Fashion and the NBA have become synonymous with one another. The NBA pregame has turned into a runway for athletes to display their individuality. Long gone are the days of oversized sweatshirts and baggy shorts. Athletes are now donning designer suits, shoes, and every accessory in-between. But it wasn’t always this way.
Basketball and hip-hop style used to go hand-in-hand. This all changed in 2005 when ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern imposed a dress code on all players in the league. At first, players moaned and groaned and felt that their individuality was taken away. In fact, the exact opposite happened. The dress code allowed players to express themselves through clothing and the movement has allowed athletes to become fashion icons in their own right.
One of the players who is full-on involved in fashion is Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is the point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder and was the 2016-17 league MVP. On the court, he is known for his no-holds-barred attitude and intimidating presence. Off the court, he is known for his unique style demonstrated through his outlandish outfits.
He is the first to admit that he makes his own fashion choices and does not take advice from a stylist. His wardrobe can include anything from full-body overalls, tailored suits, and oven mitts. Yes, I said oven mitts. There really is no limit to what he will wear off the court.
The world first got a glimpse of his fashion sense when he appeared at a 2012 NBA Finals interview in a cartoon-character-print Prada shirt and frameless red eyeglasses. As time progressed his fashion sense has continued to evolve. Before one playoff game, he wore a long shirt, that looked like a skirt. It may have been an actual skirt but I cannot be 100 percent sure. This androgynous style is extremely cool to see in the athletic world. Athletics have commonly been associated with toxic male masculinity, and his style choices may be slowly changing the perceptions of fans around the world.
He currently has his own unisex streetwear fashion line named Honor the Gift. Furthermore, he has the most unique style in the NBA and I applaud his creativity. Any man who can wear oven mitts and make them cool is badass.
LeBron James is arguably the most recognizable athlete on the planet. James is a three-time NBA champion and is widely regarded as one of the best basketball players in the world. LeBron is also an extremely fashionable man. He uses his wardrobe as a tool for social expression and as a way to build team cohesion.
During one game in 2017, he wore a pair of shoes that had “equality” written on them in gold lettering. One shoe was white and the other shoe was black. He chose this message in response to the current political climate in America. There was also another instance where he wore a pre-game shirt that read “I Can’t Breathe,” the shirt was worn in regards to the Eric Garner murder.
He also uses fashion as a way to build team unity. During the 2017-18 playoffs, he purchased $5,000 matching Thom Browne suits for the entire Cleveland Cavaliers roster. According to ESPN’s Lisa Salters, Cleveland players showed up to the arena wearing the same gray suit, cardigan sweater, socks, boots, and aviator glasses. In fact, the team won every game in the playoff series when they wore matching outfits. Sadly, for the Cavs, James decided to wear his own outfit during the NBA Finals breaking the continuity with his teammates. Cleveland ended up losing the finals to the Golden State Warriors. Maybe there was magic in the matching suits?
His style is not as colorful or unique as Westbrook’s but he knows how to look good nonetheless. One of his most memorable clothing items includes a leather rider jacket designed by John Elliot. James wore the jacket for a stretch of 21 straight games. All in all, he is “The King” of the NBA and as his career winds down and his new off-the-court endeavors take centerfold he may become the King of the fashion industry as well.
The last player I am going to focus on is Dwyane Wade. Wade is a three-time NBA champion and a widely respected player throughout the league.
Growing up, he had a very difficult upbringing. He is from the rough and tumbles south-side of Chicago. When he first made the NBA, he was influenced by his background and liked street-style clothing. He believed that baggy shorts and over-sized sweatshirts were the only fashion items that suited his style.
This all changed in 2005 when Stern imposed the new dress code on the NBA. The change made Wade reconsider his own style, and how fashion can be used as a tool to express his own individuality. Shortly after the dress code, he traded in his shorts for slacks and his sweatshirts for designer coats. Ever since the change, he has been interested in the fashion industry and stays active in stylistic culture. Wade and his wife, Gabrielle Union, attended fashion week in Paris and he can be seen holding a $2,600 man-bag that looks like a dog, designed by Thom Browne.
In my humble opinion, I believe that Wade has a clean-cut suave style that is not overbearing. The man knows how to put together an ensemble and looks good wearing it. Some of his favorite fashion brands include Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Gucci.
The new age of NBA style is awesome to see and could inspire a new generation of fans to think about how they dress. The machismo brutality of triple XL sweatshirts has been replaced with designer apparel and androgynous style. It is awesome to see how the sporting world and fashion industry have become interconnected.