner croons “I Only Wanna Be With You.” But me? I only wanna be with that box.
So it felt fitting for this new hair to meet Trae Young’s in a playoff series. It ‘s got a clear purpose that isnt all business and yet, in its way, is serious. And it must be said that Young’s does seem to be figuring itself out. Still, I remember what happened last year, going from Young’s Hawks to some other game. I was bored. After four quarters of Trae Young, everything else felt … flat. With him gone, it ‘s not all gloom. Hardly! The juicy Round 1 series between the Grizzlies and the Timberwolves is both an action franchise and a hair convention. It’s just that Young is a convention of one.
Of late, Denzel Washington has become a meaningful font of fatherly wisdom. But on Trae Young’s hair, we must part. I don’t want it to change, though it probably will. It’s become too much of a thing. This has been the hair that felt like it on its way somewhere, anyway; And I want to pay my respects before it gets there. Hopefully, its arrival won’t be too drastic. Young might owe his swagger to that hair, given the defiance required to wear it that way – those ways. It flies and swings and bounces and struts. It can do that thing that Mick Jagger does onstage, where he whips around as if to see who’s tapped on his shoulder. It is a source of amusement, confusion, awe and strength. It’s biblical that way. Cut that hair and a city might fall.