Before a game, an NBA locker room is full of players preparing mentally and physically for a grueling game against their opponent. Headphones are on, shoes are being tied, and the best players in the world sit and wait for warm ups. Before any great main event, there is an opening act.
Fans sit in their seats in the arena preparing for the ref to throw the ball up and begin the main event. In the time leading up, they are on social media for the opening act. The entrance to the arena is turned into a runway with the players being models sporting their new threads.
From LeBron James to James Harden to Dwyane Wade, players like to show their creative side before games. Russell Westbrook is the league’s biggest fashionista. He showcases his loud outfits that have many styles.
“A stylist, for me, is just a waste of money,” Westbrook said in an interview with GQ. “It would take away from my creative side. And the most important thing about fashion is being creative and being able to have your own ideas.”
Players have used fashion for many purposes. They have used outfits to make a cultural statement.Fashion has been used as a platform to get a message across as well. In 2014, players began wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts. These shirts were in reference to the 2014 death of Eric Garner.
It has been used to show their creativity, or to simply display some of their interests. Fashion has recently become a staple in the NBA, however it was not always like this.
David Stern’s Dress Code
The year was 2004. Ron Artest and the Indiana Pacers were on the road to take on Ben Wallace and the Detroit Pistons. After a “hard” foul in the fourth quarter, teams began shoving one another — a regular occurrence in basketball at the time. The situation did not get out of hand until a fan threw something at Artest, and he decided to go after the fan in the stands.
This event is known as “Malice at the Palace.” Following this infamous event, then commissioner David Stern was concerned about the image of the league. He implemented a league-wide dress code 11 months later.
In the early 2000’s, players were seen showing up to games in baggy sweats, throwback jerseys, snap back hats, Timberlands, and other fashion statements of the new millennium. Safe to say, this did not stick. Paul Pierce and Stephen Jackson were among players fined multiple times for not following the code. No one had more of a fashion influence during that time than Allen Iverson.
Iverson was a colorful person. He tried his hand at rap music, and was featured in many commercials including one with Jadakiss. Iverson took exception to the dress code. He proclaimed many times that the NBA was targeting the hip-hop generation. Jason Richardson took this dress code as a racist issue. Iverson was one of the biggest influences during that time, but was there anyone before him?
Fathers of NBA Fashion
What players are wearing has blown up due to social media, and the abundance of players trying to outdo one another. It had to start somewhere. Decades prior to Stern’s dress code, there were NBA stars showing off anywhere they went. Wilt Chamberlain was known for having game on and off the court. Pete Maravich was a lightning quick guard on the court, but his fashion game was just as strong. Let’s not forget the most stylish player to ever grace the NBA — Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
Frazier was the first NBA player ever to have a shoe named after him. After he led the Knicks to an NBA Championship in 1970, Puma approached the star point guard with an offer. Shortly after, the “Puma Clyde” was born. To this day, it remains as one of Puma’s best selling shoes. Frazier was a walking fashion statement way before the Puma Clydes were setting the world on fire. Frazier sported brimmed hats, walking sticks, and feathered fedoras to go with his velvet suits and animal print.
There will be no fashion conversation, present or future, without Clyde. To this day, he remains as one of the most daring fashionistas in professional basketball. The current color commentator for the Knicks sports one of a kind suits on a nightly basis. Turn on a Knicks’ pregame show if you want to see. Frazier will forever be known as the father of style in the NBA.
NBA’s Current Fashion
Players like Westbrook, James, and Carmelo Anthony have taken the current state of fashion in the NBA to another level. To the players, this is not for show or to get a headline, this is real life.
“I don’t consider myself an NBA fashion guy,” former Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Nick Young told the New York Times. “I’m outside of that. I’m like Kanye, Pharrell. You could compare me to those levels. We all in the NBA feel like we’re fashion gurus, fashion kings.”
In today’s world, fashion for NBA players has become second nature. Many top payers have endorsement deals with top brands such as Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas. This allows them to have signature shoes, socks, and sweatsuits. Players have the ability to not only show off their creativity in their own outfits, but design clothing for customers to buy. According to Iverson, this is the way it should be.
“I have no problem with none of the things that players wear today,” Iverson told Complex in 2016. “I wouldn’t wear it. I don’t have any problems with what these guys wear because they got their own style and their own originality. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, man.”