When the Thriller album reached the shelves of record stores all over the US, numerous African Americans (and not a few white guys too) felt the need to emulate the hairstyle of their favorite singer, Michael Jackson. Called the Jheri Curl, the hairstyle became easier to achieve when the Curly Kit made it possible to do at home for just 8 measly bucks, unlike before when a salon would charge a hefty $300 to do the same. Soon just about everyone in the black community was wearing the look.
While it was easier, the Jheri Curl wasn’t all that easy to maintain, because the guys needed chemicals to achieve that shiny look. After a while, most black guys didn’t want to bother. They wanted to be different, but they wanted something easier to maintain. Thus came the High Top (or Hi-Top) Fade.
The High Top Fade
This is a variation of the regular flattop, in which the hair on the sides and the back of the head was cut off or shaved while the hair on top of the head grew out. By 1986, just about every black guy was sporting the look, spurred on by its popularity among the rappers and in the NBA where an increasing majority of the players were black.
Among rappers, the look was promoted by the rap group Kid ‘n Play and a young Will Smith, along with a tough Queen Latifah and the androgynous Grace Jones.
Will Smith Rockin The High Top Fade
The popularity of the look in the NBA was inevitable, given the percentage of African Americans in the league. (In contrast, the NFL and MLB had about the same number of white and black guys, and NHL was almost completely filled by white guys.) The High Top Fade added several inches to a person’s height, and in the NBA trying to look taller was a trend that never went out of style. People regularly padded official height measurements, and the hi-top fade made players seem taller.
Among the most famous NBA players who sported the hairstyle included:
Patrick Ewing of the Knicks: The team never won a championship because of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, but Patrick Ewing nevertheless is slated for the Hall of Fame. He’s 7 feet tall and was the most dominant center in the Eastern Conference, and his high top fade made him even more intimidating in the paint.
Patrick Ewing’s High Top Fade
Kenny “Sky” Walker of the Knicks: The guy once beat Spud Webb and Clyde “the Glide” Drexler for the 1989 Dunking Championship, so he deserved a few inches more for his alleged height.
Kenny “Sky” Walker Rockin The High Top Fade
Scottie Pippen of the Bulls: Playing Robin to Michael Jordan’s Batman, he was underrated during his long career. Still, most experts peg him as one of the 50 best NBA players of all time.
Scottie Pippen Rockin A “Mohawk” Version Of The High Top Fade
Robert Horry of the Rockets, Lakers, and Spurs: “Big Shot Bob” sported a high top fade early in his career. It may have helped his game, since he is the only NBA player to earn 7 championship rings with 3 different teams. (John Salley was also a member of 3 different championship teams, but he only has 4 rings).
Robert Horry’s High Top Fade
The look has never really died out, as you can see in current NBA player Iman Shumpert of the Cavs, who started wearing a high top fade two years ago when he was still a Knicks player. One nephew of President Obama also wears the hairstyle, and it’s still shown on TV in the series Empire.