Chad Brown loves fashion and basketball, so why not combine the two? It was his big talk to the top brass of the National Basketball Association, where he worked, in 2016: to report on the growing overlap between the two worlds. The idea, however, was met with the C-suite crickets, so Brown pursued it at his own pace with an Instagram account dedicated to the fiery fits (read: stylish ensembles) of the sport’s hottest players.
“I was like, I’m going to do it because no one else is, and I want to see it,” he says T&Cs with a shrug. “And then it just kept growing and growing.”
Today Brown oversees @NBAFashionFits, an account with 183,000 followers and an influential force at the center of a lively new media beat. On top of him are @LeagueFits (843,000), @MoreThanStats (75,000) and @ProTrending (70,000), all battling to identify the Gucci, Hermès and Dior dripping basketball supernovas. This is in addition to the players themselves, who are increasingly posting their outfits on their own Instagram accounts – or slipping into Brown’s DMs imploring him to show them off. It’s an indicator of how athletes, once sidelined in the fashion game, are now center stage. “They used to dress up, but there was no platform for that,” Brown says.
It all revolves around the tunnel walk, the basketball world’s answer to the red carpet. Once a mundane, unnoticed mix from the arena entrance to the locker room, this short distance is now during the finals a splashy catwalk in its own right, with designer goodies fresh off the track, rich and powerful men, screaming fans, and the flash of paparazzi bulbs.
To a generation of style-savvy young hypebeasts, NBA stars like Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors), James Harden (Philadelphia 76ers), Serge Ibaka (Milwaukee Bucks), Kyle Kuzma (Washington Wizards) and Jordan Clarkson ( Utah Jazz) are the fashion stars eclipsing the musicians and actors of yesteryear.
They are rich, famous, with imposing frames that easily match any Greek statue; in other words, a perfect combination for being a modern-day model. For proof, consider when in 2018 superstar LeBron James, then a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, persuaded his entire team to wear Thom Browne’s shrunken gray suits en masse. It ignited the internet, generating a lot of buzz and articles from QG and the Gray Lady herself.
“We forget that fashion has always been part of NBA culture,” said stylist Courtney Mays, who works with Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul, among others. Just look at Magic Johnson in a fur jacket in 1988 or Dennis Rodman’s entire career as proof. “But because of social media, it’s grown exponentially.”
The fashion industry is all too aware of how famous these athletes are and how influential their social platforms are. In 2020, the late Virgil Abloh and Louis Vuitton teamed up with the NBA for a recurring capsule collection that released its third iteration in early June, this time featuring an official travel trunk for the league’s Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Matt Powell, vice president of market research firm NPD Group specializing in the sports industry, notes that what’s different now is that gamers are more aware of the power of branding them. themselves. “I think these players recognized that social media was an opportunity to demonstrate their own style and taste,” he says.
One cannot help but see this development as part of a broader cultural shift around masculinity and self-representation. “We put athletes in this box, in this very masculine world,” adds Mays. “But why don’t they like fashion? How you dress affects how you feel. While they’re mostly in uniform, those short tunnel legs allow us to see a glimpse of their personalities, from Paul’s sleek tailoring to Clarkson’s edgy flair (skirts!) to Miami Heart PJ Tucker, whose addiction to shoes meant he often carried an extra pair with him.
Now, says Brown, he’s noticed that beyond skinny Amiri jeans and Chelsea boots giving way to looser silhouettes, players are also deftly using tunnel photo ops to highlight causes they care about. heart, like when Mays and Paul decided to wear clothes from the country’s historically black colleges and universities.
“We said, ‘Let’s really use those few seconds,'” Mays says. “We want to use style as a platform.” So, sure, a game-winning shot from the free-throw line may thrill some diehard fans, but for many, the hottest action isn’t happening on the field at all anymore.
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