Out of all sports, there is arguably none so fashion influenced and influential as professional basketball. From the suit and tie 1980’s and 1990’s, to the more hip hop inspired late 90’s and 2000’s, to our current era of high fashion/high personal expression; the past few decades the NBA has been reflection of the sartorial times.
But why does the NBA have this intimate relationship with fashion that cannot be rivaled by the other Big 4 professional sports leagues? Two main reasons: the Stern dress code, and advertising.
At first glance, the two industries might appear to be on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but a closer look would show that the ties between them are understandable, inevitable even. It should come as no surprise that high fashion luxury brands itch to partner with these stars. Long gone are the days when only active brands like Nike, Reebok etc. sponsored the athletes. Now you are likely to see them endorsing more stylish territory: retailers and brands alike and even collaborating and wearing their own lines. Russell Westbrook has been coined the “Kate Moss of the NBA”.
NBA players have become fashion idols over the last few years, grabbing the attention of fans, magazines and even designers for their outfits. This recent swagger is a far cry for the jerseys, baggy shorts and chains basketball couture used to entail. No other sport builds superstars that fans want to be just like in the way the NBA does. Tune into a Premier League soccer game and you will see the team walking in wearing ill fitting club suits that are standard issue. The reason the NBA now has a catwalk type processjkbvjkbdvkjion into their locker rooms started mainly with the dress code David Stern set forth over ten years ago.
High fashion taps into basketball also due to the huge influence and exposure the NBA scene has. All over Instagram, and the internet at large, you can find pictures of the players walking into the arena before the game, showing what they’re wearing; that is not an accident. They’re not just doing that because it looks cool, they do that because they might get your attention. Not everyone watches the games, but who hasn’t seen some images of Russell Westbrook’s more “unique” looks. NBA players have the social media followings and influence to set trends, market, and leverage a sector the fashion industry still cant grasp… the fashion neutral (read clueless) male.
Throughout history basketball players have been making fashion statements.
The 90’s were influenced by the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and it was evidenced by the appearance of colorful hats and shirts buttoned all the way up to the neck, and more ridiculous sunglasses with the flip up circular lenses. During this time there was also an emergence of the power suit. Not everyone took up this look. Notably, John Stockton stuck with his short shorts and as an all time leader in assists and steals inspired many other to keep this long gown trend also. During the 90’s Dennis Rodman also loved to make a spectacle of himself from his dyed hair and outrageous antics and clothing and accessories. He inspired a generation of free thinkers, and those who sought out a way to express themselves through their attire.
The early 2000’s signaled a heralding in of the hip hop era in both fashion and the NBA. Iconic players and fashionistas such as Allen Iverson and Jermaine O’Neal made braids, do-rags,tattoos, long chains, and baggy clothing aspirational and mainstream alike. Allen Iverson’s Timberland boots sparked numerous imitators, musical references and created a decade long love affair for the boots. Chris “Birdman” Anderson was one of many who showcased a love for tattoos as a form of wearable art and expression that we still see athletes today emmulating.
The basketball shoe industry has become a multi-billion dollar a year industry. From the real start of personalized player sponsored and designed shoes in the 90’s until today it has not only been an “in thing” but a source of revenue and branding outside of their work not the court. For both players and fans, a collection of kicks has become a major hobby.
Dress code implementation
One of the biggest impacts on the NBA and their link to the fashion world was the league-wide dress code introduced by then commissioner David Stern in an October 2005 memo. As the NBA sought to clean up its image during the heyday of the hip hop clothing era this dress code forced players to reexamine the way they expressed themselves as they entered the arena, sat on the sidelines and gave interviews. David Stern created this code aiming to shed basketball of its negative reputation after an embarrassing aesthetic turnout by Team USA Basketball at the 2004 Olympics, The Malice at the Palace, and poorly watched Finals series between the Spurs and Pistons by banning jerseys, snapbacks, do-rags etc. The NBA was the first sports league to do so and it has led to the era we now find ourselves in within basketball: the era of players showcasing themselves, their branding and their opinions and expressions through their sartorial choices.
The dress code – which stated players must wear dress coats, collared shirts and pants to NBA related events off the court took a few years to settle in, but once players got used to it, they began to take their wardrobes to a whole new level. Charles Barkley and Walt Frazier both praised the dress code as a way to show the NBA’s young fans that what you wear matters, especially at your place of employment. The NBA was trying to find its identity in the post Jordan era, and David Stern was not appreciative of how his product was packaged and sold. When players go into the NBA now, it is rare to not employ at least three key personnel: a publicist, trainer, and stylist.
This dress code began the trend of Draft Day fashion as a watchable, enjoyable commentary portal. Joacim Noah’s duds hammed it up during the 2007 draft, and have inspired a slew of others behind him to get in on the action.
Once the dress code settled in, and then newcomers to the league took it to new levels; business casual requirements quickly escalated to “catwalk ready” and it was time the fashion world took notice. The fashion world can be a notoriously difficult community to crack into, and it was especially hard for players, far from sample size, to convince designers initially to work with them, and then create just for them. At first many PR firms didn’t even know who LeBron James was, despite being debated as the greatest player of all time. Then, in April 2008 LeBron James, and the NBA received a high-end makeover as Anna Wintour placed LBJ on the cover of Vogue magazine. He was the first African American man to appear on the US Vogue cover and despite the controversial nature of the photograph, it was a turning point. The Anna Wintour connection was HUGE. Suddenly the fashion world realized these athletes actually made Adonis type models. At the same time, the economic downturn in 2008 was also hugely influential. Designers were looking for new ways to open up their business, new clients, new markets, and new people to impact and the NBA athletes provided all this, and a coming social media following phenomena that would revolutionize the fashion industry.
