The NBA’s History with Headbands

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Have you ever wondered why NBA players wear sweatbands? Or if common sense answers that question, who started the trend? Today, almost every player you see on court is wearing a headband. In fact, just Google any NBA player – current or in the past. Chances are high he’s wearing a sweatband.

So, I beg the question, how did it start? 

Wilt Chamberlin is believed to be the first player to wear a sweatband on the NBA court in order to prevent the sweat from reaching his eyes. Though he was nearing the end of his blistering career in the early 1970s. Chamberlin was still dominating the court as a member of the Lakers. With a sweatband on his head, he averaged 20.7 points, 4.3 assists per game, and 18.2 rebounds in the 1970/71 season. At the time, the NBA had not started tallying blocks but we can assume Chamberlin was still swatting balls with consistency.  Before that, he had won the NBA title with the Philadelphia 76ers and again with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972.  Wilt is also known best for scoring 100 points in a single game. 

The sweatband that he wore in the early 1970s is nothing like what NBA players wear today. His was a little bit thicker in the front but quite thin in the back. Probably designed this way to fit its original purpose – keep the sweat away from Wilt’s eyes.

Wilt, stepping on a basketball court wearing a headband was groundbreaking. No one had thought of wearing it on the court before.

Thereafter, Donald Earl aka Slick took the headband look to another level.

Slick is also an NBA legend from the 1970s who played for the Seattle SuperSonics as a free agent after signing as an undrafted player. He is best known for being the first NBA player ever to lead the NBA in assists and steals in the 1975/76 season. It was after this feat that he was nicknamed Slick, plus he had a completely shaved head, something that was also not common in NBA at the time. 

Slick wore his sweatband sideways and tilted, which made him stand out from other players. By doing this, he made this small apparel a fashionable accessory in the 70s. 

During the same 70s era, Bill Walton also invented a new way of wearing the headband – a bandana. Walton, known for his time with the UCLA Bruins. He led the Bruins to an incredible back to back championship. Between 1972 and 1973 under the tutelage of coach John Wooden. 

His sweatband looked like a bandana and he wore it on one side of the head. As it turned out, this style looked good on him, especially with his long hair. He wore the bandana for fashion reasons only, unlike Wilt.

The next generation of NBA stars to wear tdhe sweatband includes Ben Wallace, Allen Iverson, Rajon Rondo, and LeBron James. 

Ben Wallace, mostly playing for the Detroit Pistons in the late 1990s. Winning NBA Defensive Player of the Year award 4x and was an instrumental player for the Pistons. Wallace was one of the most dominant players in the game, it this day!

Allen Iverson was known for his striped sweatband and cornrows. During his playing days, he was named MVP and 11x NBA All-Star.He also lead his team (Philadelphia 76ers) to the finals the same year.

Iverson is regarded as among the most prolific scorers in history. In spite of the fact he is only 6 feet tall. It is not only on the court that Iverson made a statement. AI is also known for being one of the most influential NBA players when it comes to fashion. He initiated a lot of styles and trends that are still prevalent today. It was Allen Iverson who popularized tattoos on the court. Something that was not popular among NBA players at the time. A.I also popularized wearing arm sleeve jerseys. AI became a role model for many up and coming players who were enamored by his ability to freely express himself.

A.I started wearing sweatbands in the early 2000s, but it was not like how previous guys wore. His was striped sweatbands with colors red and white. A headband on cornrows became Iverson’s signature look during his playing time. 

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Rajon Rondo, a 4x NBA All-Star is also known for wearing a sweatband. His green headband that matches the colors of the Boston Celtics is a signature look that the Celtics fans will never forget. One of his accomplishments in the court includes leading NBA in assists in two years in a row in 2012 and 2013 as well as in 2016. Besides his on-the-court heroics, Rondo is one of the NBA players to start the trend of wearing a sweatband upside down. 

It is hard to picture LeBron James without a sweatband on his forehead. Considered one of the greatest of all time, King James has won the NBA championship 4x – 2 with the Miami Heat, 1 with Cleveland Cavaliers, and most recently with the Lakers. LeBron has made the sweatband a fashionable item and a signature look for his brand. However, there is another reason behind him wearing the headband – to hide his receding hairline! 

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