The war is over: No American sports league can touch the NBA’s global visibility. Players both past and present are in more movies, more commercials, and the absolute most fashion blogs of them all. Bankable stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are spokespeople for their own brands; even Chris Paul, whose likability remains a matter of debate, has a seemingly infinite number of State Farm commercials. These aren’t just athletes, they’re icons — which makes a concept like “sticking to sports” both impossible and straight-up backward.
But because the NBA is so vast and fun, it’s equally silly for fans to stick to sports. With the league’s premium on presentation and outsize personalities, each game is a visual feast illuminating the many cultural and social ingredients that inform the global popularity of the league.
And perhaps nowhere is that beautiful difference better highlighted than in a player’s hairstyle. From baldies to locs and fades to braids, the geometry, flair, and oddball quality of the league’s hair is wildly underreported. So we’ve decided to Bigen this bald spot and show love to the flyboy bizarreness that is the NBA follicle. Welcome to LEVEL’s Official NBA Hairstyle Power Rankings.
Team by team, I looked at each NBA squad’s starting lineup and gave each player a numerical grade based on their hair and then averaged each quintet’s scores to get a team grade. (This is in-game only; if you keep your shit crisp only for rest nights or the banana boat, you’re still gonna get dinged.)
Critical considerations and admissions of bias
To define our parameters, “hair” refers not just what’s on the scalp; every player gets checked up from the neck up. After all, with so many players struggling with hair loss or opting for shaved heads, facial hair has become increasingly important, and it factored strongly here. That’s not to say a dedicated Beard Power Ranking isn’t a future possibility, just that this particular investigation considers everything that might come in contact with a barber’s clippers. However, while beards are a crucial part of the package, and in some cases may have tipped players to a higher letter grade, the main attraction was scalp hair. (If you’re thirsty for a body-hair ranking, though, that’s a separate list — apologies in advance to Steve Nash, for whom it will most definitely be named.)
Each player was graded strictly on the basis of execution. Genetics be damned — this is a qualitative assessment of what players are doing with whatever they have to work with. We can’t clown somebody for a heredity-doomed hairline, so I didn’t downgrade a player for thinning hair or an ever-growing forehead. Instead, I considered how he addresses such circumstances with his cut, lineup, and facial hair choice.
Of course, given the cyclical and transitory nature of tonsorial trends, certain styles have become so commonplace in the league that secondary considerations were in order: whether a player’s hair is moisturized, how their hair interacts with other head accessories, and whether beards actually connect could determine who’s the cream of the crop and which team floated down the list like so many tufts of discarded hair. Abrupt fades or weirdly shaped arches faced penalties while the sharpest lineups were praised. Also, long-haired players who insist on tapers and edge-ups that look like they’re pushing their hairlines backward were treated with extreme prejudice. (Looking at you, De’Aaron Fox.)
That being said, diversity is both prized and rewarded. If a player had a number of different styles in the course of a season — whether for hair-health or presentation purposes — his score is likely to be higher than a player with a static style. At the same time, consistency is important, so players who showed wild variance on a game-to-game basis were docked.
- Lakers (90)
- Pelicans (89.4)
- Blazers (88.8)
- Thunder (87.8)
- Warriors (87)
- Celtics (86.8)
- Rockets (86.6)
- Nuggets (86.4) (tied)
- Grizzlies (86.4) (tied)
- Sixers (86)
- Spurs (85)
- Mavs (84.6)
- Cavs (84.2)
- Bucks (84) (tied)
- Nets (84) (tied)
- Magic (83.8)
- Wizards (83.4)
- Clippers (83) (tied)
- Bulls (83) (tied)
- Timberwolves (82.8)
- Hawks (82.6)
- Jazz (82)
- Pacers (81.9)
- Suns (81.8)
- Kings (80.8)
- Hornets (79.6)
- Knicks (79)
- Heat (78.8)
- Raptors (78)
- Pistons (75.4)
Seven big takeaways
1. A tale of two conferences
The tonsorial talent gap in the league mirrors the last 20 years of the NBA competition. It’s really hard to win in the Western Conference buzzsaw. Stylistically diverse and thoroughly oiled, the West snatched up nine of the top 10 spots; only the Boston Celtics (sixth) cracked the upper crust. Many theorists have tried to explain the competitive imbalance: friendlier weather conditions, more national attention pressuring players to pop out with the crispiest fade, access to better barbers, etc. We may never know the true reason, but barring a top-to-bottom shakeup, the West looks set to continue its dominance for the foreseeable future.
While the chasm persists at the team level, though, a number of Eastern Conference players still hold some of the highest grades. Jarrett Allen’s buoyant Afro — which scored the Brooklyn Nets center a 98 rating — has its own gravitational pull. Collin Sexton’s anime-adjacent curly top (93) comes with a rattail/stray loc that inspired a dedicated Twitter account. Ben Simmons’ consistently fresh fade into a robust beard is the class of the Eastern Conference (92). Giannis Antetokuonmpo’s journey from the low fade scumpadour to the more confident, high taper fade (90) coincides with his rise as an MVP caliber player. And Gordon Hayward’s creepily impeccable coif ranks among the top three in the league.
2. A note on LeBron
It’s by now public knowledge that LeBron James spends more than a million dollars a year taking care of his body. However, that number — beyond leaving you torn between respect for his commitment and wanting to scream “Eat the rich!” from every mountaintop — makes you wonder what percentage of those dollars is invested in the territory above his eyebrows.
Listen, enough has been said about the man’s ever-changing hairline. We’ve discussed the steadily increasing size of his headbands and then, in turn, when he removed them completely. We’ve pondered his use of products. Is it plugs? An aerosol spray of some kind? Did he pull a Tyga and go for surgical replacement?
