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Allen Iverson : Hairstyles: All-star hair
Posted on by Dal

Allen Iverson has it. And the person who makes it that way is Camden's Dionne Matthews, whose styles are copied by NBA fans all around the country.

All-star hair

Allen Iverson has it. And the person who makes it that way is Camden's Dionne Matthews, whose styles are copied by NBA fans all around the country.


We know by now that the artistry on Allen Iverson's head nearly matches his artistry on the basketball court.

It's just one more thing that mesmerizes us about the Sixers' mercurial guard: Just as we can't wait to see what Iverson does next with a basketball, we also can't wait to see what he does next with his hair.

Only Dionne Matthews knows. A magician from Camden with a rat-tooth comb for a wand, she's the one who creates those mad styles for Iverson that the television cameras can't seem to break away from.

What started out as low-maintenance, albeit intricately designed, styles for a new friend have been copied by Iverson wannabes around the nation.

"I never would have thought it has come as far as it has," Matthews says. "The feedback I get makes me think, 'Wow, I really am doing something special.' "

Matthews is a soft-spoken wisp of a woman, who could be mistaken for a high schooler (she's in her 20s, but won't give her exact age). Her own hair falls into an easy bob, but in the summertime she breaks out in braids.

Wearing braids "is a joy because it's Nubian to me," Matthews says. "You just put some braids in your hair, and it grows naturally and stronger."

She digs through her purse and pulls out a worn Sixers' schedule, her most important reference these days. Because Matthews works on call, her time is not her own. Her life has become a, shall we say, heady stream of first-class plane trips, limousine rides, and massages and manicures at four-star hotels, where she stays courtesy of Iverson when he needs his 'rows tightened on the road.

As a member of Iverson's inner circle, she also gets to meet NBA royalty.

"Michael Jordan," she answers quickly, when asked who was the athlete she was most impressed by. "I was overwhelmed. His skin, his eyes."

A less grounded person could be swept away by such a lush lifestyle. But friends say Matthews manages to remain real.

"She's a very humble person," says Cathy Williams, 36, a longtime friend of Matthews' who also lives in Camden. "I tell her that when she's [traveling] with Allen, she needs to have some cards made and give them out. But she doesn't think like that. She's just a real sweet person. She would help anybody."

Sometimes, though, Matthews does allow herself to think about the influence her hairstyles have. She's reminded of it every time she travels to different cities and sees male and female fans "wearing styles that come out of my head."

It helps to have a superstar for your billboard.

"It makes me feel good to know I have that type of impact," said Iverson, who, after a recent practice, wore a wave cap to conceal his fuzzy, three-day-old cornrows. He was due to hook up with Matthews later in the day.

Matthews, of course, can't claim credit for the creation of cornrows. The style took root in the 1970s, as a utilitarian look of four braids going straight back. It was worn primarily at night, then taken out in the morning to achieve and maintain an expanded or "blown-out" Afro.

Thanks to the artistry of braiders such as Matthews, today's hip-hoppers have taken the look one step further by wearing sophisticated designs. And NBA players such as Iverson, New York's Latrell Sprewell and Portland's Rasheed Wallace have further legitimized the look by sporting the designs before national television audiences.

Iverson's celebrity is such that every aspect of his personal style, whether it's cocking his hand over his ear to ignite the crowd, throwing a towel over his head while resting on the bench, or wearing tattoos and cornrows, is publicly scrutinized. Often, it's interpreted as rebellious.

Yet Iverson says he grew his hair for practical reasons, not to make a statement.

"I just didn't like getting haircuts," explained the Sixers' all-star, who says he wasn't pleased with the way barbers cut his hair, at home or on the road. "Now, I just get my hair braided, and it will be good for two or three games."

When the team is playing at home, Iverson says, "Nine times out of 10, when it's just a regular game, I get my girl [fiancee Tawanna Turner] to throw four braids in there. But when it's a TV game, [Dionne] braids it."

When Matthews met Iverson at a Philadelphia nightclub in 1997, "he was still wearing his hair short. That was when he wore a white sweat band," she remembered.

By then, Matthews was well-versed in the art of braiding - as young as age 6, she practiced on her dolls' hair. In sixth grade, she was already doing sew-in weaves on her girlfriends. While attending Camden High, she braided everybody's hair. She'd do the neighborhood kids for the holidays, sometimes for free, Williams says.

"She does the most perfect parts you'd ever want to see," Williams says of the razor-like way Matthews sections the hair. "That's her secret. And she takes her time."

Matthews comes up with the styles for Iverson by sketching them on paper first. (Occasionally, Iverson, himself quite an artist, designs them.) Then she'll figure out how many braids are required for each side of his head, because if a style doesn't have symmetry, it won't flow.

She names her designs. Iverson wore the Versace, a checkerboard look, during the playoffs last year. He sported the Spider, in which the 'rows are extended on either side like spider legs, earlier this season. The Dragon's Tail features a squiggly design; the Crossover, a series of criss-crossed cornrows resembling a hanging basketball net.

Frequently, Matthews makes it up as she goes along. "Some of the things I do are mistakes," she admits. "I just keep going."

Iverson doesn't seem to mind. Matthews says he pays her about $1,200 a month. Not bad for, at most, eight hours of work. (She has 12 clients in all, including Dajuan Wagner - she calls him "Juanie" - the basketball phenom from Camden High.)

But it's not the money that Matthews appreciates. It's the intangibles. The instant respect people give her when they discover she does Iverson's hair. "As soon as they find out," she says, "they change their whole attitude about me."

And it's the relationship that she has with the man himself, who has been described at various times as petulant, immature, irresponsible and self-serving.

Matthews sees a different side of Iverson.

"Allen is a good father, son, fiance. He's the total package," she declares. "He has his ups and downs, like everybody, but being close to him, I understand him more than most people. He's still young and he's trying."

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