Wesley Morris:LeBron James is losing his hair. Pretending that the opposite is true, that he’s Norris Cole or Mike Miller, does no one any favors. But the gradual loss of his hair compounded the surprise of James losing his headband in the fourth quarter last night. He leapt up for a dunk and came down without it. It was like seeing Charlie Chaplin’s mustache fall into a bowl of soup or finding out that Andre Agassi was wearing a wig the whole time. It was like seeing someone snatch out somebody’s weave. That’s all on the one hand. On the other, it was Clark Kent being mad that somebody ripped off his glasses. It was some girl named Breana taking out her earrings before participating in one of those fights that starts in a schoolyard and ends on a subway platform.
The headband was never a toupee. It was never a hat. Nor was it ever an affectation. He wasn’t Tony Manero, John Rambo, or Olivia Newton-John. He didn’t wear it in quotation marks. He wore it because it did what headbands do. It absorbed his sweat. We reacted as though we’d never seen him without it, even though we’re always seeing him without it. He shot an entire smartphone commercial seated in a barbershop. It’s simply that James had played basketball in it for so long that it became a silent staple. It was a necktie at a board meeting.
When the headband came off, you were thrown. To us, he seemed exposed, caught, naked, revealed, embarrassed, humiliated. He seemed pantsed. Surely, someone would bring him a replacement. But what was he hiding? What did he have to be embarrassed about? It was a headband, not a fig leaf. James played on without it, and, to the awe of the whole wide world, playing with his hairline visible and his forehead exposed seemed to empower him, to make him scarier, stronger, bolder, and more determined.
Something else happened last night that might be more astounding. James made an elegant split-second style decision. Before you walk out the door, advised Coco Chanel, look in the mirror and take one thing off. James didn’t take off the one thing. Basketball did. But James went with it, we got a glimpse of a possible future, and it is handsome. James played in what must have been an hours-old haircut. It was so fresh you could still smell the tonic and feel the sting of its being dabbed across your head. His hairline had been expertly shaped up. We were looking at a different, more mature-looking person.
There’s a way in which the headband, while a purposeful, productive accessory, risks trivializing the man wearing it. It can be cool. It can be fun. James could have spent the rest of his career playing in it and no one would have questioned his seriousness or professionalism as a result — no more than they’d been. But without it, a great athlete had been transformed and perhaps with him a corner of the sport and the apparel industry. This wasn’t Jason Collins telling the world he’s gay. But it felt momentous in a different way. A grown man had come out as an adult. Let’s hope he stays there.
Grantland’s Staff breakdown of the historic Game 6 is almost as good as the game itself. Read it.