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With NBA playoffs underway, players are showing off their talents — and their style

todayApril 24, 2023

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    With NBA playoffs underway, players are showing off their talents — and their style NPR

Josh Christopher, 21, of the Houston Rockets is building his own brand. He's shown above prior to a game against the Atlanta Hawks in November 2022 in Houston, Texas. Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Josh Christopher, 21, of the Houston Rockets is building his own brand. He’s shown above prior to a game against the Atlanta Hawks in November 2022 in Houston, Texas. Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

NBA style guru Lance Fresh was ahead of the game when it came to taking what players wore beyond the court. “We gotta talk about what the guys are wearing coming to the game … ” he explains. “That’s what they really wanted to talk about. They didn’t want to talk about having a bad game or shooting two for 10.”

The NBA playoffs are underway and players are doing more than just hooping; they are stunting in fresh fits, using fashion as an outlet for them to express themselves – representing their roots and influencing culture beyond the court.

“I always say that your style … is almost like your mouthpiece to the world,” Fresh says. Athletes are looking to build their own brand. “I think with these athletes they’re understanding they’re jumping into the NBA. … You’re a business … if you represent yourself the right way – and we’ve seen that not just with the stars – we’ve seen guys who barely get any playing time get a lot of camera time before the game or get the shoe deals or the brand deals.”

It all began with the kicks. In 1971 the first signature sneaker, the Puma “Clyde” was released, as in New York Knicks legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier. In 1985, Nike dropped the most pervasive shoe in sneaker culture, the Air Jordan. The importance of this cultural moment goes beyond sports and fashion. Jordans were the shoes you could wear on and off the court. It disrupted the line between form and function. It also had a huge impact on athletes’ representation. It solidified a legacy: “Dream It. Do It.”

Michael Jordan's game-worn "Dunk Sole" Air Jordan 1 sneakers on display at Sotheby's in New York City in June 2021. Cindy Ord/Getty Images
Michael Jordan’s game-worn “Dunk Sole” Air Jordan 1 sneakers on display at Sotheby’s in New York City in June 2021. Cindy Ord/Getty Images

But players haven’t always been allowed to express and represent themselves through their kicks and fits. Before athletes were rocking runways and starting their own clothing brands, the NBA had a dress code, requiring players to wear business or conservative attire before and after games. No chains, shorts, or T-shirts. Some players, like Jason Richardson, called the code racist.

The dress code was put in place in 2005. NBA commissioner David Stern wanted to bring back the Walt “Clyde” Frazier look – he was known for stunting in super fly suits.

Walt "Clyde" Frazier is honored at New York's Madison Square Garden on Dec. 18, 1979.
Ray Stubblebine/AP
Walt “Clyde” Frazier is honored at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Dec. 18, 1979.
Ray Stubblebine/AP

Allen Iverson, at the time with the Philadelphia 76ers, didn’t fit the image with his cornrows and oversized shorts. “He’s the guy who single-handedly challenged it, and they literally had to create the dress code because of him,” Fresh explains.

Josh Christopher, a 21-year-old basketball player for the Houston Rockets, is just one example of an NBA athlete who is embracing the creative intersection of sports and fashion.

“I put on a outfit for the Brooklyn game, and I just saw a kid tag me in a photo of him trying to kind of mimic my outfit. … Somebody might not be in the NBA or play basketball, but like when you get fly and you put on clothes, people gonna rock with you just because they have that love for fashion, too,” says Christopher.

Christopher grew up wearing Vans, Kobe’s on concrete, cut-off sweats, white tees, and baby shorts. Cali vibes through and through. “I just always found clothes to be as like a way to express myself,” Christopher says.

His swag is inspired by former NBA player Nick Young AKA Swaggy P. “I would dye my hair, and I even twisted my hair up — and when he cut his hair I would cut mine, too,” Christopher says. As a kid who grew up in suburban Lancaster, Calif., attending private school, Christopher identified with Swaggy P’s skater style.

Christopher is part of a continued NBA fashion legacy. While he has built his own brand, he is also a Jordan brand athlete. “For me and my deal and for the brand was for me to be myself,” Christopher says. “But at the same time, throw some Js on it with it too … Keep the Js alive.”

Christopher also draws inspiration from his dad and his brother, Pat (who also played for the NBA and is now a designer). They got him hip to the business and art of it. He first started building his personal brand when he wasn’t allowed to profit off his image as an athlete – this was before the NCAA’s NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) policy. Other brands like Russell Westbrook’s Honor the Gift are fueled by aspiration and are invested in their communities.

Fresh sees Westbrook as a trailblazer. The profits from some Honor the Gift drops go toward supporting local causes. Their latest collection draws inspiration from Black history and features modern-day Black equestrians the Compton Cowboys.

“The attention to detail and the dedication to his neighborhood, to where he comes from in LA … if you can still hold onto some of that home … and take that with you in fashion. I think that’s amazing,” Fresh says.

