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D.J. Mbenga, official ambassador to Ronlandia

4/22/2010

Minister of Follicularlity, as well.

Before Tuesday's game, the media horde stopped by D.J. Mbenga's locker to get the lowdown on his hair, a platinum blond job with C$ (Congo Cash) carved in purple across the back delivered courtesy of Ron Artest's barber. He was going old school in terms of nicknames, even while acknowledging with a smile "old school" doesn't really go all that old, since he's only been in purple and gold since January of '08.

Mbenga also knew it was a little out there, a little crazy, and perhaps questionable from a fashion standpoint. I poked some fun, reminding him hair is a precious commodity. It cannot always be counted on to grow back, particularly when disrespected.

"It's always going to grow back," he said.

"Trust me," I replied. "Not always." Catching my drift-I'm bald, for those not paying close attention to our little snapshot at right- Mbenga laughed, and pointed to the crown of his head. "I've got news for you, it's gone, too," he said, indicating a growing bald spot destined to one day make him a Congolese Manu Ginobili.

"Maybe this is the last time I'll do this."

Then Mbenga took a playful-yet-totally-accurate swipe at the completely unfortunate hair of Oklahoma City's Nenad Krstic, who has my vote for worst hair in the NBA.

But what started as a goofy conversation soon took an interesting turn when Mbenga spoke of how the crazy hair serves a larger purpose. In this case, with Artest.

"This team, we live for each other. This is something to keep it positive," he said. "For example, Ron, we know he's kind of a different person. We've got to go this way, (and) accept the way he does (things), and he'll feel comfortable. If he has to do it, and whatever we have to do for him to play better, we're going to support him. That's what it is. That's how we all understand and know each other. That's why we came out together (with the haircuts)."

Artest said Wednesday after practice in El Segundo he initially wasn't going to get the haircut he busted out for last night's game and the playoffs generally, worried about being too flamboyant with his new team as they started their playoff drive. But Mbenga's willingness to play wingman made him more comfortable.

I asked him if the team has accepted him, and Artest agreed. "Yeah, I think definitely they've accepted it. It's a little different, but, you know..."

I'm not entirely sure Artest was referencing acceptance of the haircut or his personality, but I'm not sure it matters (or if there's a difference). Either way, it's an interesting peek into team dynamics.