Dr. J, Moochie Norris, Artis Gilmore and Ben Wallace sported some of the freshest Afros in NBA history. Each possessed a fire and flavor like a legendary Gil Scott-Heron track. The Hawks have had their fair share of Afros as well: from 2004–2008 with Josh Childress and briefly from 2013-2014 with Lucas Nogueira donning the natural. Now rookie DeAndre’ Bembry has taken the torch amidst a league predominantly infatuated with temp fades, high top dreads, mohawks and, of course, the all-around caesar cut. Bembry believes that he is helping to keep the throwback relevant, despite the fact that he has not yet played six full months in the NBA.
“Whether it’s the people that have watched me playing at Saint Joseph, playing high school in New Jersey [The Patrick School] or even back home in Charlotte, I’ve been getting a lot of recognition,” Bembry said. “Seeing kids with my jerseys and afros definitely feels like a trend is starting.”
Similar to Elfrid Payton’s weeknd-esque hair, Bembry’s dates back to high school. He started to grow out his hair around his sophomore year, but, after a notably poor AAU game, he decided to cut it all off. Bembry didn’t feel right without the natural on, though, and decided to grow the ‘fro back once again. He hasn’t cut his hair since.
Some grow out the ‘fro for its style, some in order to emulate their heroes, but, in this country, the Afro’s importance goes far beyond the hairs on one’s head. Since the late 1950’s, the Afro has symbolized black beauty and stands as a protest against Eurocentric beauty standards. Now 22 years old, Bembry understands the symbolism behind the fashion choice and, thus, makes sure that he always carries a piece of the fight with him.
“Back in the day people were growing out the ‘fros — black power and the fist is why when I do carry my pick I make sure there is a fist on it,” Bembry said.
Rocking the ‘fro comes with great responsibility, not only because of its important meaning, but because of the incessant day-to-day maintenance it takes. All of those aforementioned, ‘fro-rocking NBA players didn’t just wake up, pick it out and jump on the court — a lot goes into the preparation.
“I use shea moisturizer, you have to keep them type of juices in there and wash your hair at least every other two days,” Bembry said. “It’s unhealthy to wash your hair every day.”
Periodic picking of one’s hair is essential in order to properly groom and shape one’s hair to his or her liking. The pick is meant to be used in the direction in which the afro grows, giving it shape and texture.
“I pick my hair whenever I feel like it, especially when it feels like it’s a little pushed in and not puffy enough,” Bembry said. “That’s why you always keep the pick in your hair and it’s quick. When I wake up, I pick it out. You always need to have a pick with you — always.”
The culmination of these steps results in one of the most iconic African-American hairstyles. Yet, despite all of its glory and symbolic importance, getting made fun of is a part of the package. Bembry has heard it all, but he doesn’t care.
Original, nonconformist: the Bembry way.
“I’ve been called a bunch of stuff, like ‘Jackson 5’ and ‘mushroom head,’” Bembry said. “For me, it’s all about being different. A lot of people try and do what they see others do and I feel like this is something that actually stands out. It’s not in my plans to twist my hair right now. I want to be different and have my own wave.”