In 2020 during the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, brands were positioning themselves within a social justice framework. Some were concerned that it was performative.

“We’ve seen a lot of brands, jumping back into, representing. Whether it’s race, ethnicity, gender, and things like that,” Fresh says. “I think they’ve been doing a great job of being more inclusive. I would want them to continue just to keep that … same energy, keep that same 2020 energy that you had where it was like, I wanna support, I wanna be a part of it because it just makes sense. Don’t tell me; show me.”

Fresh says it’s not just corporate obligation – athletes play a major role in raising community issues via their brands. “When you can really do things for the communities that support you and that ultimately build your brand, I think it’s also a responsibility of the athletes, too …” Fresh says. “When you’re signing up for that shoe deal and your commitment, you say, ‘Hey, listen, I need a court done in my neighborhood … I need this support. I wanna do these mentorships.’ Some people don’t wanna do media and things like that, but no matter what, you have a kid that’s looking up to you that wants to be like you.”

Athletes like Christopher feel that responsibility. From sneakers to suits, whether it’s in the arena tunnel or on the runway, players are putting it on not only for themselves but also for their communities.

“I feel like we should like, make it our duty as athletes to push our peoples forward with their stuff, too,” he says.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript :

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

The NBA playoffs are underway, and players are impressing on the court but also off of it with what they wear as they show up to their games, expressing their backgrounds and their cultural roots in ways they weren’t always allowed to. NPR’s Pilar Galvan reports.

PILAR GALVAN, BYLINE: Lance Fresh knows how to dress. He is the NBA style guru. Hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y., he grew up rocking dunks and loving basketball. From his work on “Project Runway” to Bleacher Report, he lays it all out.

LANCE FRESH: We got to talk about what the guys are wearing coming to the game and sneakers and things like that. And I learned that, you know, a lot of the players and athletes, they – that’s what they really want to talk about. They didn’t want to talk about them having a bad game or shooting 2 for 10.

GALVAN: Players didn’t always have that swag, that freedom to express themselves through their fits. In 2005, the NBA instituted a dress code. Players were required to dress in business or conservative attire before and after games. No chains, shorts or T-shirts. Some players, like Jason Richardson, called the code racist. Commissioner David Stern wanted to bring back the Walt Clyde Frazier look, known for stunting in super-fly suits. Then enters Allen Iverson with his cornrows and oversized shorts. Lance Fresh.

FRESH: He’s the guy who single-handedly challenged it, and they literally had to create the dress code because of him.

GALVAN: Iverson’s looks were edgier, baggier and more akin to hip-hop culture, like Dennis Rodman before him. And Iverson wasn’t having it. He paid fines for code violations. Eventually, the dress code dissipated.

FRESH: Now you see it – not just clothes, just, like, style, swag, just braids, tattoos, Vans – like, that was all him. And that’s still here.

GALVAN: The intersection of basketball and fashion pushes the cultural needle. A lot of people draw their inspirations and identities from them. They’re forms of expression.

JOSH CHRISTOPHER: Somebody might not be in the NBA or play basketball, but, like, when you get fly and you put on clothes, people are going to rock with you just because they have that love for fashion.

GALVAN: That’s Josh Christopher, a 21-year-old player for the Houston Rockets. He grew up rocking Vans, Kobes on concrete, cutoff sweats, white tees and baby shorts – Cali vibes through and through.

CHRISTOPHER: I just always found clothes to be as, like, a way to express myself. You have fashion weeks you can go to, and it’s just a different way to network and connect – I mean, on, like, a business scale.

GALVAN: You can’t talk about the business of fashion in the NBA without recognizing the kicks, especially the legacy of Jordans, the most pervasive sneaker on and off the court. Christopher is a Jordan brand athlete.

CHRISTOPHER: For me and my deal and for the brand was for me to be myself but, at the same time, throw some Js on it with it too. Keep the Js alive.

GALVAN: But players have also built their own brands. Christopher started working on his personal brand in high school, when he wasn’t allowed to profit off his image as an athlete. This was before the NIL policy. Other brands, like Russell Westbrook’s Honor The Gift, are fueled by aspiration and invested in their communities. Fresh sees Westbrook as a trailblazer. The profits from some Honor The Gift drops go toward supporting local causes. Their latest collection draws inspiration from Black history and features modern-day Black equestrians the Compton Cowboys.

FRESH: The attention to detail and the dedication to his neighborhood, to where he comes from in LA, I think that’s dope. And I think, you know, if you can still hold on to some of that piece of home, like, and take that with you in fashion, I think that’s amazing.

GALVAN: Athletes like Josh Christopher feel that responsibility. From sneakers to suits, whether it’s in the arena tunnel or on the runway, players are putting it on, not only for themselves, but…

CHRISTOPHER: I feel like we should, like, make it our duty as athletes to push our peoples forward.

GALVAN: For their communities.

Pilar Galvan, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Written by: NPR

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