Trae Young, your hair is a beautiful unsolved mystery

And now? He left. I want to say, it is faded away. Not the most fascinating thing about the NBA playoffs was, “Were the Nets ever rea...


And now? He left. I want to say, it is faded away. Not the most fascinating thing about the NBA playoffs was, “Were the Nets ever really a teamOr, “Whose death wish is better: Charles Bronson’s or Philly’s?” It’s not even, “Lord. What. East. Ben Simmons. To carry. For-nightThe most fascinating thing of the last two playoffs has obviously been Trae Young’s hair.

And now the case is closed, because the Hawks just got knocked out in the first round by the Heat, which means Trae Young is gone, which means so is this magnificent unsolved mystery of ‘a hair cut. I call it a haircut. But that’s the problem with Young’s hair: cut or? How? It is hair so rich in paradoxical intrigue that a season of “Serial” would not be unjustified. It’s thin but full, short and long, wet but also dry, seemingly “young male” despite his geriatric appearance too, a barbershop optical illusion. There is a fade, part and fringe. It’s just not a haircut. It’s a novel by Michael Crichton.

The reason to pay any attention to this is that Young can be one of those exciting basketball players, how-did-he-just-did-that, a cubist take on a Houdini routine. On good nights, he seems to ooze between players heading for the basket or 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 is below league average height, and therefore a squirt. But he has the swagger of 30 7-footers. The hair completes the thrill. It’s the fuse on a stick of dynamite, candelabra flames. The swagger is no secret. He even has a nickname: Ice Trae.

Young is an artist, and hair is part of the entertainment. His breakaway lob won Game 3 against the Heat. In this series, the hair was full in the back, like maybe there was a commotion there. Part of the fun of this particular game was studying how every time Young took off, the back of his head seemed to gallop behind him, like something you might steal from Pamplona to run away from. Every time he juked someone on the Heat, the hair could look like a twerk. After his real winning game, the clock was stopped at 4.4 secondsand Young walked to the sideline where you might have noticed the bangs had been flipped, flipped, tucked in, Something. On TV, that short, dark coastline had no immediate relation to the darker plume behind it. Except: of course they were related! It was a two-phase lawn: mowed and wild. It was a geological table: Triassic and Neogene. It was a treat: cotton candy and fruit roll.

Everybody wants to know, what is this hair for? Does it fall? Is it replaced? Does it still fit? Is it an advanced technology, an expensive science? Or is it simply, brilliantly, the art of nature? Nobody knows. But apparently anyone with the NBA app and a Twitter account would love it. Denzel Washington just want it to go. “Tell that little boy to get a haircut,” he told opponents Young’s Heat on Sunday, after meeting them in a hotel lobby and delivering a rather emotional impromptu pep talk. His advice for the “little boy” we all assume is poor Trae Young was just a puzzled aside: “What kind of haircut does he work with?” Uh, Denzel: All! The real answer is none of our business. I love how it seems to embolden Young, make him more brash, more devious, more swaggering. Or at least he did.

Last year, in Game 7 of Round 2 against the Sixers, Young was dribbling downfield at full speed when he was flattened by Dwight Howard, who has to weigh what two Trae Youngs do (and, for this game , wore her hair in a golden dread mohawk that said “dancehall rooster”). Lying on his stomach, Young began to do a set of push-ups right there on the ground. One thing to love about this hair is that it doesn’t stop Young from doing stuff like that, straight trailing. The person wearing that hair wants you to think it’s going to knock them down.

Earlier in this Hawks run, I saw them shock the Knicks in the opener of their first-round series. We were all at Madison Square Garden, and even the elated, ultimately discouraged Knicks fans were, at least, noticeably taken aback by Young’s impossible appearance. Light but utterly confident, daring, pressing, artistic. Not much was on display this year. It was as if he was excluded from his own momentum. The ‘do had lost its bravery. And now it’s back home.

