The fact that the N.B.A. draft occurred smack in the middle of the Paris men’s wear shows was something of a cosmically appropriate coincidence.
After all, the draft has increasingly become one of our most watched runways, the heart of the convergence between fashion and sport that has spawned the tunnel walk and social media accounts that chronicle players’ wardrobes — and leads to front row seats at shows like Louis Vuitton, recently attended by LeBron James, and Rick Owens, where Kyle Kuzma showed up. And it is only getting more important.
ESPN has added a one-hour “N.B.A. Draft Red Carpet Special” just as E! does for the Oscars and the Met Gala, including a 360 degree cam kind of like the E! Glambot, the better to capture the looks in the round, as well as a reporter asking the attendees, “What are you wearing?”
Yes, the question isn’t just for women any more.
Perhaps because most of the athletes aren’t used to answering, they didn’t respond with a “what” — they didn’t name their brand — but a “why.” Why they chose the look they chose. Which in turn reflects why this all matters.
As Mitchell Jackson, the author of the forthcoming “Fly: The Big Book of Basketball Fashion,” a coffee-table book that elevates the subject to the same decorative status as a Dior or Gucci monograph, said: “N.B.A. draft fashion is its own subject now, not an afterthought but part of the big show. It was always something the players cared about, but with more media coverage of the draft, with the advent of social media and the tunnel, it’s an important part, dare I say essential part, of player’s star power.”
It’s the players’ first chance to create the brand of them and offer it up for public consumption. As a result, everything is tailored. Not just literally, but conceptually.
Starting with Victor Wembanyama, the No. 1 overall pick and widely touted “generational talent” from France, who wore a forest green suit from Louis Vuitton with a kimono-like jacket that wrapped at the waist and a matching forest green shirt, a large stone dangling from his neck. Vuitton is, of course, the world’s dominant luxury brand, one synonymous with French savoir-faire and one that recently hired a Black American — Pharrell Williams — as its men’s wear designer, all values (inclusivity, cross-border diplomacy, success) that line up with what Mr. Wembanyama promises to represent.
As for the color, he said he liked it because it made him think of outer space (he’s reaching for the stars), while the stone around his neck, less blingy than some of the other ice sported by his soon-to-be competitors, was an element said to help achieve goals.
His only competition in the high-fashion stakes came from Kobe Bufkin (picked 15th, by the Atlanta Hawks), in a cream tweed double-breasted suit sans shirt, a choice that revealed a highly tuned trend antenna. It implicitly associated him with other celebrity proponents of the suit-without-shirt look, like Timothée Chalamet (who popularized the trend when he went shirtless to the 2022 Oscars). Little wonder LeagueFits announced that “Atlanta will be competing for a leaguefits championship, confirmed.”
Notably restrained was Brandon Miller, the No. 2 pick, in a three-piece plaid number, and Amen and Ausar Thompson, identical twins chosen fourth and fifth, who wore matching double-breasted suits by the tailor Waraire Boswell. One was white, and one was navy. “They went for subtlety,” Mr. Jackson said, a sign of just how much draft fashion has shifted from the straightforward “look at me” to “think about me” or “invest in me.”
Pointedly, the looks were part of a collaboration with Amex, and Mr. Boswell also designed a limited-edition jacket inspired by the Thompson suits that will be available only to Amex cardholders. Why not start the influencing as soon as possible?
On the other end of the spectrum were Scoot Henderson (picked third) and Gradey Dick (picked 13th), who were the most bedazzled athletes of the night. Even then, though, their bling wasn’t just bling for bling’s sake. It was bling with reason.
Mr. Henderson’s suit, by Indochino (a label that has something of a lock on draft-day dressing, this year working with nine athletes), was covered in more than 600 gemstones meant to represent his family tree, incorporating the birthstones of his parents and siblings.
“I wanted to be very thoughtful about how my draft-day look represents both my journey so far and what’s next,” Mr. Henderson, who also wore a customized bedazzled grill, said in a news release. “This suit is a visual representation of what got me here.”
This is the next iteration of the personal-story-in-a-lining approach that has become familiar among many players, who paper the inside of their jackets with photographs and memorabilia printed onto silk. See, for example, Taylor Hendricks (picked ninth), whose sugar-pink suit concealed a whole biography.
As for Mr. Dick, he wore a turtleneck and zoot suit jacket, both covered in red sequins. The look got him compared to Zoolander and Siegfried and Roy on social media but was a nod, he said, to Dorothy’s ruby slippers and his own journey from Kansas to the presumably magical world of the Toronto Raptors (a team whose color also happens to be red). Not to mention the suggestion that he has courage and heart, too.
As a choice, the sequins were mocked and praised in equal measure, but either way they were impossible to ignore. In the attention economy, that’s a win.