March 25, 2009
When you grow up in poverty, you aspire to do great things, to achieve all that you can be. There’s one particular guy that not only climbed to the top, he became an icon and drew a lot of attention while doing it.
Though football was his first love, he played basketball with his head shaved bald for two years at Georgetown University as a lightning fast guard. In 1996, Allen Iverson was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers. Craving attention and keeping his coaches on their toes, this rebel decided to ‘ham it up” a little by letting his hair grow out into a basic fro that he kept cut closer only on the sides. It wasn’t long before SLAM magazine noticed him and featured this new style on their cover.
Obviously enjoying the attention, Iverson decided to put his new found hair length to work for him and took on the ‘90’s popular hairstyle of cornrows running front to back. He was one of, if not THE, first NBA player to wear this look on the court. When he was approached after the game that night in 1997 about his new ‘do, he responded,
** "I’m going to keep it like this until I’m finished playing basketball. I won’t cut my hair anymore. I don’t think I’m going to keep the head band, but I’ll keep it like this. I guess I just get tired of getting haircuts on the road, things like that, when I can just get a girl to braid it and it will stay done for a while."
Braids have been around for hundreds of years and have been worn by many cultures. It took the 1960’s and the “Black is Beautiful” movement to make braiding as popular as it is today. Letting extra curly hair grow as long as possible is a great way to help soften and relax it a little. Braids, or cornrows as we now call them, really helps this hair type, keeping unruly hair under control. Actress Bo Derek wore cornrow plaits with beads in the movie “10” back in 1979, causing some Caucasians to think they could wear these braids though this never really caught on amongst this race. Cornrows require a lot of skill, time and patience and for some they are not just a fashion, they can be a necessity.
Cornrows were art waiting to happen, and Allen Iverson along with his stylist, Dionne Matthews, were about to launch it. Dionne has been braiding since she was a little girl and now she drives from her Camden, New Jersey home twice a week to develop different patterns of which she has given many different names, applied to a natural canvas. “The Spider” utilizes the rows into looking like extended arachnid legs and the “Dragon’s Tail” has lots of swirly lines. Another pattern looks like a checkerboard and it is aptly named “The Versace”. There are also x-rows, triangular shaped braidings, wavy rows and mazes. One style has crossover braids and may be just the tribute to Allen Iverson for his trademark dribble with the same name. In fact, “ The Crossover” inspired the Cross Over Foundation that hosts the Allen Iverson Celebrity Classic whose proceeds are used to benefit youth.
No doubt the many intricate braided patterns he has worn over the years have also drawn a lot of attention to the unique possibilities for black mens’ hair. In December of 2006, he was traded to the Denver Nuggets and he continues to wear this unique hairstyle method today. Allen and Dionne will go down in history for the dawn of “artistry braiding” and the many designs that will be known by name. Perhaps a very special drawing is on the horizon and it could be titled the same as the nickname given to Allen himself by the 76ers’ famous ex- guard, Charles Barkley; the “Me, Myself, and Iverson”.