Five-time Most Valuable Player. Six NBA championships. Universally considered to be the greatest basketball player in history. All of these grand accomplishments, in my mind, pale in comparison to his greatest achievement. Michael Jordan, you see, performed a miracle that billions of dollars, dozen of scientists and countless hours of research couldn’t. He cured baldness.
I started losing my hair at 16 years of age. I thought at the time that must have been some kind of record. It wasn’t, but it sure felt like it. It’s hard to describe how it feels to begin balding as a teenager. In Gabriel the Garcia Marquez’ masterpiece “Love in the Time of Cholera” he writes of his hero, Florentino Ariza: “From the moment he saw the first hairs tangled in his comb, he knew that he was condemned to a hell whose torments cannot be imagined by those who do not suffer them.” That sums it up pretty well.
A balding man will always remember the first time someone notices his condition. Of course, that’s not the first time someone’s noticed–it’s just the first time anyone had the nerve to say anything about it. It was a particularly bright May day, and I was a sophomore in high school, when my best friend, Lloyd Tolbert, looked at my head and said “What happened to you?” I mumbled some lie about wearing too many hats and immediately changed the subject. But on that day, I knew what I had feared most, what I had spent months trying to cover up, would not remain a secret.
The second traumatic event a bald man will always remember is when someone of the opposite sex notices his thinning pate. I’ll never forget that either. I was a 18 year-old freshman in junior college eating lunch at a table with friends when a beautiful young lady (of course) stared at that same spot that my friend Lloyd had noticed a couple years earlier. “You can tell Steve is going to go bald, ” she said, her delicate lips curving into a sly smile. I was doomed.
Of course, I’m not the only one who has suffered this fate. Millions of men all over the world do as well. And the “baldness industry” knows it. Men spend about a billion dollars a year on lotions, pills, transplants and hair pieces to cover up their baldness. Guys have even used spray paint to hide their bald spot. And, of course, they’ve tried the infamous comb-over. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.
All of this madness would have continued unabated if it weren’t for the revolutionary Mr. Jordan. In 1989, his hairline receding as fast as his skills were advancing, he did the unthinkable. Instead of covering up or combing over, Jordan shaved his head bald. He owned it.
It was a striking move that’s echoed through the decades. Before that time, balding had equaled aging and decline. Here was the most spectacular, and spectacular-looking, athlete in the world embracing it. Jordan’s appearance was so magnificent that he made having hair look passé, like it needed curing. He looked like a flying superhero, an ebony sculpture. And suddenly, guys all over the world started renouncing the spray paint and comb overs for a far more powerful look.
Of course, you probably realize by this time that Jordan didn’t cure baldness. That’s because, in most cases, it isn’t a disease. You can no more cure baldness than you can cure hazel eyes or fair skin. Jordan made us realize that something we had characterized as a flaw could actually be an asset. Fact is, Jordan wouldn’t look right with a full head of hair.
It took me about 6 years, to the summer of ’95, to finally let go and come home, as another famous baldy, Charles Barkley, says. I had tired of making semi-weekly trips to the barbershop, paying 17 bucks for a guy to cut half a head of hair. So one day I went there for the very last time. A woman took a straight razor to my head, and it was over in an instant. I left nervous, excited, but feeling exposed. And my head was white as snow. I actually went to Pasadena and walked around for a couple of hours in the sun to darken my shiny pate. And it worked. I felt liberated.
Of course, at times the old doubts resurfaced. Most people complimented me, but a few made snide remarks. In 1998 I heard of a new pill called Propecia that promised to curtail hair loss, and maybe even regrow hair. So I went to the doctor for a prescription. The pills cost about $30 a month. I was supposed to take one every day. In fact, as time went by, I began to forget to take them. First, one day, then two days, then a whole week. When a month went by since I had taken the pills, I finally came to a surprising realization: I didn’t need them. I had cured baldness.
We live in a world where a lot of people seek cures for things that aren’t diseases. Grey hair, cellulite, small breasts. These things are only flaws because some people think they are. Over the centuries, black people have been made to feel that their skin, their features and their hair are diseases. And so they seek to cure them. Many African-American women go to great lengths to straighten their hair, applying stinging acids, burning their scalps with hot combs. Quite a few won’t go near water, or even exercise strenuously, for fear their hair will return “home.” Some people go even further, with disastrous results.
What’s wrong with this young man? I’ll tell you. Absolutely nothing. He’s beautiful. He even has a full head of hair! But as we all know, before it was all over, “surgeons” had turned his face into a ghoulish mask. He had been fixed. Right into the grave.
The human desire for self-improvement is natural and healthy. And, of course, I’m not disparaging someone who chooses to straighten their hair or get “work done.” But it should be because we want to, not because we have to. Really, how much simpler our lives would be if we could learn to focus on being stronger, healthier, kinder, more humane persons rather than trying to fix what ain’t broke. The fact is, that if a fit, vibrant, well-dressed, happy, person with a great smile walks into a room, he or she will be attractive to anyone with good sense. And those are all things we can control.
Does that mean everyone will like our bald head, our grey hair or cellulite? Of course not. But even if we somehow “cured” those things, there would still be people who think we’re unattractive. There are those who don’t like tall people, short people, dark people, light people, people with big noses, people with small noses, and everything in between. As Shakespeare said, “Everybody’s ugly to somebody!” (That’s from William’s lesser-known brother, Leroy Shakespeare.) We’re simply not going to please everyone. Stop trying.
As discussed in other posts, the key to living a simple, beautiful life is not wasting our resources. Certainly, we squander them if we try to cure things that aren’t diseases. How much better it is to try to improve a little every day by training and nourishing our minds, bodies and spirits. That’s a cure we all need. Even Michal Jordan.