“Over the past five years, there’s definitely been a push to dress up more”, said NBA stylist Khalilah Willams Webb, who dresses clients like Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay and Brandon Bass. “There’s more competition on and off the court.”
We now live in the time of everything from the basic fashion conscious to the high fashion stars embedded within the basketball community, including the rise of social media style icons such as James Harden and his signature long, thick beard he insists he will never shave. It is not uncommon to be talking about fashion and in the same breath be talking about names like Westbrook, or Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Kevin Durant, Lavale McGee, and Dwayne Wade. All players that have been on the front covers of fashion forward publications (GQ, Vogue to name a few) and also walking the red carpet at heavy hitting fashionevents such as the Met Ball, film festivals, awards shows, or even at Fashion Week in fashion capitals Milan, Paris and New York.
Luke Tadashi said earlier this year, “We’re at a time right now where it’s almost a renaissance, where players are able to express themselves, especially walking through a tunnel [before a game] so they can show you how they look off the court. It’s exciting to see.”
Many players have grabbed attention due to their signature looks. Russell Westbrook is a huge proponent of the “nerddom” style. The trend can also be seen throughout the league; influencing the style statements of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and former teammate Dwayne Wade. Unapologetically flashy, but nerdy-chic clothes paired with thick glasses is their look de rigeur. Nick Young, nicknamed “Swaggy P” for his street style meets high fashion approach is another prime example. Stoudemire built his stylish reputation from a wardrobe full of dapper suits and Kobe Bryant is the self-appointed (aduaciously so) “Valentino of the NBA” as told to GQ magazine. There is a whole culture shift in general of men paying more attention to their clothing, now more than ever, and it helps with the NBA player’s branding.
As the players have taken on fashion, and the fashion world leaned on the players, naturally heavily influenced are the legions of fans that show up to watch games in person at the arenas. They mimic and are guided by their favorite players in their everyday stylistic choices. From the nosebleed seats to courtside, you will find a wide variety of economic status within the crowd, however, one thing rings true no matter where your seat, fashion is king. From the celebrities who want to be seen in their own designs, or those they are paid to advertise a game provides a much seen, much talked about venue to debut a look. For even the everyday fan, a basketball experience is notably now also a style experience. Whether it is pricey red bottom heels on women on the court, or their male counterparts in Rolexs and designer suits, all the way to athleisure wear or plain khakis a hoodie of course accessorized with headphones (of course, most likely of the Beats variety) the taste in arenas is dictated, set and defined by the athletes everyone watches. It represents an intersectionality between basketball, and the viewer. To another bystander, one who doesn’t follow fashion or basketball, the headphones notated above might seem simply an accessory, but noting the brand means as fans of either or both we have in common one thing: brand awareness and thus recognition, and the further driving of sales that comes from the awareness exponentially increased when associated with the basketball culture and players. The designer collaborations with athletic brands, for example, the NBA players themselves as brand ambassadors or spokespeople or the musical stars such as Kayne West creating covetable collections that mimic the on the court apparel proves that while price and authenticity of items are not relevant, their signified meanings and implications are. Everyone wants to appear fashionable and the NBA players are shaping the conversation on what mainstream deems appropriate, acceptable, desirable and have risen as tastemakers, trendsetters, hipsters and inevitably are seen as mainstream cultures next big thing. When Kevin Durant was seen frequently wearing a backpack as part of his ensemble to press conferences he made them the must have item of the season. Sneakers are acceptable and now commonplace on black tie occasions, and red carpets after players first did it. Givenchy, a storied fashion house has even done a basketball centric collection including jerseys and cryptic basketballs.
Two things are for sure: basketball and fashion are a link one cannot deny, AND no one wear a hoodie or sweatpants to an NBA game now – unless of course, they are branded.
Hometown Favorites – Grind Weekend
This past weekend, legends from the Los Angeles basketball community got together at the Cal State Los Angeles gym.
They invited the next generation of LA hoopers and shared their knowledge about the game of basketball, the brotherhood, and life outside of hoops.
Russell Westbrook, Lou Williams, Baron Davis, Nick Young, DeMar DeRozan, Dorell Wright, Trevor Ariza, Bobby Brown, Pooh Jeter, Montrezl Harrell, Chris Copeland, Michael Beasley and others spent their weekend with some of LA’s top basketball talent from middle school to the college level.
Follow the movement on @la.unfd
The Big 3 – Week 3
This past weekend SLiC traveled with The Big 3 to Birmingham Alabama to kick off week 3. Alabama is mostly known for their college football dominance, but also has some current and former NBA players from there.
We caught up with former UAB standout Robert Vaden, member of BIG3’s Aliens as well as Jamario Moon who played locally at Central-Coosa and on both D-League teams in Alabama.
Charles Barkley grew up a little outside of Birmingham in Leeds, Alabama. College teammates and current NBA players Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins and Eric Bledsoe both grew up in Alabama as well.
Tom Brady’s Newest Target
Yesterday in an undisclosed location, former NBA All-Star Baron Davis was seen running routes for the six-time Super Bowl champion (and probably greatest quarterback of all time) Tom Brady.
Future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski still hasn’t announced whether or not he will return to the Patriots this upcoming season to defend their Super Bowl championship.
Maybe Brady is testing out some new targets in case Gronk decides to stick with retirement.
Baron Davis showed off his hands snagging a bullet TB12 threw him in the video below.
Video from @iambarondavis Instagram
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