- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

For Milwaukee Bucks center Scott Williams, it began as an experiment and ended up a habit.

Before a game against Chicago last month, Williams donned a black headband, a gag gift from teammate Tim Thomas. Expecting little more than a few yuks, Williams instead scored a career-high 24 points.

Like a latter-day Slick Watts, he hasn't played bareheaded since.

"I tried it earlier in the season just as a joke, and I knew it wasn't me," Williams said. "Then I put it back, and I had that career-high night. I was feeling young and feisty again."

He's not alone. In the fashion-conscious NBA where sartorial trends are discussed, dissected and discarded with a junior high-like urgency headbands have become the must-have accessory of the spring, trailing only tattoos in faddish ubiquity:

• Portland's Rasheed Wallace, Toronto's Vince Carter, Golden State's Larry Hughes, Miami's Brian Grant and Los Angeles Clippers rookie Darius Miles are among the league's terry cloth aficionados.

• For the rookie-sophomore game during All-Star Weekend here in Washington, the entire rookie squad sported matching headbands.

• At the start of the playoffs, the stumbling Charlotte Hornets adopted headbands to show team solidarity, then thumped favored Miami in three straight first-round games.

"There's power in the headbands," said Hornets guard Baron Davis, one of the league's early adopters. "Some of the guys didn't want to do it at first, and you'd see them swatting them off after they missed a shot in practice or something. Then we won a couple of games. So now they believe."

Headband power

Believers are everywhere. From longtime wearers like Davis and Cleveland's Chris Gatling to fashion arrivistes like Williams, the league is awash in sweat sock skullcappers, many with their own unique style.

Portland's Scottie Pippen favors a dark, unobtrusive band that fades neatly into his well-trimmed mini-fro. Indiana's Sam Perkins prefers a plus-size behemoth, the better to complement his Sideshow Bob 'do.

Atlanta's Jason Terry even pairs his with matching knee-high socks, providing a double dose of retro chic. (For a true throwback look, however, Terry would be better served with a rainbow-colored band, a la Bill Walton).

In fact, the look has become so popular that entire teams, such as Denver and Toronto, have adopted it. And as was the case with previous NBA fashion trends big hair in the 1970s, designer high-tops in the 1980s, tattoos in the 1990s it isn't hard to find teams, such as the Los Angeles Clippers, on which the headband haves outnumber the have-nots.

So why the revival of a look that hasn't been cool since Watts, a former Seattle guard, made it his calling card in the 1970s? A look long associated with rec-league rejects?

It's like Davis said: There's power in terry cloth.

After a near-mutiny against coach Dan Issel in December, the Denver Nuggets put on headbands to demonstrate team unity. The Nuggets won 15 of their next 20 games, and injured center Terry Davis reportedly even wore a headband-and-suit combination on the bench.

In Charlotte, headband stalwarts Davis and forward Eddie Robinson convinced the rest of the Hornets to don bands before their first-round series against the Heat. Sufficiently fortified, the formerly factious Hornets 6-8 in their last 14 regular season games swept Miami in a trio of blowouts.

Likewise, Toronto adopted terry cloth for their first-round series vs. New York, then knocked off the favored Knicks in a Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

"I feel a lot of love among this team right now," Hornets forward P.J. Brown said. "Did it start with the headbands? I don't know. But we're a close team right now, and everyone's feeling it."

By contrast, those who thumb their noses at bands mojo court disaster. The terry cloth-loving Blazers went bareheaded for their first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers; like a pack of roundball Samsons, they promptly suffered a humiliating sweep at the hands of their hated rivals.

Williams endured a similar fate after forgetting his headband at halftime of a recent game.

"I got knocked to the floor, I missed a rebound," Williams said. "So I sent one of the equipment guys to get it out of my locker. As soon as I got the headband back, I immediately got the rebounds. So there must be something to this."

Fashion faux pas?

Not everyone agrees. Chicago Bulls coach Tim Floyd, whose kiddie-corps roster includes a number of headband-wearers, reportedly called the look "soft."

(Responded Bulls forward Ron Artest, who had been wearing a headband: "I'm not soft. Nobody calls me soft. For anyone who calls me soft, I'll rearrange how they think in a hurry." So much for team unity.)

Similarly, Arizona coach Lute Olson was less-than-pleased when the headband craze trickled down to his team before a road game against Washington State. The heavily favored 'Cats nipped the Cougars 80-75.

(Perhaps not coincidentally, most of Olson's lineup will be in the NBA next season).

"The headbands compressed their brains," Olson told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The game's about hustle, heart and playing your tail off on every possession. Washington State played extremely well, and we played extremely stupidly."

Sure enough, terry cloth can be, well, terrible. The NBA rookie team lost the sophomore-rookie challenge 121-113, as Minnesota's Wally Szczerbiak who doesn't wear a headband scored a game-high 27 points.

In the same game, band-wearer Miles blew a wide-open dunk, a harbinger of things to come: On his final attempt of that evening's slam dunk contest, Davis blew a jam with his headband pulled over his eyes, ceding the title to Seattle's Desmond Mason.

"I guess you could say it's a bad day for headbands," said Davis, who missed the rim entirely despite cutting eyeholes in his headband.

Beyond poor play, headband aficionados risk something far, far worse: Looking silly. Of Denver's Ryan Bowen, Issel told the Basketball Times: "No white guy looks good in a headband."

During the rookie game, Orlando's Mike Miller yanked his headband over his ears, a style typically reserved for ski instructors and snow plow operators.

"Hey, I had to keep my ears warm," said Miller, who had never worn a headband before. "It was cold in the building."

Even the slickest (no pun intended) band wearers may find themselves ruing the day they discovered terry cloth. After all, regret is the eternal burden of the fashion-forward. And only time will tell whether headbands remain cool or join short-shorts, mutton chops and high fades in the dustbin of league history.

"Guys told me that it looks awful on me, that I look like a roll-on antiperspirant," Williams said. "But if I can keep shooting like I've been shooting and getting those rebounds and helping our team win, I'm going to stick to it."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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