Paolo Banchero pulled up the right sleeve of his black hoodie, revealing a green tattoo on his forearm. His long arms make up the bulk of his 7ft 1in wingspan, which made 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 important aspects of his upbringing and speak to his style: the Space Needle and the rest of his Seattle hometown skyline sit on his right shoulder; “19th and Spruce” is written on the inside of his biceps as a tribute to the boys and girls club where he started playing basketball; and on the inside of his forearm is the logo of his friend Skyblue Collective’s clothing brand from Seattle, which he often wears and which he says is “a part of himself”.
Banchero, 19, who led the Duke men’s basketball team to the Final Four this year, uses his tattoos and clothing as a form of self-expression, a subtle way to send messages. At a pre-draft event at a Brooklyn barbershop on Tuesday, he wore an all-black luxe designer outfit that he said was tame compared to what he collected during the draft.
On Thursday, he wore a bright purple suit when the Orlando Magic selected him with the No. 1. 1 overall pick in the draft.
Banchero and many of the top players in the 2022 draft class already have a public persona, but it will be greatly enhanced if the NBA team signs them. While playing well and winning championships is paramount to the perception of an NBA player, style and image come second. After all, this is the league in which Los Angeles Lakers forward/center Anthony Davis made his unibrow a celebrity in its own right, even patenting the phrase “Fear the Eyebrows” in 2012.
NBA athletes have made it easy for fans to appreciate their sense of style by turning their pregame outings into their own version of the Met Gala. Fans on social media are quick to share photos and videos of players taking 30-second walks to locker rooms from cars or team buses in NBA arenas. Oklahoma City Thunder defenseman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was named the best player by GQ magazine. Most Stylish NBA Player 2022, over Phoenix Suns defenseman Devin Booker because “the guy takes care of getting dressed.”
Jalen Williams, a forward from Santa Clara University and a potential first-round pick, is looking forward to making the podium ahead of the game. There are several search tabs open on his mobile phone for different clothing brands. He laughed and pointed to G League Ignite’s Jayden Hardy, another potential 2022 draft pick, when he saw them wearing matching black MNML sweatpants at Tuesday’s event.
Williams said he tried to balance being aware of what he was wearing and having fun with his style because he knew he would be judged by his clothes and appearance. He incorporates less popular brands into his wardrobe to encourage those who might look up to him to feel “comfortable in their own skin.”
“I think this is the biggest misunderstood problem in fashion,” Williams, 21, said. “You feel like you have to please anyone or look a certain way, but whatever you like is what you like.”
Williams said he also tried to support small brands and promote social justice issues through his clothing. He wore a jacket from Tattoo’d Cloth, which makes bespoke embroidered jackets for some potential clients, and tagged the brand on an Instagram story. On June 10, he wore a shirt with a picture of Malcolm X and often wore different clothes in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. “I think it’s important for athletes to inspire people, drive change, and use our platform,” Williams said. “Sometimes not even saying anything, but wearing clothes is really important.”
Williams’ style goes beyond his outfits. As a sophomore in high school, he decided to keep one braid, leaving the rest of his hair unbraided, hanging the braid at eye level. It has become a popular style in the NBA.
“I’m not going to say I started this, but I may have started this,” he said jokingly.
Fashion has long played an important role in Williams’ life, dating back to his childhood when he started using the My Player mode in the video game NBA 2K, in which users create players and can style them for a virtual park experience. He takes his My Player’s fashion choices seriously.
“You can’t drive up to the park in brown and grey,” Williams said, mocking the generic outfit given to created players. “No brown shirts!”
The Oklahoma City Thunder selected Williams with the 12th overall pick on Thursday. He wore a dark pinstriped suit and oversized sunglasses with his famous single braid over them.
For seven-foot center Chet Holmgren, who played at the Gonzaga and was set to be one of the top three players on Thursday, being fashionable was a problem as a child. He could never find clothes that fit his long and lanky body, and he couldn’t afford the tailored outfits he adored. He made fun of his most impressive childhood outfit: Nike socks, plain T-shirts, basketball shorts and basketball shoes. In high school, Holmgren says, his style took off as he turned to resale sites and brands that had plus size and oversized clothing. Now he’s confident he’s the hottest prospect in this draft class.
“In my opinion, I’m the most stylish dude, except for what I’m wearing,” Holmgren said. He went on to explain that fashion is more than just the things a person wears.
“You can spend $10,000 on an outfit, but you might be wearing a trash outfit,” he said. “You may have the right things, but if you can’t put them together, the outfit won’t be great.”
Like Williams, Holmgren is looking forward to hitting the NBA pre-game runway and isn’t worried about his style choices.
“I feel like I’m not really bored when I’m hysterical,” Holmgren said. “So whatever I wear, I’ll be fine.”
Holmgren was selected second overall behind the Oklahoma City Thunder. His diamond chain with a pair of dice shone at the Barclays Center as he walked towards the stage. According to him, he chose the bones for his chain because he was “big bets on yourself. ”