For NBA players, the walk from the parking lot to the locker room has become a runway show

LeBron James has style, and he likes to show it off.
LeBron James has style, and he likes to show it off.
Image: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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A strong fashion sense, or at least the willingness to make some bold clothing choices, often goes hand-in-hand with NBA stardom these days.

The walk from the parking lot into the arena before game time is often a short one, but it’s long enough that it gives photographers and fans a chance to get glimpse of players before they suit up.

“You stress over outfits for days, and you wind up wearing it for 30 seconds when you walk from the parking lot to the locker room,” Stephen Curry told the New York Times, in a great story about how the often bare corridor that serves as a backdrop has become something of a runway for NBA stars.

The Golden State Warriors’ two-time MVP, who rarely seems fazed on the court, said he goes so far as to watch clips of other players arriving.

Among the guys he’s probably studied are big-bearded James Harden of the Houston Rockets, who often steps out of the box with pieces like this shirt from Dries Van Noten’s ballet-inspired spring 2015 collection.

Dressing unconventionally often means catching some flak for it on the internet, as Harden did in this case. Curry got roasted after his wife, Ayesha, posted a shot of him wearing a pair of high-end chelsea boots that one commenter called “sassy.”

Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder has been one of the most adventurous players when it comes to clothing. For game 1 of the Western conference finals against Curry’s Warriors, he turned up in a t-shirt with extra-long sleeves—fashion’s new favorite obsession—by the hyped Parisian label Vetements. Some fans gave him a bit of a hard time about it.

For game 4, he showed up in overalls.

Plenty of players are routinely spotted at fashion events, too. Amar’e Stoudemire has been front row at shows by designers including Raf Simons and Rick Owens, and Dwayne Wade was just on the red carpet of the CFDA fashion awards with New York label Public School. The tendency for men to think of their wardrobe as a place to experiment and show off is evident in hip-hop, too, with rappers gravitating toward luxury labels.

Technically, the NBA has a “business casual” dress code for players. It came into effect after a massive brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons in 2005, as Vocativ notes, and was meant to distance the NBA from any semblance of a “thuggish” image. It also was considered by many to be racist in what it suggested about the NBA’s black players.

The business casual look doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced, but many of the league’s top stars regularly turn up in suits anyway. LeBron James is one player with a knack for more formal attire.

He knows the cameras are watching, and as one of the league’s top talents, he sees to it that his style matches his game.