From Tattoos to Malcolm X shirts, NBA Hopefuls Talk Style

Paolo Panchero raised the right sleeve of his black hooded shirt to indicate the green tattoo ink on his forearm. His long arms make up most of his 7-foot-1 wingspan which made him one of the top prospects in Thursday’s NBA draft, but they also tell a story.

His right arm is littered with tattoos that depict important parts of his upbringing and make statements about his style: The Space Needle and the rest of his hometown skyline, Seattle, sit on his right shoulder; “19 and Spruce” is written on his inner biceps as a nod to the boys and girls club where he started playing basketball; And on his inner forearm is the brand logo of his Seattle-based apparel friend Skyblue Collective, who often sports and says he’s “a part of it.”

The 19-year-old Banchero, who led the Duke men’s basketball team to the fourth final this year, uses his tattoos and clothing as a form of self-expression, and a subtle way of sending messages. At a pre-draft event at a Brooklyn barbershop on Tuesday, dressed in a luxurious all-black outfit, he said it was tame compared to what he would have collected on drag night.

Banchero and many of the best players in the 2022 class already have a public figure, but they will be greatly enhanced if the NBA team signs them. While playing well and winning championships is critical to how an NBA player perceives, style and image come second. After all, it’s the league in which Los Angeles Lakers forward/centre Anthony Davis made his squad a celebrity in his own right, even trademarking the phrase “Fear The Brow” in 2012.

The NBA athletes made it easy for fans to appreciate their fashion sense, turning pre-game entries into their own version of the Met Gala. Fans on social media quickly share photos and videos from players’ 30-second walks to locker rooms from cars or team buses at the NBA arenas. GQ magazine crowned Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shay Gilgus Alexander as the most stylish player in the 2022 NBA, at the expense of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, because “man cares about getting dressed.”

Galen Williams, a forward from Santa Clara University and likely a first-round pick in the draft, looks to the viewing platform before the game. On his mobile, he has many search tags open for different clothing brands. He laughed and pointed to Jaden Hardy of G League Ignite, another potential pick in 2022, when he saw they were wearing the same black MNML tracksuit shorts at the event on Tuesday.

Williams said he tried to balance his awareness of what he was wearing while enjoying his style, because he knew he would be judged by his clothes and his appearance. He incorporates clothes from lesser-known brands into his wardrobe to encourage those who might be looking to him to be “comfortable in their own skin”.

“I think that’s the biggest misunderstood thing in fashion,” said Williams, 21. “You feel like you have to please anyone or look a certain way, but what you like is what you like.”

Williams said he also tried to support smaller brands and promote social justice issues through his clothing. He wore a jacket by Tattoo’d Cloth, which made custom embroidered jackets for some drafts, and has taged the brand in an Instagram story. On Juneteenth, he wore a T-shirt featuring Malcolm X, and often wore various types of clothing in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think as an athlete, it’s important to inspire people, make a difference, and use our platform,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s really important to not say anything but get dressed.”

Williams’ style goes beyond his clothes, too. As a sophomore in high school, he decided to wear one braid while keeping the rest of his hair unbraided, hanging the braid at eye level. This has become a popular style in the NBA

“I wouldn’t say I started it, but I probably did,” he joked.

Fashion has always played an important role in Williams’ life, going back to his childhood when he started using the My Player mode in the NBA 2K video game, where users create players and can design them to hang out in a virtual park. He’s serious about his fashion choices, My Player.

“You can’t stand park in browns and greys,” Williams said, mocking the generic uniforms given to innovative players. “No brown shirts!”

For seven-foot-tall Chet Holmgren, who played in Gonzaga and was expected to be in the top three on Thursday, fashion was a huge challenge. He could never find clothes to match his tall and slender body, and he was never able to purchase the custom-made clothes that he so adored. He made fun of his most impressive childhood outfits: Nike socks, basic T-shirts, basketball shorts, and basketball shoes. In high school, Holmgren said, his style skyrocketed as he turned to resale websites and brands with plus-size and long-sleeved clothing. Now, he’s confident it’s the trendiest prospect this semester.

“In my opinion, I’m more of a brag than what I wear,” Holmgren said. He further explained that fashion is more than just what a person wears.

“You could spend $10,000 on a costume, but you might as well wear a trash costume,” he said. “You may have the right pieces, but if you can’t put them together, the costume isn’t going to look great.”

Like Williams, Holmgren looks forward to the former NBA runway, and isn’t afraid of his style choices.

“I feel like I don’t really miss when I wear the shifts,” Holmgren said. “So whatever I wear, I’ll be fine.”

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