With the start of the new season still about a month away, National Basketball Association star player Russell Westbrook hasn’t been getting attention for his moves on the court lately. But, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard got lots of attention for making the rounds at New York Fashion Week. In a video for “Vogue,” he even offers his tips for making the most of the event.
“You have to dress for the show you’re going to, and sometimes you have to change throughout the day,” Westbrook advises.
More than an onlooker, Westbrook is also a player in the fashion industry. Designer apparel brand True Religion recently introduced a new capsule collection made in collaboration with Westbrook. A total of 17 pieces including denim, tees and accessories, the items “are meant to be layered,” according to the release, and include side-zip details and distressing.
Westbrook is just one of many NBA superstars making headlines for what they’re wearing. Chicago Bulls’ Dwyane Wade’s ankle bracelets and short pants at the ESPY awards became a noteworthy style moment. And weeks ago, “GQ” magazine gave LeBron James an editorial high five for his “classic style combo” while visiting the set of “The Daily Show.”
On the court, National Basketball Association players may all wear the same uniform. But off the court, some of the sports’ biggest stars have their own sense of style. Beyond the endorsement deals and sneaker lines, basketball players are becoming fashion players. Experts say the sport’s culture – and the sculpted athletes themselves – are perfect for the fashion arena.
“They’re really tall and really fit,” said Kelly Cutrone, television personality and founder of fashion and lifestyle public relations firm People’s Revolution. “An athlete, especially a gladiator athlete, an amazon athlete… they’re like supermodels.”
They’re not just “like” supermodels. In 2014, Express Inc. EXPR, -1.39% signed Stephen Curry as a brand ambassador, with the Golden State Warriors star appearing in ads for the brand. He is no longer an ambassador for that brand, but is one of the big-name spokes-athletes for Under Armour Inc.UA, +0.91%
Cutrone highlights a number of reasons why fashion and the NBA would go hand-in-hand, including their high visibility, the strong and numerous basketball teams on the two coasts where fashion and celebrities are prominent, and the power of African-American culture.
“Now when you look at everything from the White House to the charts, you have Black culture dominating huge earning power,” Cutrone said, rattling off names like Kanye West, who has a fashion line of his own, Yeezy, Beyoncé and Rihanna.
Marc Beckman, founder and chief executive of DMA United, an advertising agency that also represents individuals and brands, pinpoints 2005 as an important year in the fashion history of the NBA. That year, NBA Commissioner David Stern instituted a dress code that outlawed things like sleeveless shirts and baggy jeans when players are involved in team- or league-related business.
The dress code was widely criticized as a racist response to the popularity of hip-hop style. But it was also the catalyst for a sartorial shift in the NBA, according to Beckman, whose firm has handled partnerships between New Orleans Pelicans player Anthony Davis and Saks Fifth Avenue HBC, -0.58%Westbrook and luxury retailer Barneys, and others.
“It’s interesting to look back at 2005 where most took this as an opportunity to wear gorgeous made-to-measure suits,” he said. “Now players really embrace fashion and luxury.”
The move away from the “power suit” and into some of the coolest trends is an indication of just how steeped in fashion the NBA has become. It makesmissteps like this summer’s “Chef Curry” sneaker from Stephen Curry and Under Armour stand out even more.
“Now LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Jeremy Lin all pull together looks that require fearlessness and a deep understanding of style,” said Mona Bijoor, chief executive of Joor, an online global fashion marketplace.
“These guys are just well versed in mixing preppy with Brooklyn hipster and a little bit street. And it all looks so effortless. The effortlessness is the taking it to the next level.”