What does the NBA look like? Well, that depends on who you ask. For some, it’s the minutiae of strategy, of roster construction, and development. To others, it’s the bringing together of a city and its fans, to a league that has been on the forefront of social issues and cultural change. But in a moment of individual personalities leading the game, the NBA of 2023 looks like its players.
When it comes to style, what the NBA looks like might bring to mind the disco-era mink coats and wide-brimmed hats of Walt Frazier; the dark, oversized suits and minimalist jewelry adorned by Michael Jordan in the 90s; the braids and baggy sweats ushered in by Allen Iverson at the start of the millennium. This marriage of style and basketball has evolved over the past half-century, with players making way for a distinct basketball style all its own.
A symbiosis has long existed: culture influences the style of the players and the style of the players influences the culture at large. But what happens when basketball style becomes the culture? What happens when the impact of Air Jordans is so widespread that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck dedicate a two-hour film to their “meteoric” rise? Ask Josh Christopher of the Houston Rockets what the NBA looks like and he’ll tell you, “It’s just guys being themselves.” Christopher is our man of the hour, and he comes to us as a player now at the forefront of this symbiotic relationship and its evolution.
But understandably, it is difficult even for him to arrive at one stylistic snapshot that captures today’s off-court aesthetic. Indeed, James Harden will wear a multi-colored fur coat and pink balaclava one pre-game, and an all-black suit atop a turtleneck the next. Russell Westbrook can be seen in a frayed Slayer shirt and bandana one night, and a construction themed Hi Vis safety vest the next. Where’s the through line here? Maybe it’s the fragmentation of culture born of the social media-streaming age. Individualism and constant invention/reinvention. A sign of progress, or solipsism, depending on your persuasion.
No longer is NBA fashion a snapshot of an era’s zeitgeist or even a portrait of basketball’s cultural singularity. Take arena tunnels. The long, concrete trails where players are filmed arriving at the arena–once an excuse for television announcers to discuss athletes before the game–have evolved into something else entirely. They are now runways in the truest sense of the word, and a proper showcase of players’ creative personalities. That pink balaclava was not simply a one-off aesthetic decision, but part of a larger trend culled from the runways of Paris and Milan. And as would be expected for individuals so immersed in the world of fashion, many basketball stars like Christopher have begun designing apparel themselves.
Before even entering the league, the now 21-year-old Christopher worked with his brother Pat, a designer, who himself used to play in the NBA, as well as the enigmatic Harlem-based designer Dapper Dan, on his draft day suit. “For me it was cool,” Christopher says, “but for my brother, who is up-and-coming in fashion right now, it was even cooler for him to sit down with a legend and go over ideas.” The second-year guard, who of course can be seen showcasing his style on Instagram, has already parlayed his professional design debut into a full-scale project with his NBA team. Christopher recently collaborated with the Rockets to launch a merchandise capsule with the fans in mind and inspired by his whirlwind arrival to Houston: a blend of psychotropic colors and playful illustrations that evoke his youth, passion and creativity–and he’s just getting started.
FLAUNT caught up with Christopher to talk about his further fashion aspirations, his creative influences, the impact of Gen Z, and the intersection of art, style, and basketball.
I know how passionate you are about fashion. Is there anything you’re working on at the moment?
Just trying to stay fly for the most part. But yeah, I started designing a little project with my brother that we’re working on right now. I’m really just going out there on my own trying to get more into fashion by designing stuff and creating like my brother Pat does, but with my own style of course. Right now, I’m going for a denim vibe with nylon bombers: oversized top and bottom. Using Virgil Abloh’s 3% rule, I was able to pull from a couple of my favorite pieces and curate some of my own that I thought I would like. So that’s in the works now, and it should be done pretty soon.
How does your brother influence your stylistic choices?
We dress completely different, but I would put him at the forefront. I mean, he wears a suit everywhere he goes. So, from that standpoint, that makes me comfortable with my style, whatever it is and wherever I go, just because that’s what my brother does. So, whether I’m going into basketball games, going out to eat, or I’m just hanging in the crib, I’m okay with just being fly no matter what. I’m cool with it because my brothers always fly. He’s also gotten me into my suit-and-tie vibe. Now, I have no problem putting on a button-up shirt and a tie with dress shoes instead of wearing Jordans. You know we love wearing Jordans, but when I do decide to get fancy with it, I have no issue putting on my loafers at all.
Is that, in part, just an evolution of your aesthetic taste and a willingness to try out new looks?
Yeah, I would say so. And I still get to spin off of Pat. I like platform shoes. So, I’ll look at a pair of loafers, and I’ll make sure they have a thick sole to them, so I still get to have my own tastes.