All that being said, LBJ — who scored a more-than-respectable 86 — obviously cares about his presentation, and, after more than 15 years in the league, the hairline is looking sturdier than ever. It could be argued that no other player has spent more money on his scalp than LeBron. It’s not perfect, but the lineup is one of the coldest in the league. Argue with ya barber.
3. The trade that changed it all
The Lakers-Pelicans trade that brought Anthony Davis to L.A. didn’t just see one of the NBA’s top talents migrating to one of its biggest markets; it might just be the biggest sports-hair transaction since Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid. Between his famous brow and his consistently fresh cut — with the rare cursive doodle-part thing, no less — AD (98) is one of the league’s highest performers.
But to look at New Orleans’ new arrivals from that trade, Lonzo Ball (93) and Brandon Ingram (80), it’s hard not to wonder what could’ve been. Zion Williamson’s athletic upside is matched only by the promise of his ’do; if the Pels had managed to keep AD and then score J.J. Redick or some other white dude with good hair? That’s a hair squad if I’ve ever seen one. Oh, what could’ve been!
4. The big changes
A few players underwent distinct switch-ups to their styles that greatly increased their score. Houston Rockets forward Danuel House Jr. evolved to cornrows this season, gaining himself a 90 rating in the process — as did James Harden, with his new plaits complementing the most famous beard on the planet. Other changes, though, tanked their team’s chances. Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell really let his shit go this year. In previous seasons, Mitchell’s shapely frohawk made his furious game look all the more electric; the oblong, matted, and unedged mess we’ve seen this go-round is one of the league’s biggest disappointments. It vaguely resembles his look from last year, but it seems like Mitchell decided to sleep with an assortment of brass instruments sitting on top of his head.
Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook underwent a complete shift while this list was in its final stages, giving up his cornrows for the rustled fade he’s carrying now. I’ll miss the marathon plaits look; plenty of Angelenos have been rocking them in likely tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle — I see you, DeMar DeRozan! — but they were always super tight on the Brodie. Those guys, Clippers forward Maurice Harkless, and Wizards guard Bradley Beal are all sitting at the altar of the cornrow gods.
5. The issue with grit
The NBA’s hardnosed dudes are suffering from an apathy epidemic. Specifically, I’m speaking about Rockets forward PJ Tucker (78), Clippers guard Patrick Beverly (63), and 76ers newbie Bruce Brown (63). We get it, y’all; no one believed in you. You picked up your lunch pail, laced up your Timbs, and went into every blacktop scrimmage knowing that no one would outwork you. Every team loves to have an underdog spirit on the squad; it’s good juju. But for the love of Madame C.J. Walker, can one of you start to care just a tiny bit more about your hair? Tucker gets a bump in score for at least recognizing he’s going to be on national television every night, even if he got in the chair and asked for a 5 o’clock shadow all around. But the others are in need of a nightly hair routine pronto. I know essential oils might be asking a lot, but can we at least run a pick through one time? So many patchy beards, so much matted hair, and a Saharan level of dryness. Just care more. Please.
6. The only bench that matters
I know I said I wouldn’t be talking about bench players, but between male-pattern baldness legend Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma’s pop-boy dye jobs, and Dwight Howard’s wonky purple Koolaid-dipped locs, the Lakers bench is a damn circus. They all look like they should be on the road with Trippie Redd. (Not you, JaVale McGee; your versatility got you a 96, second-highest on the team.)
7. Duos carry the day
Superstar duos don’t just carry the load on the court — they do it in the barber chair too. We’ve already mentioned LeBron/AD and Harden/Westbrook, but the NBA’s other tag teams fared nicely, too. The Clippers’ Paul George and Kawhi Leonard both clocked in with a score of 94 while the Mavs’ Luka Dončić (91) and Kristaps Porzingis (92) rep Europe admirably with coifs that survive the rigors of a game (even if Zinger’s low-cut pompadour gives me Peaky Blinders incel vibes).
The nonsuperstar groups are even more fascinating. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shea Gilgeous-Alexander (93) and center Steven Adams (95) launched their squad up the charts. (Watching Adams slowly grow into a Game of Thrones character has been one of my favorite NBA subplots.) The Suns’ Kelly Oubre (96) and Ricky Rubio (92) stabilized the team in the face of Devin Booker’s strange fall from grace this season.
No big surprises with the twosomes in the East. Jayson Tatum’s minimalist fade (91) is one of the cleanest in the league, providing a solid counterpart alongside the aforementioned Gordon Hayward. The 76ers feature three strong showings from Ben Simmons (92), Josh Richardson’s powerfully flexible ’fro/cornrow look (95), and Joel Embiid’s sparkly ’fro (88). Alas, their acquisition of Al Horford (75) sank their position.
It’s been a banner year for hairstyles in the NBA. While we didn’t see anything too out there besides whatever is going on with OG Anunoby’s mop (64) and Jeremy Lamb’s indecisive ’fro/hawk/taper thing (73), the period before the All-Star Break is about developing healthy habits. As with most things in this wild league, the players looking to better themselves are applying the fundamental practices of healthy hair: steady barber visits, co-washing, sealing for protection, etc. Others are a flaky, brittle mess.
But what this admittedly ridiculous list conveys is that the nonexistence of parity in the NBA extends to the ways the league cares for its hair. The success of big-market teams — save for the Heat and the Knicks (because the Knicks) — shows it. Contract negotiations with free agents come down to not just how good the team is, but the strength of an organization’s facilities. And nothing, not even a cryogenic chamber, makes a player feel more invincible than a fly fade. Is there a better way to secure the next star than to guarantee him the blessing of the dopest cut? I’ll wait.