by Jordan Ligons (@_jordanligons)
You can catch Jordan twice a week as co-host of Spinsters podcast, the podcast that took over basketball internet in 2021. The podcast does longform reporting on Tuesdays and conversations on Thursdays.
I started playing basketball when I was 5 years old. Before my Sunday games, my mom would put my hair into four braided ponytails. White and yellow ribbon accessorized my braids at the tops. Only on picture day was I allowed to wear my brightly-colored elastic hair beads — I used to call them “knock knocks” because of how they swung and knocked together as I walked.
My mom would have a blast switching up my ribbon colors to match my T-shirt jerseys throughout the years. She was a cheerleader, and once I chose hoop shorts over a pleated skirt, I think this was her way of still allowing my girly personality to shine through.
Hair has the power to do that. For Black athletes throughout history, rocking certain hairstyles or hair colors was a hat tip to our textured culture. It was a way to stand out as individuals despite wearing the same team uniform. Think of Dennis Rodman’s colorful crown; or Britney Griner’s bleached dreadlocks; or even Venus and Serena Williams’ braids with those iconic white hair beads.
This current generation of women college basketballers is no different. From wearing their headbands upside down to sporting rainbow box braids, their game can speak for itself, but their bold hair won’t go unheard.
This current generation of women college basketballers is no different. From wearing their headbands upside down to sporting rainbow box braids, their game can speak for itself, but their bold hair won't go unheard.
UConn sophomore forward Aaliyah Edwards has been rocking vivid purple and yellow braids since she’s been in the 8th grade.
“People say it’s really my trademark at this point because I’ve had it in for so long and it’s how most people know me by,” Edwards once said. “Like if I play with FIBA or internationally, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, there’s the girl with the purple and yellow hair.’”
She weaves in those specific colors to honor Kobe Bryant, the Lakers, and her late older brother who ignited her Mamba Mentality. Each time the 2021 Big East Sixth-Woman of the Year jumps to get a rebound, her can’t-miss braids shoot up almost as high as her outstretched arms. Her hair and her smooth finishes around the rim have both become identifiers on scouting reports across the country.
And how can we forget South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston’s brightly-hued braids? Besides Boston’s near-unstoppable post game, her hair game is just as tough to beat. Ombré purple, Gamecock Garnet, turquoise or a firey yellow-green-orange combo — Boston pops off your TV screen.
When you see her, you see the hair. Even some of her historic career moments are hair-tied to which color she was donning at the moment. When she won the SEC Conference Finals MVP? Pink. When she won a gold medal in the 2021 AmeriCup with Team USA? Gold. When she broke the school’s double-double streak record this season? Blue.
“I hope that I’m able to inspire younger Black girls to have the confidence to play whatever sport they want,” Boston said to Instagram. Hair is so much more than hair for us. Look good, feel good, play good — hair can exude confidence, on and off the court. The next time we see UConn’s Edwards and South Carolina’s Boston face each other on the court, the fierce basketball rivalry will be evident. But two Black women embodying the freedom of expression through hair? Priceless.
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