LEXINGTON, Ky. — When Willie Cauley-Stein debuted as The Blond Blocker on Tuesday night against Boise State, the reaction to the Kentucky center’s new hairdo all but exploded Twitter.
For all the shock value of Cauley-Stein’s suddenly golden locks, becoming a “blond out of a bottle” is actually an homage to Kentucky Wildcats basketball tradition. Many who remember Kentucky basketball from the late 1970s fondly recall Jay Shidler, The Blond Bomber, a peroxide blond with a knack for knocking down jump shots from two zip codes away.
From flat tops to unibrows to dance crazes, Kentucky Wildcats basketball players have the ability to become pop-culture trend setters in the commonwealth. In terms of state-wide impact, let’s rank five recent Wildcats who became known for a defining characteristic.
5. Ramel Bradley
Claim to Kentucky pop-culture fame: Bradley’s celebratory “diamond” hand gesture, that was inspired by Jay-Z’s 2000 CD The Dynasty: Roc La Familia.
What he said about it: “It’s not for me. I do it for Kentucky. It means dynasty,” Bradley told the Herald-Leader in 2007. “Kentucky basketball is the best basketball program ever. I got it from Jay-Z, the best rapper.”
The extent that it caught on: Bradley’s buddy, Joe Crawford, threw up a “diamond” at UK’s 2008 Senior Day as a tribute to their friendship, but it did not sweep the state. Had UK not had three straight, double-digit-loss seasons in Bradley’s final three seasons (2006-08), the gesture would have had a better chance to “catch on.”
4. Nerlens Noel
Claim to Kentucky pop-culture fame: A flat-top haircut inspired by Will Smith’s character on the 1990s TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
What he said about it: “Growing up, I watched Fresh Prince of Bel-Air every night before I went to bed,” Noel said at UK’s Media Day before last season.
The extent that it caught on: Noel’s hairstyle had its own Twitter feed. Ryan Harrow, then UK point guard, got his hair cut to mimic Noel’s before last season, but he soon went away from it. Among the wider public, can’t say I noticed an explosion of flat tops.
3. Antoine Walker
Claim to Kentucky pop-culture fame: The “Walker Wiggle” aka “The Shimmy Shake,” an upper torso-gyrating dance that Walker did to punctuate positive plays
What he said about it: “I don’t celebrate (at UK) nearly as much as I used to,” Walker told the Herald-Leader in 1996. “(Rather than celebrating), I’m getting back and playing defense.”
The extent that it caught on: Not all were enamored of an on-court celebration as bold and brassy as the Walker Wiggle. Still, long after Walker starred on Kentucky’s 1996 NCAA championship team, his signature move was not forgotten here. At UK’s 2012 alumni reunion game, DeMarcus Cousins dropped a retro “Shimmy Shake.”
2. Anthony Davis
Claim to Kentucky pop-culture fame: The unibrow.
What he said about it: “I don’t let (the attention to his unibrow) bother me at all,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2012. “I embrace (the attention it brings). I love it all.”
The extent that it caught on: Big time. From the “Bow to the Brow” T-shirts to UK fans drawing in blue unibrows on their own faces at games, Davis’ eyebrows, um, eyebrow became the symbol of Kentucky’s run to the 2012 NCAA title. Once he turned pro, Davis trademarked the phrases “Fear the Brow” and “Raise the Brow.”
1. John Wall
Claim to Kentucky pop-culture fame: The wrist-flexing “John Wall Dance” that the UK guard unveiled at Kentucky’s 2009-10 Big Blue Madness
What he said about it: “(It’s) not my dance,” Wall told Sports Illustrated in 2010, noting that he had taken the moves from Louisville hip-hop artist Kenzo’s video Do The Shizz.
The extent that it caught on: In Kentucky, Wall ignited what Dick Clark might have called a dance craze. Throughout the ‘09-10 season, it seemed like every UK fan shown on Rupp Arena’s video boards would break into Wall’s dance.
You could go on YouTube in 2010 and see Cats backers performing The John Wall Dance standing over a dead deer after a hunt; at the symbolic center (the Old Well) of the University of North Carolina; and even at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
So if Cauley-Stein’s new hair color lasts — and if he continues to play well — we just might see a wave of new blonds from Pikeville to Paducah.