Most guys — by the time they’ve turned 24 — aren’t getting any taller.
But that’s not the case with Norris Cole.
The Miami Heat guard out of Dunbar High School is listed as 6-foot-2, but he keeps growing. Literally and figuratively.
His much-talked about haircut — a high-top fade straight out of the Fresh Prince days of the 1990s — rises up like a mini-skyscraper. It began as a nod to his dad, Norris Sr., but has quickly become a personalized statement of his own.
“When he was a baby and I’d go to the barber at All Cuts, he’d always hear the guy say ‘high-top fade’ or ‘box fade’ because that’s what I had,” Norris Sr. said. “Senior year in college he and his roommate wanted to do something special — something to show the world their swag — and he tried it. And I tell you, he looks a lot better in it than I ever did.”
As the younger Norris admitted in the dressing room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse late Sunday night after the Heat’s 114-96 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals: “When I first got this I thought I’d get over it, but it fits me. It’s my personality. You’ve got to have confidence to wear your hair like this and I have confidence.”
At the end of last season, the Bleacher Report listed the “Top 10 Best Haircuts in the NBA” and rated him No. 2 behind James Harden and his Mr. T Mohawk and beard.
On the court, though, Cole is no runner-up.
Last year — his first as a pro — the Heat won the NBA title. This season, Miami had the best record in the league and coming into tonight’s game in Indianapolis, the Heat lead the Pacers, 2-1, in the best of seven series.
As a rookie, Cole came off the bench in 19 playoff games and averaged 1.8 points per contest. Through 12 playoff games this year, he’s averaging 7.4 points.
In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, he put on a long-range shooting display that set an NBA record. Over a three-game span, he made his first eight 3-point attempts, something no one had ever done in league history. He set Heat playoff records, connecting on 81.8 percent of his 3-point attempts (9-of-11) in the series and 69 percent overall from the floor (20-of-29).
His shot isn’t falling like that against the Pacers, but then his high-top isn’t falling either. It’s soaring to new heights … and people are taking notice.
“That hair is him and now one of my kids has his cut just like it,” teammate Dwyane Wade said with a laugh. “Norris is a real trend-setter.”
The Heat have the most colorful and talent-laden dressing room in the NBA.
Here was the scene just before Sunday’s game:
Chris Bosh, the 6-foot-11 Renaissance Man, sat quietly at his cubicle reading a book. Center Joel Anthony sat nearby polishing off a chicken salad wrap.
LeBron James lay on his stomach on a white towel in the middle of the floor as a trainer stretched out his legs and arms. The boom box in from of him blasted out Ludacris’ “People” and James — in a voice as off key as his game is pitch-perfect — sang along.
Through the dressing room door came Chris “Birdman” Andersen, a comic book hero come to life. His torso, arms, legs and fingers — including big red wings on his inner biceps and FREE BIRD in big letters around his neck — were covered in multi-color tattoos. The sides of his head were shaved, he wore a black headband and his top notch of hair was heavily-gelled and spiked up in a golden cockscomb.
When he had stepped out onto the court moments before, the Pacers crowd had booed him loudly, thus giving added meaning to the term “Boo Bird.”
In the midst of all this sat Cole.
“This is fun, I’m learning a lot and I’m enjoying these moments,” he said. “Playing with the top guys like this is great, man. It’s making me better.”
The bona fide stars in this room see that maturation taking place.
“He had a chip on his shoulder when he came here because no one had really given him a chance, but all you need is one team to believe in you and our franchise did,” James said. “Good things come to guys who work hard and he’s tough mentally and just doesn’t take no for an answer… To have him as part of our family, part of our team last year, was great.”
Cole, who was initially overshadowed by older and more physically imposing players at Dunbar, was snubbed by most colleges coming out of high school and then traded twice on draft night before he found a home with the Heat.
“He came in here from college with a high IQ for the game and our coaches worked with him — showed him what we needed him to be — and he filled that role,” Wade said. “He’s tough. He can provide ball pressure second to none, and on the offensive end he can penetrate and make plays for himself and his teammates. Really, the sky is the limit for him now.”
Bosh agreed: “Norris took on his role and showed nothing is too big for him. He’s got a great attitude and a really good foundation. I know his family. My family is from Dayton and I practically grew up there, so I know what Norris Cole is about.”
Sunday night — 13 rows up from the floor behind the Heat bench — Cole had a small, but loyal cheering section of his own in a sell-out crowd of 18,165, most of whom were vocal Pacers fans.
Along with his parents — Norris Sr. and Diane — were his uncle Roy Wallace from Phoenix and a few cousins from Dayton.
Getting in the game late in the first quarter with the score tied, Cole promptly got a rebound, was fouled and made the two free throws. Some 30 seconds later, he stole the ball from the Pacers. By the time he returned to the bench seven minutes later, the Heat led by 10.
He would end the game with five points and though he was just 1-of-5 from the field, he still leads the team in 3-point accuracy — shooting 59.1 percent — in the playoffs.
“We watch him out there on the court right alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but it’s still kind of surreal, man,” said his cousin Ronnie Wallace, a warehouse manager in Dayton.
“He’s living the dream,” Roy Wallace said.
“And we’re all along for the ride,” a grinning Ronnie Wallace added.
In the dressing room beforehand, James had said Cole was “blessed” and in the stands later Diane used those same words.
And as she spoke, you saw he shared those blessings with his parents.
She wore a pendant and Norris Sr. sported a big bulky ring that were copies of the Heat’s championship ring, a jaw-dropping piece of hardware that has 14k white and yellow gold and boasts 219 diamonds totaling 10.8 carats.
“It’s just a sign of appreciation,” Norris said quietly. “When I make it, my parents make it, too.”
How’s that for standing tall?