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'It fits him': Unusual look is Aron Baynes' calling card

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Almost everyone notices the proverbial elephant in the room, but almost no one dares to say anything about it.

At least not to Aron Baynes’ face. Or about his face. Or his hair.

Baynes, the Pistons’ backup center, has created a look all his own, but his gruff exterior and hair-trigger temper prevent the hecklers and detractors from making a mockery of it.

It began during the Summer Olympics, when Baynes played for the Australian nation team and premiered his new look: an overgrown ginger beard with his hair in a ponytail with a rubber band on top and shaved on the sides and back.

“I laughed at it; I thought it was a funny look but it’s grown on me,” center Andre Drummond said. “Over time, you get used to it. It looks funny at first, but it fits him.”

While the Aussie team was in Brazil for the Olympics, some of Baynes’ Pistons teammates noticed his new look on TV and thought that it must have been some kind of team-bonding thing or maybe that he’d lost a bet, but Baynes was just ready to try something different.

At 6-foot-10, 260 pounds, it’s a courageous coif to try to pull off in the style-conscious NBA, but Baynes pulls it off with precision. Although Baynes doesn’t have a name for the style — it’s part man-bun, part bowl cut, part scruff — and all Baynes.

Well, mostly.

The change was at his wife Rachel’s behest.

“My wife wanted it, so until she tells me to shave it or cut it off, I’ll keep it,” Baynes said. “She said she wanted a beard and to do something with my hair — so I obliged.”

The idea for the look was something different. Baynes said he modeled it after some of the characters he saw on the “Vikings” drama on The History Channel, but molded it to his own comfort.

It took on a different feel when he suffered a broken nose, after he caught an errant elbow from rookie Henry Ellenson during a preseason practice. That meant Baynes — for the second straight season — needed to wear a plastic protective mask over his face during practice and games.

That elevated the look from unusual to a bit freakish. During a road game, a fan yelled, “Take off the mask, Baynes — you’re scaring the kids.”

Blocking it out

And that worked for Baynes. Any advantage he could have over fans or opposing players was even more of a reason to keep the look going. He said he doesn’t pay attention to many of the jeers he gets and doesn’t really get any feedback from other players either.

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“I don’t hear it (too much); it’s more from the fans and a lot from the haters,” Baynes joked. “I wouldn’t repeat (what fans have said) now, but I laugh at it; I don’t care. At least they notice me.”

Baynes would much rather be noticed for his play on the court, which has been fairly solid this season, his second with the Pistons. As Drummond’s backup, he’s played in all 26 games, posting 4.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in a career-high 16.3 minutes. His numbers are down a little bit from last season overall, but he provided a boost with a season-high 20 points in the win over the Thunder on Nov. 14.

If Baynes has games like that, his teammates won’t mind whatever style Baynes chooses, as long as it’s effective.

“I’m more about performance; if it makes him feel good and makes him feel ready and he’s a warrior for us each and every night, I’m with it,” point guard Reggie Jackson said. “Whether it’s a mullet or a Johnny Bravo, I don’t care.

“He somewhat reminds me of Zangief (from the “Street Fighter” video game series). When I saw him, that’s the first person I thought of. It fits. When I saw him in the Olympics, I felt like it fit him.”

Baynes got some hairstyle competition when the Pistons signed Beno Udrih just before the season started. Udrih has blond streaks in his hair and has a comparable style, but Baynes noted one important difference.

“He’s got something similar but he’s not as dedicated,” Baynes said. “He doesn’t have to upkeep his every day with the shave (on the sides) — plus he’s missing the beard. He has a few whiskers down there, but I wouldn’t call it a beard.”

One tough guy

All the talk from his teammates is supportive, now that he’s committed to the look. In the beginning, though, it seemed like something he was doing for attention. Coach Stan Van Gundy remembered first seeing Baynes and wondering if he was serious.

“It was in the summer, before he went to the Olympics,” Van Gundy recalled. “I remember walking through the door and saying, ‘I just have one question: Are you serious?’

“Then I asked if he was keeping that for the season. It doesn’t matter to me, but it’s been a good source of humor for people.”

And although some teammates have had snide comments to make, none really has had the heart to say it directly to Baynes.

Behind the haircut is one of the toughest and surliest guys around. His Aussie reputation precedes him, so much so that even after Ellenson’s accidental elbow that broke Baynes nose, he was apologetic, fearing a reprisal. But it hasn’t come — at least not yet.

“Nobody would challenge him about it,” Van Gundy said. “He’s not only a tough guy; he’s his own guy and he’s a good guy. He’s not doing it to draw attention — he likes it.

“Everybody likes him. He’s the nicest guy in the world but he’s a nasty guy too. If you get on the wrong side of him (beware).”

Some of the menacing look will be gone soon, as Baynes has been cleared to play without the protective mask. But the hair and beard will stay — at least for now.

Or until his wife says it’s time for a change.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard