When I was growing up, there was a thing called “the ballplayer look.” It served two essential purposes: to show the world you were a hooper, and also that you were fly. It could be the way you rocked your socks and shorts, the sneaks you chose on the court, your haircut, the type of earring you wore. It all came down to a style that signaled basketball was your calling card.
In FLY: The Big Book of Basketball Fashion (Artisan Books, 221 pp., $40), the author Mitchell S. Jackson goes to great lengths to capture the evolution and meaning of that aesthetic. From Bob Cousy’s Rat Pack-inspired suits in the ’50s and ’60s, to Michael Jordan’s on-court style that ran the ’90s and LeBron James’s “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt in 2014, to Jalen Green’s masterful Louis Vuitton/Damier combination during this year’s Paris Fashion Week, the book traces the sartorial eras that have come to define the N.B.A.
Due credit is given to the fashions of Walt Frazier, Jordan, Allen Iverson and Russell Westbrook. Missing are the contributions of Pat Riley and the late designer Cary Mitchell, the Black-power influence of Earl Monroe, and any mention whatsoever of the current W.N.B.A. as the most fashion-forward league in all of sports. But those are misses, not bricks. Because what Jackson does with “Fly” is canonize the cultural impact the “ballplayer look” has had all along.