The NBA Draft’s Best Looks

Posted June 22, 2018 4:36 p.m. EDT

The love affair between basketball and fashion — or between basketball and the self-branding opportunities offered by fashion — is getting hotter and heavier.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the NBA draft, which has undergone a dramatic transformation from its mid-'90s nadir. (We see you, Jalen.) Thursday evening’s event may have been the most stylish draft yet: one marked less by look-at-me costuming than dialogue between the future stars of the sports world and the current stars of the catwalk.

And given that journalists Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania and The New York Times’ own Marc Stein blast out news of the draft picks before they are officially made, the looks have become one of the best reasons to stay tuned.

Gucci owned Thursday night, with perhaps the most notable outfit coming from Wendell Carter Jr. The center, picked seventh by the Chicago Bulls, made his entrance wearing a Gucci suit with a tiger sash inspired by the outfits in Marvel’s “Black Panther.” (His proud parents dressed to match.)

Gucci’s renaissance under Alessandro Michele has made it the one of most influential brands in the world. The label has been a driving force behind dematerializing the old walls between traditionally “male” or “female” clothes, putting boys on the runway in sheer blouses, frills and floral suits.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s suit echoed Michele’s blooming aesthetic. Alexander, the Kentucky blue-chipper snatched up in the 11th pick by the Charlotte Hornets, and quickly sent to Los Angeles to join the Clippers, wore a shimmering floral suit with a matching shirt, but he did not reveal the ensemble’s designer. Another flashy look was sported by the No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, who combined a periwinkle blue suit with the Bahamian flag stitched into the lining, a pale pink shirt and a mint green pocket hankie.

Rounding out the high-fashion outfits was Trae Young, the diminutive (by this draft’s standards) point guard who was taken in the fifth pick by the Dallas Mavericks and traded to the Atlanta Hawks. LeBron James’ NBA Finals short suit sent memesters into overdrive back in May. But Young showed that the Thom-Brown-influenced look may be here to stay, saying that he wanted to be the first to rock it for the draft.

Not everyone was a fan. “It’s excruciating,” Boushra AlChabaoun, a stylist who outfitted 11 players in the draft, told The Washington Post of the short suit. “If they are not built like a model, it’s unacceptable.”

Slippers were worn by many of the prospects, much as they were in 2017.

“It’s an old-school look that has a touch of luxury to it,” said Trey Kerby, the NBA commentator who covered Thursday’s green carpet for NBATV. Kerby said Friday that the audacity of the 2018 draft class’s fashion choices was welcome.

“For a while there, draft fashion got a little bit too staid,” he said. “No one wanted to be making any mistakes that they’d be seeing forever. But I think we’ve turned a corner. This year’s draft class seemed ready to make a statement, rather than just what they thought looked cool.”

Kerby said that apart from Gilgeous-Alexander and Young, he had been impressed by Jaren Jackson Jr. (drafted fourth by the Memphis Grizzlies and wearing J.C. Penney and Tissot) and Lonnie Walker (drafted 18th by the San Antonio Spurs).

“Jackson Jr. had Rock the Vote on his jacket lining, because he knows kids are watching and that they might listen to an athlete who wants everyone to hit the polls,” Kerby said.

“As for Walker, I thought he did all-white the right way,” Kerby continued. “From Samaki Walker to Tim Thomas to LeBron James, there is a long history of memorable all-white suits at the draft, but for me, Walker’s is the best of the bunch. He looked like a modern day De La Soul last night, and he took it to another level when he popped that Spurs hat on top of his hair and just let it balance.”

Clearly, those who already play for the NBA — and are already known as fashion plates — have graduated to a higher plane: James Harden, P.J. Tucker, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook, among others, are in Paris for the men’s fashion shows.

They didn’t publicly comment on the draft night looks, but it’s safe to say the league’s flashiest dressers would applaud the bolder fashion choices of the incoming rookie class. As the league’s reigning fashion king would say: #whynot.