Basketball is a sport of two elements: earth and air. Every NBA player must master both, but the very best also operate in the space between these states. Call it the aether: the higher, rarer element wherein the stars are placed. This is where Jordan Clarkson—with his stratospheric jumpshots, assured footwork, and ferocious, theatrical dunks—works his magic. Aggressive to the basket and agile across the court, now into his third season, Clarkson has proved himself a lethal pointguard for the Los Angeles Lakers, and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
He meets me for a late lunch at the Sunset Tower, confident entering the room in his 6’4” frame and wearing an easy combo of Saint Laurent and Gucci. A white-jacketed waiter guides him to our table, where Clarkson greets me with a cool, gracious charm—he’s evidently at home in this storied saloon, comfortable among the ghosts of bygone residents like Frank Sinatra and Howard Hughes.
Clarkson is a new breed of basketball hero: savvy on social media, fashion forward, and socially conscious. No wonder he’s been credited for bringing a new crop of stylish celebrities courtside. Clarkson created quite a stir this year in the blogosphere when he wrapped up a game for the Lakers against the Hawks (18 points, 2 steals, 5 assists) and dressed down into a yellow tartan kilt, because: “It’s swag baby.”
“I just like to look good,” Clarkson explains, adjusting his cuff. “My pops told me to always look presentable and I have a passion for how clothes make people feel. When you put on a really nice outfit, you feel like a new person. Fashion is an art.”
After perusing the menu, I order the lobster tacos, while Clarkson opts for the Tower burger. He laughs at the inadvertent reminder of his former pre-game ritual: “I used to eat chicken tenders and french fries, and play Dragon Ball-Z.” A bit unconventional, maybe, but it certainly worked its wonders. Yet it takes more than chicken tenders and French fries to win big games. What leads the man to push as hard as he does? “I’m motivated by winning,” Clarkson tells me. “Winning for my team to be honest with you. I wanna see all my teammates do well and the only way we can do that is by winning. As for myself, I got a family to feed and this is the only way I know how to do that. Plus I want to be great, and those go hand in hand.”
Clarkson sought greatness from a young age, and to stand apart from and above the pack. He found inspiration for this from the on-and-off the court example set by 11-time NBA All-Star Allen Iverson: “He kind of had his own way,” Clarkson explains. “The way he dressed, he kind of changed the culture—you know you see how guys dress now when they come to the games—that’s because of him. And then when he was on court, he placed everything on the line. He was always there.”
Basketball was written onto Jordan Clarkson’s birth certificate. He numbers amongst the more than 14,000 baby Jordans born circa-1990 during Michael Jordan’s prime, and perhaps unsurprisingly Clarkson nominates M.J. as his number one choice for a fantasy one-on-one game. Yet Clarkson’s interests extend far beyond the court. Clarkson is half Filipino and proud of that heritage. He has travelled there to engage with his fan base and to take part in basketball clinics. “The Philippines is actually close to me because my mom is from there.” Clarkson explains, “I feel like a lot of kids that are in the States, they don’t see what’s going on in these other countries. Third world countries, and stuff like that. The best thing about the Philippines is that even through all of the stuff that they’re going through over there, they’re always happy. They’re always out to help each other.”
Helping others is something close to Clarkson’s heart, and while many stars pay lip-service to being socially conscious, with him this drive is clearly more than skin deep. “I try to touch as many people as I can with my work,” he tells me. “At the same time, I’m pretty accessible in terms of where I’m at. I’m always somewhere in L.A., or around the country somewhere, trying to be doing something good to help in any way I can in terms of supporting somebody or showing some love.” It was this drive that saw Clarkson spend his 24th birthday running a Boys & Girls Club basketball camp.
It’s refreshing to find a role model like Clarkson; fashionable without being vacuous, cool without being cold. Up in the air, down to the earth, en route to the aether. As our meal comes to a close—Clarkson’s burger demolished, my remaining taco looking limp—I ask him what’s most important to him. “Helping others,” he says without missing a beat, “That is the biggest thing. Putting a smile on somebody else’s face. I’m in a position to do a lot of good, especially for my people back home and the people around me. I always look at it this way—you ain’t helping yourself unless you’re helping someone else.”
Written by Owen Marsden
Photographer: Ian Morrison for Opus Reps.
Stylist: Yohanna Logan for The Rex Agency.
Groomer: Frankie Payne for Opus Beauty Using Baxter of California.