Over the last couple years, the fashion industry has witnessed the rise of streetwear and the convergence of popular skate brands like Supreme and Palace with luxury fashion labels like Louis Vuitton and Comme des Garçons. This has coincided with a re-emergence of sportswear stalwarts like Champion, Nike and Adidas and the canonization of a new batch of young, superstar designers like Jerry Lorenzo (Fear of God) and Virgil Abloh (Off-White, Louis Vuitton). Despite recent runway trends suggesting that more formal tailoring is making a comeback, the comfortable, oversized ‘anything goes’ streetwear aesthetic has been the prevailing force in millennial fashion of late. Young men are a driving market for cutting edge clothing for possibly the first time ever, there are low barriers to entry for emerging e-commerce brands and choreographed ‘fit pics’ dominate social media feeds.
Against this cultural backdrop, the NBA star stands out as the perfect fashion plate. America’s Pastime, baseball has steadily declined in popularity amongst younger generations due to rigid maintenance of tradition, and the NFL has seen backlash due to safety concerns around concussion protocol and their conservative political stance as evidenced by the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick after his peaceful protest. Canada’s favorite professional league, the NHL is still very much a niche market in the USA, and God bless the toothless, floppy-haired, and ill-fitting suit wearing fellows who make up it’s ranks, but the vast majority are far from stylish. Enter the NBA: there are no helmets, no facemasks, no goofy baseball pants, no bulky equipment. There aren’t 22 guys on the field at any given time. One guy can take over a game, and as the camera zooms in to capture his drive to the basket, we can connect with the individual and watch as he attempts to assert his will over the outcome of the game. The Toronto Maple Leafs are Toronto’s team, but how many murals do you see of Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner painted on buildings around the city? Granted, the Raptors success has surpassed that of their stick-handling counterparts, but the fact remains that the coolest athletes on the planet play basketball.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. There was of course, Michael Jordan, who launched not one, but two brands into the stratosphere. Before that, Magic Johnson propelled the showtime Lakers into Prime Time, must-see TV. In the 60s there was Wilt Chamberlain who gave opponents fits, and broke hearts all over the continental United States and in the 70s there was Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier who wore velvet suits and animal prints and whose signature Puma shoe still turns heads. Conversely, try to picture Wayne Gretzky’s most stylish moment. It’s kind of hard to do. And, sure, Tom Brady is married to a supermodel, but would you scour his Instagram feed for fashion tips? Probably not. The NBA is primed to be the most popular league in North America, and it’s stylish, charismatic stars have a lot to do with that.
While it may be hard to imagine near 7-footers buying off the rack, today’s NBA stars effortlessly combine streetwear pieces, athletic wear and high end designer components to create outfits worthy of emulation. There are entire Instagram accounts dedicated to pre-game fashion, like League Fits with over 230K followers, and players routinely post their ‘drip’ (read as stylish outfits if you are over 30) to their own social media pages, garnering millions of likes. The potential for a wide-ranging, mainstream audience to appreciate the wardrobe of today’s crop of talented ballers far exceeds the audience for such content in Jordan’s heyday.
So whether you’re new to basketball fandom, or simply haven’t really thought about it all that much, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you by listing our picks for the 5 most stylish NBA players. Here they are in no particular order:
Given that he’s played 16 years in the league, LeBron has definitely ridden the waves of prevailing trends, sometimes with some pretty terrible results. His gargantuan white draft suit with shiny black and white wing tips looked like a very special episode of Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper where Mr. Cooper becomes a minister and then can’t stop stealing from the collection plate, but over the last few years he’s really found his stride. King James is now a King on and off the court, and his forays into acting and hosting are justified by his amiable personality and penchant for cutting a mean silhouette. He runs the gamut from track pants to tailored short suits that conjure images of ACDC’s Angus Young on steroids, but these days, like a crisp chest pass, he is always on point.
Russ’s off court looks run a similar route to his on court abilities. He is flashy, high energy, and doesn’t mind taking an ill-advised shot from a weird angle. His style of play isn’t for everyone, with purists labeling him inefficient, or selfish but one thing is for certain: he takes risks. After his former teammate, Kevin Durant famously left the OKC Thunder to go play with arch-rivals the Golden State Warriors, Russ wore a fluorescent vest printed with ‘Photographer’ which many believed was a not-so-subtle dig at Durant, who dabbles in photography as a hobby. Russ doesn’t mind going super tight, or super colorful, and his accessory game is on point. You can’t make an omelette if you don’t break a couple eggs.
Former Raptor PJ Tucker is known for his shoe-game, as well as his very polished sense of personal style. There is seemingly no pair of kicks too bulky or uncomfortable for Tucker to wear on court. His stance is evidently fashion over function in that case, and he must have some pretty decent orthotics and a steady supply of ankle tape to be able to make his pay as one of the league’s most tenacious on-ball defenders. From the ankles up, PJ would not be out of place in the front row at Paris Fashion Week, and his chic style is punctuated by color, print, and deft accessorizing. A personal favorite.
Kelly Oubre Jr
The youngest on the list, Oubre Jr. would definitely be voted most likely to be the face of a global fashion campaign in the NBA’s high school yearbook. His combination of good looks, and a penchant for classic monochromatic palettes, and punk-influenced styling has led to a partnership with Converse, typically reserved for players with more on-court success. Despite the fact that he has been a borderline starter at this point in his career, Oubre Jr has gained prevalence specifically for his style. Although he’s been unfortunately relegated to markets like Washington, DC and Phoenix, AZ which aren’t necessarily known for their fashion, Kelly has NYC taste-maker written all over him. I’m fairly confident you will see him in more mainstream media as his reputation grows. Who else can pull off fashion Beetlejuice?
The Raptors own shot-blocking, finger-waving, multilingual Mafuzzy Chef, Ibaka, is a grown-ass man when it comes to fashion. Bespoke suits, designer belts and tailored outerwear are paired with African and European flourishes to create a uniquely masterful sense of style. Ibaka seems to run opposite in both personality and fashion to many of the NBA's top stars who lean more streetwear, and come across as more brash, but his quiet confidence should not be overlooked. Stay out of the lane if you don’t want to get blocked, and come correct with your outfit if you don’t want to look silly next to The Serge Protector.