From tattoos to Malcolm X t-shirts, NBA Hopefuls talk style

Paolo Banchero picked up the right side of his black hooded sweatshirt and showed green tattoo ink on his arm. His long arms mostly make a 7-foot-1 wing span that ranked him as one of the top prospects in the NBA Draft on Thursday, but they also tell a story.

He has tattoos on his right arm that indicate important parts of his upbringing and make a statement about his style: the space needle and the rest of Seattle’s horizon, in his hometown, sits on his right shoulder; The Boys and Girls Club says “19th and Spruce” on his inner biceps as a yes, where he started playing basketball; And on the inside is the logo of his friend’s Seattle-based Skyblue Collective clothing brand, which he always plays with and says he’s “a part of it.”

The 19-year-old Banchero, who led the Duke men’s basketball team into the final four this year, uses his tattoos and costumes as a form of self-expression, a subtle way of sending a message. At a pre-draft style event at a Brooklyn barber shop on Tuesday, he wore an all-black luxury designer costume that was neat compared to the one he puts together at Draft Night.

Banchero and many of the top players in the 2022 draft class already have public personalities, but it would be too much if the NBA team signed them. While playing well and winning the championship is the best way an NBA player understands, style and image are second to none. After all, this is the league in which Los Angeles Lakers Forward / Center Anthony Davis trademarked the phrase “Fear the Bro” in 2012, making his Unibro a celebrity in his own right.

NBA athletes have made it easy for fans to appreciate their fashion sense, turning their pregame entries into their own version of the Met Gala. Fans on social media quickly share photos and videos of players walking 30-seconds into the locker room from a car or team bus at NBA Arenas. GQ magazine named Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shy Gilgius-Alexander as the most stylish player in the 2022 NBA, compared to Phoenix Sons guard Devin Booker, because “that man cares about clothes.”

Jalen Williams, a forward from Santa Clara University and a potential first-round pick in the draft, is looking forward to the pregame catwalk. On his cellphone, he has several search tabs for different clothing brands. At Tuesday’s event, he smiled when he saw MNML wearing the same black sweatpants as the brand, and pointed to Jaden Hardy, another potential draft pick in the G League Ignite, 2022.

Williams said he tried to be aware of what he wore while having fun in his style, because he knew he would be judged by his attire and appearance. He includes clothes from less popular brands in his wardrobe to encourage those who can pay attention to him to be “comfortable in his own skin.”

“I think that’s the biggest misunderstanding in fashion,” Williams, 21, said. “You think you have to satisfy someone or look at it in a certain way, but you like what you like.”

Williams said he tried to support small brands and promote social-justice issues through their clothing. He played a jacket of tattooed cloth, made custom embroidered jackets for some draft prospects, and tagged the brand in an Instagram story. To Juniteth, he wore a Malcolm X shirt, and he frequently wears a variety of costumes that support the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think as players, it’s important to inspire people and make a difference and use our platform,” Williams said. “Sometimes, saying nothing but getting dressed is really important.”

Williams’ style goes beyond his costumes. As a high school sophomore, he decided to tie a single braid by hanging the braid at eye level, without leaving the rest of the hair braided. It has become a popular genre in the NBA

“I’m not saying I started it, but I must have started it,” he said jokingly.

Fashion has played an important role in Williams’ life since he began using MyPlayer mode in NBA 2K video games in his childhood, in which users can create players and style them to hang out in virtual parks. He’s serious about his MyPlayer’s fashion choices.

“You can’t draw in the park in brown and gray,” Williams said, mocking the casual attire the players wore. “No brown shirts!”

For the seven-foot center Chet Holmgren, who played at Gonzaga and was expected to pick the top-three on Thursday, being fashionable was a big challenge. He never found clothes that fit his long and lean window and could not afford the custom-fitting clothes he liked. He mocked the most impressive costumes of his childhood: Nike socks, basic T-shirts, basketball shorts and basketball shoes. In high school, Holmgren said, his style hit the skies as he turned to websites and brands with larger and taller sizes. Now, he’s sure he’s the most fashionable prospect in this draft class.

“In my opinion, I’m the most swaggiest guy beyond what I wear,” Holmgren said. He further clarified that fashion is more than the items worn by a person.

“You could spend 10,000 on a costume, but you might have a trash can,” he said. “You may have the right pieces, but if you can’t put them together, the costume won’t be great.”

Like Williams, Holmgren is looking forward to the NBA’s pregame run and he’s not afraid of his style choices.

“I don’t think I’m really wrong when I keep fit,” Holmgren said. “So everything I’m wearing will be fine.”

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