Over the NBA’s extensive history, the league’s sense of style has had many drastic changes. From the colorful hair of Dennis Rodman, to the many baggy suits featured at the 2003 draft, basketball’s biggest savants have never been shy to express their unique attire. NBA Players’ expressive fashion choices have constantly evolved over time, shaping not only basketball, but the fashion industry as a whole.
Pioneers of fashion began to emerge as early as the 1970s. Basketball stars such as Julius Erving, Walt Frazier, and Wilt Chamberlain started shaping the league’s style with vibrant colors and eye-catching patterns that reflected the 70s exuberant attire. By doing so, they laid a foundation for the association’s style to blossom.
The 1980s were revolutionary to the NBA’s storied style, while players were somewhat forced to wear more “business casual” attire in this period, they made up for it with their clever style decisions on the court. Headlined by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the early 80s saw the important basketball fashion trends of short shorts, headbands, and high socks emerge.
However, the true start of the NBA’s fashion evolution began in the mid to late 1980s when the Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan with the 3rd overall pick in the 1984 draft. Jordan’s star power and slick style put the league under the international spotlight. Accordingly, this “spotlight” also drew more attention to the league’s fashion, causing players to step away from more casual attire and enter an era where showing their culture had a massive influence on players’ fashion choices.
Most well known as the “Hip-Hop Era”, the 1990s were a result of urban culture and NBA fashion combining. Heavily influenced by hip-hop in the 90s, players were known to wear baggy clothes, oversized jerseys, and accessories like chains and hats. The most notable fashionista of this era was Allen Iverson. Not only did A.I. shape the era’s fashion, but he was also one of the main players targeted in the 2005 dress code instituted by David Stern. The dress code led to an elongated period where NBA players were once again forced to dress in business casual attire to “promote a more professional image of the NBA”.
Nevertheless, the 2010s became a period for stars like Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade to revolt against the boundaries instituted by Stern. Pushing new frontiers for self-expression, players began to show their unique styles to the world, wearing anything from skirts, to full-on designer wear, to rocking extremely colorful attire. The 2010s also saw a boom in sneaker culture. Shoes that were once used with the intention of playing basketball were now being used as fashion statements. This development only binded the NBA even closer to the fashion world.
In current times, players have taken a strong advantage over the league’s archival connections within the fashion industry. With a relaxed dress code, young fashion prodigies such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kyle Kuzma have used bold and vulnerable attire to further express their personal sense of style. Both have even walked the runway for some of the biggest designer brands in the world. Not only are the new generation of stars using fashion to impress, but they’ve also used it as a platform for activism on topics they’re passionate about. Perhaps the best word to describe this new generation is avant-garde “favoring or introducing experimental or unusual ideas to fashion”.
In a league once dominated by the likes of the flashy fashion in the 70s to the modern self-expressive attire, the NBA’s fashion sense is always evolving. Basketball has transformed into more than just the game. It is now one of the staples of the fashion industry thanks to its extensive history of players’ pioneering modern style.