The NBA comes down to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday to reveal the next selection of athletes to join the league – and fashion will also take center stage.
The NBA Draft has become one of the top showcases of the year in menswear, evolving from the awkward moments of ill-fitting suits of the past into the modern era, where brands have stepped in to help players get dressed.
The newly elevated NBA Draft style is derived from the tunnel style, when players enter the arena in their game day clothes. The NBA’s elegant makeover has spurred dedicated social media accounts and has spread to other sports, such as the Main Stage NFL Draft, virtually and in a hybrid format, and the WNBA Draft, where Charli Collier, the number one pick in the 2021 draft , was dressed in a custom look by Sergio Hudson, and Destanni Henderson wore a tailored suit from their clothing line in this year’s draft.
For a while, Indochino had the NBA Draft blocked — in 2020, outfitting up to 15 players, including second pick James Wiseman and 2022 Slam Dunk Contest champion Obi Toppin — but now more leading national brands are fighting for the NBA Draft. NBA real estate. Additionally, stylists who work primarily with the league’s top talent are meeting rookies at the league’s front door to show them the terrain setup before they begin their professional careers.
Indochino is returning in this year’s draft, dressing seven players including Keegan Murray of Iowa, Mark Williams of Duke, Blake Wesley of Notre Dame and international players Ousmane Dieng, Jeremy Sochan, Jean Montero and Nikola Jovic (not to be confused with current MVP of NBA Nikola Jokic).
Neiman Marcus, who stepped in to dress players for the 2021 NBA Draft, is dressing top prospects Chet Holmgren de Gonzaga, and Williams teammates Duke Blue Devils, AJ Griffin and Paolo Banchero.
In addition to these 10 players, stylist Kesha McLeod, who works with Serena Williams, NBA champion PJ Tucker and WNBA champion Candace Parker, is styling players Jalen Williams of Santa Clara, Kendall Brown of Baylor, EJ Liddell of Ohio State. and Ben Mathurin of Arizona this year in luxury fashion and accessories brands.
But every player fighting for real estate on the red carpet takes a different approach.
Indochino and Neiman Marcus are forging relationships with recruits, while McLeod is teaching young talent how to create an image and a brand.
Indochino has deep ties to sports leagues as a supplier of suits to the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Rams – “We kicked off the Super Bowl season,” Indochino CEO Drew Green said of partnering with the Rams and Phoenix Suns, which began during the 2021 NBA Finals, as well as players like All-Star Chris Paul and a multi-year partnership deal with New York Knicks athlete RJ Barrett.
Two years ago, Green stated that for the 2020 draft to “have a suit… This year, the CEO likened the jump from the amateur to the professional level, to college grads becoming bankers, lawyers or professors and needing their first suit for the careers.
“We are the first suit for many men in all of America,” he said. “The draft allows the brand to go well alongside the pursuit of excellence. We strive for excellence in every garment. It’s all about the work they put in. As much potential as they have, they need to work. We want to be on this journey with them.”
He mentioned Barrett and Golden State Warriors star Jordan Poole as examples of work on and off the court, and they are two of the roughly 100 draft picks Indochino has donned for draft day over the years.
But Indochino is focused on more than just equipping those called up for the call-up. “We like to continue relationships,” Green said. “We continue with Jordan [Poole]who was already a fan of the brand even before [NBA] final races. We really liked Jordan coming out of Michigan. He was not a top pick in the lottery and we thought he would have a fabulous career ahead of him.”
He continued: “This year’s squad did an amazing job again. They outdo themselves every year. We’ve been involved every year and we couldn’t be happier with the roster of players for the biggest night of their careers to date.”
Neiman Marcus is also building relationships. Last year, Neiman dressed Detroit Pistons’ Cade Cunningham, Sacramento Kings’ Davion Mitchell, Atlanta Hawks’ Sharife Cooper and Oklahoma City Thunder’s Tre Mann for the 2021 NBA Draft at brands including Balenciaga, Versace, Alexander McQueen, Amiri. and Christian Louboutin. Russ Patrick, senior vice president and general manager of menswear at the Neiman Marcus Group, said the retailer dressed the likes of Seth Curry and Keanu Neal before dressing recruits.
This year, Neiman Marcus Beverly Hills style adviser Ramon Tioseco is wearing Holmgren Griffin and Banchero for the event.
McLeod is doing some of what the two brands are doing. Like Indochino, she is helping players Jalen Williams, Brown, Liddell and Mathurin familiarize themselves with working with brands.
“We have to educate them more and I think it’s beautiful to work with someone in the draft and teach them that’s how it’s done so that when you’re really ready, you have an idea of what’s going on,” McLeod said.
She was hired by her agents to work with these athletes for the draft, but she wanted to take things further by talking, engaging, and working with the players. She asks them if they envisioned themselves in the draft and what they would be wearing, much like working with Charles Cross on his NFL Draft suit back in April. The Seattle Seahawks’ offensive lineup wanted to build their outfit around the Air Jordan 1 “Travis Scott x Fragment” sneakers.
“These are the types of conversations, you try to understand them,” McLeod explained.
McLeod has a long career, starting as assistant stylist to Rachel Johnson before finally working with his first athlete, San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. She has also worked with model Veronica Webb, music artists Rick Ross, Ne-Yo, Jeezy and Jadakiss on their music videos, and award-winning director F. Gary Gray. Through Johnson, she met Serena Williams and they have worked together ever since.
In the NBA, she styled Andre Iguodala en route to her first NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors; Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka and several All-Star and former MVP James Harden, among others.
Despite these superstar clients, McLeod only participated in the NBA Draft once with San Antonio Spurs player Tre Jones. He was drafted in 2020 during the virtual draft, so they came up with a different plan that would show him beyond an outfit.
“We thought about what it would be like in a COVID-19 world?” said McLeod. “We worked with a production company, filmed his pre-draft moments, did a content release during the week, and did an Instagram live on how he felt during the draft.”
The content exposed Jones to fashion, production, media and branding. “Now it’s not so much coincidence,” McLeod said. “A lot of it is strategy now. Every guy wants to get into fashion, but what does that mean? Do you want a fashion line? Do you want to sit at the shows? It’s a strategy and a construct of who we can align with and who can support the customer.”
She continued: “One of the guys I was working with didn’t know how to tag a brand [on Instagram], but if you want to build a relationship, this is how you properly thank them. There is a lot of education and guidance. You don’t have to be the athlete who needs to dress up, but some years when you make the playoffs, you don’t ask how to get into fashion because it’s already started. But I don’t want to put the work on the client because they are gamers. If they can’t concentrate on the game, then they can’t do that.”