The N.B.A.’s Fashion Runway: The Stars, the Styles … the Trash?


“I’ve got to make sure everything looks good coming out of the car,” Curry, the league’s most valuable player, said. “You don’t want to have a missed button or a wrinkled shirt.”

It is an oddly blue-collar environment for high fashion. Nobody made a bigger splash in recent weeks than Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose team fell to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals. Westbrook’s bursts of sartorial pyrotechnics — denim overalls one game, zebra-print blazer the next — were offset by an obstacle course of trash cans, ladders and heating ducts.

“It’s become an event unto itself, which is kind of amazing,” Brett J. Banakis, a stage and film production designer, said. “So you’ll have Russell Westbrook wearing a lime green jumpsuit and walking past the most banal objects possible.”

Banakis has been a fan of Westbrook’s since they were students together at U.C.L.A., where Westbrook played basketball and Banakis played trombone in the marching band. (They were once on the same charter flight to the Final Four, Banakis said.) Banakis said it made sense for high-profile players to embrace their opportunities to flash some individual style, even if their milieu is a loading dock.

“Most of the time, you see them wearing uniforms,” he said. “So this is really their only moment to say, ‘This is me.’”

Oliphant, the backdrop designer, is not a huge basketball fan — “I usually choose the team that has the nicest colors and costumes,” she said — but she has been transfixed by the clips of players arriving for games. Oliphant cited the authenticity of the whole setup. Consider the Cavaliers’ LeBron James, who, seconds after arriving at Oracle for Game 1 on Thursday night, deposited some personal items in a small plastic tub before he went through a metal detector. He even had to wait in line behind a couple of team officials. (LeBron: Just like us!)

Photo

Even LeBron James, center, isn’t exempt from going through a metal detector at Oracle Arena as he did seconds after arriving there for Game 1 on Thursday night.

Credit
Andrew Burton for The New York Times

“It wouldn’t have the same effect if you took all these guys and you put them up at Lincoln Center in one of the big fashion-week venues,” Oliphant said. “I could even paint them a giant backdrop, but it wouldn’t be the same. It would no longer be accessible to my nephew who would never watch something on fashion.”

Curry said he did not realize that he needed to care about his 30-second pregame walk to the locker room until he made his first playoffs appearance with the Warriors in 2013. All of a sudden, camera crews were waiting for him. He knew then that he had to put more effort into his attire. It has become an important part of his game day ritual.

“I would wear most of this stuff anyway, especially for the playoffs,” he said. “You want to feel good for each game.”

While television has used player arrivals as pregame fodder for years, social media has given these small moments greater currency. They have also become much more involved productions. Nian Fish, a creative director and producer of fashion shows and events, said she was struck by the work of the film crews.

“You can see a guy holding up a big floodlight because they’re obviously going through this dark tunnel,” Fish said. “So I’m like, wow, that’s really amazing that they’re doing a lighting production to create a video of this, their own version of the red carpet. They’re really producing this shot.”

All for a few seconds of video. There are other logistical hurdles, said Tim Corrigan, a senior coordinating producer for ESPN. Because home and visiting teams often arrive at different entrances, Corrigan assigns crews to camp out at each location. Players also show up at various times. When the Warriors are on the road, for example, they have three buses that leave for the arena in 30-minute increments. By now, ESPN’s crew knows that Curry tends to take the last bus, which usually pulls in about two hours before the game.

Once he arrives, Curry takes measured steps past the assembled masses, his strides slow but purposeful.

“It’s a normal walk,” the assistant coach Bruce Fraser said, “for someone who knows someone else is staring at him.”

Other players are more elusive. Corrigan recalled how Ray Allen, the former N.B.A. player, liked to show up so early for games that he often took a taxi from the team hotel.

Marreese Speights, a reserve forward with the Warriors, tries to avoid the cameras altogether. His strategy? Take the last bus to road games and be the last player to disembark, his hope being that everyone will have vacated the premises then. Besides, Speights has no illusions that the cameras are there for him.

“People want to see their favorite players all dressed up,” he said.

The spotlight that follows Curry does not affect everyone. Steve Kerr, the Warriors’ coach, often shows up for home games in a T-shirt and sweatpants. (He carries his suit in a garment bag.)

Others take greater pains to be more fashion forward. James Michael McAdoo, a second-year forward, has friends who send him news clippings and video snippets of Curry that just happen to feature McAdoo standing in the background. McAdoo does not want to look like a slob.

“My wife makes sure I dress up for the finals,” he said. “I let her iron my shirts. I pick out my outfit a little bit earlier. It’s not like I just wake up from my nap and throw on whatever. Let’s make sure I have something that’s a little choreographed for each game.”

Curry has become an active participant in the whole process. He goes so far as to watch clips of other players making their arena entrances.

“All the time,” Curry, whose competitive drive extends beyond the court, said. “You want to see what the other guys are doing.”

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