Paolo Banchero lifted the right sleeve of his black hooded sweatshirt to point out the green tattoo ink on his forearm. His long arms take up most of his 7-foot-1 wingspan, making him one of the top prospects in Thursday’s NBA draft, but they also tell a story.
His right arm is covered in tattoos that depict key parts of his upbringing and express his style: the Space Needle and the rest of the skyline of his hometown of Seattle, sitting on his right shoulder; “19th and Spruce” is written on the inside of his bicep, in homage to the Boys and Girls Club where he started playing basketball; on the inside of his forearm is the logo of his friend’s Seattle-based clothing brand Skyblue Collective, which he exercises regularly and says it’s “he a part of”.
Banchero, 19, who led the Duke men’s basketball team to this year’s Final Four, uses his tattoos and clothing as a form of self-expression, a subtle way to convey a message. For Tuesday’s pre-draft style event at a Brooklyn barbershop, he wore an all-black lavish designer outfit that he said looked tame compared to what he wore on draft night.
Banchero and many of the top players in the 2022 draft class already have public profiles, but if an NBA team signed them, it would be a huge boost. While playing well and winning championships is critical to how NBA players are viewed, style and image are a close second. After all, this is the league where Los Angeles Lakers forward/center Anthony Davis made his unicorn celebrity, even trademarking the word “Fear The Brow” in 2012.
NBA athletes make it easy for fans to appreciate their fashion sense, turning their pregame entry into their own version of the Met Gala. Fans on social media can quickly share photos and videos of players walking 30 seconds from the car or team bus to the locker room at an NBA game. GQ Magazine names Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the most stylish player in the NBA in 2022, ahead of Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker because ‘this guy cares about dressing up’ .”
Forward Jalen Williams from Santa Clara University, a potential first-round pick in the draft, is looking forward to walking the show before the game. On his phone, he has multiple search tabs open for different clothing brands. He smiled and pointed at Jaden Hardy from G League Ignite, another potential 2022 draft pick, when he saw them wearing the same black sweatpants from the MNML brand at Tuesday’s event.
Williams said he tries to enjoy his style while being aware of what he wears, knowing that he will be judged by his clothing and appearance. He incorporates clothing from less popular brands into his wardrobe to encourage those who might admire him to “be comfortable in their own skin”.
“I think it’s the biggest misconception 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 tries to support small brands and promote social justice issues through his clothing. He wore a jacket from Tattoo’d Cloth, which makes custom embroidered jackets for some rookie prospects, and tagged the brand on his Instagram Stories. He wore a Malcolm X shirt on Juneteenth, and he often wears different types of clothing in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think as an athlete, it’s important to inspire people and inspire change and use our platform,” Williams said. “Sometimes, it’s really important to say nothing but dress.”
Williams’ style also transcended his clothing. As a sophomore in high school, he decided to pull a 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 a big role in Williams’ life, going back to his childhood when he started using the “My Players” mode in NBA 2K video games, where users can create players and play for them Styled to hang out in a virtual park. He’s serious about his My Player’s fashion choices.
“You can’t go to the park in brown and gray,” Williams said, mocking the generic outfits given to creating players. “No brown shirts!”
Fashion is a growing challenge for 7-foot center Chet Holmgren, who plays at Gonzaga and is expected to be a top-three pick on Thursday. He could never find clothes that fit his lanky frame, nor could he afford the custom clothing he liked. He mocks his most impressive childhood outfits: Nike socks, basic T-shirts, basketball shorts and basketball shoes. Holmgren said his style took off in high school after he turned to resale sites and plus-size clothing brands. Now, he is confident that he will be the most fashionable rookie in this draft class.
“In my opinion, aside from what I wear, I’m the most fashionable person,” Holmgren said. He further explained that fashion is more than just what a person wears.
“You can buy a suit for $10,000, but you’re probably going to be wearing junk clothes,” he said. “You might have pieces that fit, but if you can’t put them together, the dress isn’t going to be good.”
Like Williams, Holmgren is looking forward to the NBA’s pregame show, and he’s not worried about his style choices.
“When I’m in the right clothes, I don’t feel like I’m really missing,” Holmgren said. “So no matter what I wear, I’ll be fine.”