The best dressed players in the NBA
Big baller style: the best dressed players in the NBA
Words— Marc Richardson
In October 2005, the NBA announced that it was putting in place a mandatory off-court dress code for players. Streetwear — for lack of a better term — was essentially outlawed for players showing up to games or practices. Baggy clothes were outlawed, as were ball caps, headphones and gaudy jewelry. The new rules were almost immediately met with skepticism and protest from players — and with good reason. The guidelines seemed rife with racial undertones. In Stephen Jackson eyes — no stranger to controversy, himself — the league was trying to avoid becoming “too hip-hop”.
Eventually, though, players embraced the dress code and made it their own, and have become increasingly involved in fashion over the last decade or so. NBA players have always been inextricably linked to sneaker culture, but the dress code unwittingly forced players to take a broader interest in contemporary fashion. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Russell Westbrook are frequent front-row attendees at marquee fashion shows — and those are the “old heads”. There was a time when rookies came into the league in comically oversized suits and cringeworthy outfits, but, now, the kids are alright. With so many fashion-forward players, it begs the question: Who’s the best at getting fits — not shots — off?
Amar'e Stoudemire's famous 4-button suit/coat (left), Allen Iverson's on and off court site was often at odds witih the NBA's top brass and was part of the reason a dress code was brought in.
The Young Guns
The future does indeed look bright for some of the NBA’s youngest stars. Yes, they’re getting buckets, but they’re also making their mark off the court. Like many people in their early-20s, the NBA’s young guns tend to favour a luxurious breed of streetwear, mixing designer labels with coveted kicks. They’re not yet at the level of LeBron when it comes to stepping out — comfortably — in a Thom Browne short-suit, but then again, very few 20-year-olds would be.
Have you ever met up with someone off one of those Facebook groups to buy hyped sneakers or used Supreme? No? Well, if ever you do, just look for the person dressed like Ben Simmons. When GQ pitted the young Australian guard against LeBron in their best dressed bracket, they claimed that Simmons’ on-court similarities to LeBron extended to their fashion sense. While there’s potential, Simmons still has some work to do. Simmons can pull off a suit — pretty well, too — but he tends to play it safe and stick to casual streetwear. The man loves T-shirts and is, hands-down, the NBA’s single biggest ambassador for cross-body pouches. It’s always good to have a signature look. If he can learn to drip just a bit harder from LeBron, then Simmons may very well be the heir to the throne.
Kyle Kuzma might have something to say about that, though. The Lakers scorer is developing a reputation for being overlooked. He was drafted late, but arguably outperformed the Lakers’ star rookie, Lonzo Ball. This summer, the eclectic Kuzma signed a deal with GOAT, a sneaker resale platform. In doing so, he became the first athlete to sign a shoe deal with a business like GOAT. The plan, it seems, is to have Kuzma flex on-court and off-court — something made possible thanks to the NBA loosening restrictions around on-court footwear. Perhaps the league realized that its players had the ability to make things interesting with their sneakers. Anyways, Kuzma will undoubtedly become something of a sneaker icon in the next few years, especially if he keeps stuffing the boxscore. Off the court, Kuzma has a penchant for flashy jackets, but still manages to keep things attainable. In that respect, he’s like LeBron.
Still, Simmons and Kuzma, and their generational cohort have some polishing to do before they’re considered on par with their elders. Regardless of who’s got next between Kuzma and Simmons, it’s encouraging that we’re even having this debate given where things stood 15 years ago.
Unsurprisingly, there is a difference between the way the league’s veterans and their understudies dress. The most noticeable difference is that the older players appear much more comfortable rocking a suit than their twenty-something year old colleagues. Just like the rest of us! While there are dozens of "well-dressed" players who have been in the league for roughly a decade, there are five that really stand out: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Nick Young, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul.
CP3 may have been crowned the best-dressed by GQ Magazine in the summer, I’m inclined to disagree. Yes, the Houston Rockets’ point guard knows how to rock a three-piece suit better than anybody else in the league — and better than most #menswear bloggers — but his style isn’t versatile enough to truly warrant the “best dressed” crown. Still, Paul manages to make a suit look both good and somewhat relaxed, mixing colourful patterns with blue suede Jordan XIs, something which sounds hard to pull off because it is. Paul may very well be the elder statesman in the league, acting as the player’s union president. He may not have the streetwear inclinations of his younger colleagues, but at least his wardrobe will age well.
Nick Young is disqualified from earning the title for similar reasons to Paul. That being said, he’s arguably the flyest dresser in the league and his “Swaggy P” nickname is well-deserved. Off the court, his style is eclectic, ranging from classic streetwear to more fashion-forward post-punk/grunge-inspired looks. He grasps colour combination and proportions as well as he masters spotting up for ill-advised jump shots. His off-court style reflects his on-court game: unabashedly unafraid of risk. If this were about the best on-court style, though, Swaggy P would be the undisputed champ — he’s wont to hoop in Yeezys after all.
Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook share similarities in that both are extremely fashion-forward and, like Nick Young, don’t seem to understand the concept of “risk”. They wear whatever they want to wear. Sometimes it seems like they don’t even look in the mirror before leaving the house. For all of their moments of sartorial brilliance, though, they both have a few too many absolutely clunkers to be considered the best-dressed players. Wade seems to forget that he’s, like, really tall and Westbrook, well… he might end up forcing the NBA to review the dress code. They tend to get lumped in on best-dressed lists out of habit and because they end up front row at fashion shows. Chris Paul and Nick Young actually dress better than them all things considered.
Dwyane Wade fotgot that he was, like, really tall (top left), but got it together with a smart tuxedo jacket and tie (bottom left); meanwhile on the right, Russell Westbrook gets suited up sans shirt but later figures out that maybe a shirt is the way to go.
Which leaves us with the NBA’s best player: LeBron James. Much like on the court, LeBron’s off-court style is the most versatile of all. The man can rock a Thom Browne suit, get his entire team to wear matching Thom Browne suits, wear a Thom Browne short-suit, all while still somehow looking as comfortable in a hoodie, flannel shirt and denim. He’s like a mix between Nick Young and Chris Paul, with a dash of Westbrook and Wade’s most successful daring moments. Of course, as the face of Nike, he also has arguably the best sneaker plug in the world and his footwear rotation is hard to top — the only downside being that he only wears Nikes.
Lebron James: Consistently one of the best players in the league but also the best at getting fits off.
Still, he has mastered virtually every look and aesthetic there is and if you could have one player’s wardrobe and sartorial inclination, you’d be foolish to pick anybody but LeBron. The way he dresses is both attainable and aspirational, something which only Nick Young can also lay claim to; but unlike Swaggy P, LeBron’s wardrobe is as well-rounded and varied as his playing style. It’s made all the more impressive when considering how far he’s come since the night he was drafted.
But J.R. Smith has a one-of-one Supreme leg, which ends any argument, so everything I’ve just laid out above is moot. J.R. Smith is the best dressed NBA player — no, the best-dressed person in the world.