I ASSUMP WHAT some people want a Devin Booker or a Jayson Tatum for Young’s hair. Something with an obvious shape. Hair that tells a story that doesn’t require going to a glossary or relying on a family tree. What protect a critic against a flood of metaphors. Indeed, Booker, who plays for the Suns and is currently struggling with a hamstring glute, and Tatum, who replaced Young as this postseason’s surprise, have simpler versions of what Young “should” do. Booker’s hair piles up in a substantial, substantially beautiful box of subtle curd. (Yes, curd!) And Tatum’s swaying, almost curled, faded incarnation, complete with a short, fashioned front curtain, is truly the Bizarro Trae. You feel you can explain it in five words or less: Renaissance cupid goes to Freaknik.

But the more time I spend with Tatum and Booker’s eligible hair, the more I appreciate Young’s common sense. This hair is no accident. (In fact, off the court it’s tame: a slick, glamorous number in a single shade of ink.) Between Games 3 and 4 of last year’s Knicks series, he cut it. It didn’t cut off though. The back just got less action than it had that month. Trae Pure Ice. This haircut happened in the Atlanta area, where the Hawks play. You just don’t play basketball for a team whose house also caters to Chocolate City with that hair and don’t know that people are going to have questions, that hair salons are probably agitated in exasperation, that many stylists probably waiting to jump on you like Knicks fans were. Nevertheless, he persists. Well, he did.

THE Clash this month between the Hawks and the Heat was exciting for his contrasting superstar hair. Jimmy Butler is the captain of the Miami ship. For years he’s had the best hair in the NBA, an intricate tower of curls, twists and maybe dreads. In a league currently rich with cornrows and swinging braids, thick with spilled meringues that may or may not require the help of a hair sponge, there was nothing quite like Butler’s geyser control. Every time I saw him, I wanted his hair to teach mine a class of structure, imagination, and fades (fades that would tickle Mark Rothko). It didn’t look like easy to maintain hair. How, for example, did he keep a constant ratio between hair that seemed to dread, hair that twisted, and hair that did something else? A delicious, vaguely instructional video Butler’s first post-NBA-bubble haircut exists after the Lakers beat the Heat in the Finals.

And now? Well this video is a hint of a glorious bygone era because all season it’s been playing with her braided hair. In poured inevitable comparisons to Allen Iverson’s cornrows. What Butler has going is more illustrious in craftsmanship than Iverson’s, which nevertheless remains the yardstick by which all other braided basketball hair is measured. He is her Xerox, her Kleenex. Butler’s new hair, which is seemingly redone for every game, reaches greatness (rivers, streams, lightning bolts, sculptures, crop circles, braids that hang behind his head in a bun that sits just above the headbands in which he played). This hair is a clear kick for him. Here he is in another Michelob Ultra ad as owner croons “I just want to be with you.” But I? I just want to be with this box.

So it seemed fitting for this new hair to meet Trae Young’s in a playoff. He has a clear purpose which is not everything company and yet, in its own way, is serious. And it must be said that Young’s seems to be doing well. Still, I remember what happened last year, going from Young’s Hawks to another game. I was bored. After four quarterbacks from Trae Young, everything else looked… flat. With him gone, all is not bleak. Barely! The juicy Round 1 series between the Grizzlies and Timberwolves is part action franchise and part hair convention. It’s just that Young is a convention one.

Lately, Denzel Washington has become a significant source of fatherly wisdom. But on Trae Young’s hair, it has to be parted ways. I don’t want that to change, although it probably will. It has become also a lot of one thing. It’s hair that feels like it’s on its way somewhere, anyway; and I want to pay homage to him before he arrives. Hopefully his arrival won’t be too drastic. Young might owe his swagger to this hair, given the challenge required to wear it this way – those manners. It flies, swings, bounces and struts. He can do that thing that Mick Jagger does on stage, where he turns around like he’s seen who tapped him on the shoulder. It is a source of amusement, confusion, fear and strength. It’s biblical like that. Cut that hair and a city could fall.



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