How NBA players are taking center stage as the new fashion icons.
Style has become synonymous with the NBA — thanks to a defining rule that changed the game. Now, players’ every offcourt move is a runway show all its own.
Thirteen years ago, former NBA commissioner David Stern implemented a mandate that would reroute the course of men’s fashion. The infamous dress code imposed on the league — dubbed the Allen Iverson rule because of his resistance to conform — required players to dress conservatively in business attire during NBA-related activities. Once a dreaded guideline, the regulation paved the way for multimillionare athletes to craft their now-coveted style. ➵ “Even though at the time there was a lot of backlash, in a way he helped a lot of players start to be seen as influencers and fashionable people. It’s not that Stern taught them how to dress, but he helped them take it more seriously,” said shoe designer Armando Cabral, who counts Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony among fans of his namesake brand. ➵ As players elevated their off-duty looks, they garnered exposure for Cabral and others.
Once the public started paying more attention, [players] took it to a new level. It’s become a highlight in their arrivals to the game, in interviews and in their day-to-day [lives], according to Ovadia & Sons, which has outfitted the likes of PJ Tucker and Steph Curry.
Khalilah Beavers, the image maker behind Jimmy Butler and Anthony, was among the initial cadre of stylists helping to merge sport and style.
“It grew from a couple of guys being watched and followed to everyone. It’s like a competition now,” said Beavers.
Designers now willingly accommodate players’ athletic frames, particularly their atypically large feet. Fabrice Tardieu, a Dwyane Wade favorite, has extended his offering up to a size 17. Meanwhile, Cabral remembers the largest shoe he’s ever made as a whopping size 22 for the retired Dikembe Mutombo.
Wade, who is signed to a lifetime
deal with Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning, told FN that he became vested in fashion as an athlete because it is a “vehicle for self-expression and individuality.”
“I enjoy taking risks and pushing boundaries,” he said.
NBA style has even evolved into a team exercise in some instances (not to mention a notable hashtag with over 65k Instagram posts attached to it). Earlier this year, Wade’s stylist Calyann Barnett dressed LeBron James and the entire Cleveland Cavaliers squad in head-to-toe Thom Browne for their playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. With 11 years of experience under her belt, however, Barnett emphasized the importance of sending a deeper message when dressing her players — at a time when athletes and fashion players alike are raising their voices about politics and activism.
“Basketball is a predominantly black career. So when there are issues facing that community — that many of [these athletes or their family members] have faced or still can face, that should be a focus,” Barnett said. “These fashion houses have been around for years and if I am going to support them, let’s make sure they support my causes and what’s near and dear to me.”
Here, FN explores the key moments that led to the fashion influence of James, Wade and more of the league’s other sartorial heavyweights.
The NBA’s annual awards ceremony incorporates a Best Style accolade — a publicly voted honor — and for the past two years, Westbrook has claimed the crown.
Aside from being a fan favorite, the Oklahoma City Thunder star has earned more than his fair share of fashion cred. Just this past May, the notoriously self-styled Westbrook was casually sandwiched between Kendall Jenner and Eva Chen at his Met Gala table. And between front-row sightings at the likes of Louis Vuitton and Tom Ford, the Jordan Brand athlete’s fashion calendar arguably rivals his basketball schedule. “Westbrook is probably the most authentic with his offcourt style. He seems more comfortable in his choices of silhouettes, colors and brands. He plays with proportions ... like an oversize sweatshirt with slim jeans or a baggie look and printed tops,” said creative director Jerome LaMaar. Still, some of his choices are considered divisive. His exaggerated high-water pants or the ombré elephant-print tights he debuted in his 2014 Westbrook XO Barney’s collection come to mind. Paige Geran, Kobe Bryant’s former stylist, has grown to enjoy his ingenuity.
“He’s creative. I adjusted to it after watching for a while. He’s one of the few that can pull that off,” she said.
Despite Wade’s worldwide recognition, many designers didn’t understand his fashion appeal at first.
“We had to connect the dots and say, ‘This guy is an international superstar.’ I had to make