Particularly when you’re designing, do you ascribe artistic value to your style choices? Do you consider it a true art form? Or is it a more simple form of self-expression?
Some pieces can be art, some pieces can be clothes you’d want to wear every day. I think clothes can turn into art for when they [are associated with] a special moment. Like, I had this Prada jacket that I wore on my birthday, and I didn’t miss that day. This was when I turned 20 years old, and it was my best game of the season. It was like my coming out party. From that day on I started playing way more and I found a consistent role on the team. So that Prada jacket...I don’t even like wearing it anymore because it turned into a piece that reminded me of this special moment. I literally don’t wear it anymore just because I see it and I’m like, this jacket already did its purpose. I can’t wear it. I feel like clothes can turn into art when they have a special meaning to you.
Were you always that kid who was interested in fashion and interested in dressing yourself, even from a very young age?
Yeah, absolutely. It really started off with shoes. I just had a ton of shoes, always. Even when I was like a size nine, I was in my brother’s sick Jordan collection. I would always just be around an extreme amount of kicks. So, I followed my brother’s lead and started trying to collect shoes, wear shoes, take his shoes and customize shoes on Nike ID. I was even into skating growing up too. So, I was always wearing Vans.
How would you compare the culture around skating to that around basketball?
It’s pretty different. I feel like most skaters have almost like a uniform when they skate. So, it is certain shoes, it is certain pants. Even when it comes to t-shirts, skaters kind of have a uniform. In terms of basketball, it’s 400-something guys who can have a totally different look. But I feel like when it comes to skaters, they have an aesthetic already.
So, there’s more creative freedom in basketball?
Yeah, absolutely. Because I mean in basketball, there’s a million accessories you can wear on the court. But if we’re talking off the court, there are also a million outfits and styles that you can put together. At its core, basketball is so technical. So much is about training, film sessions, etc. But off the court there seems to be such an emphasis on creativity and self-expression.
How do you explain this dichotomy?
I feel like I’ve always been a super creative kid. I was always into drawing. I was always into shoes. My dad’s an artist and a musician. So that’s just who I am as a person. I play basketball but at the same time I grew up liking the arts, because that’s what was in my household. I made it to the NBA because I work extremely hard. I train every day, I’m on the grind, and I’m blessed to be here. I grew up in a household where my dad was telling me to go to the gym, but he was also coming home and playing the piano. He was painting and drawing. I just got the best of both worlds. I feel like the people that are in the league that are like that came from households that inspired them to keep doing it. It comes very naturally.
Do you consider yourself an especially creative player on the court?
Yeah, I would definitely say I’m like an artist on the basketball court. Maybe even like a dancer. You see a bunch of different types of styles. Some guys might play super aggressive because they could be angry or because their body types influence their play. There are so many different ways you can express yourself on a basketball court. Whether it’s the play style, the antics in between [the game] or just the way you carry yourself. Basketball is a form of expression.
So, who you are off the court can turn into what you become on it.
I’m sure there are many misconceptions you face as an athlete. Is it important to you to try to tear down those misconceptions when you’re off the court with how you express yourself?
You sometimes, as an athlete, have to read the room. But for somebody like me, when I first got drafted to the Rockets, they told everybody on the team to be yourself. That makes it even easier for me to be myself. But I was probably going to do that anyway because that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. I mean people say whatever they want to anyways, but when you’re true to yourself, you don’t really pay attention. You might see it, but when you’re comfortable in your skin, it’s cool.
Do you think being a part of your generation–Gen Z–has influenced your taste? What comes to mind when somebody brings up Gen Z fashion or Gen Z sensibilities?
I feel like Generation Z, we have access to so many different fashion trends and eras of clothes that we’re able to really go back and build our own style from there. I can’t even say people dress in today’s culture because most of the stuff I wear, I know it was already being worn back in the day and now it’s come back alive. So, I feel like Gen Z has a lot of influence, but I can’t even say Gen Z has its own particular style.
I know certain guys just on your team, like Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., are willing to wear finger paint. That concept seems to subvert ideas around general perceptions of jocks and masculinity. Is that something you’re thinking about often?
If you look at artists, they’ve been painting their nails for life. That’s what I’m saying, nothing is ever new in my opinion. Guys have been painting their nails. You look at Dennis Rodman, I’m pretty sure he had his nails painted. That was about 20 years ago. So you’ve been having guys expressing themselves in different ways, and that’s dope.
So you’re less concerned about doing something new and more concerned about just trying to find your voice and being true to yourself then?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s the fun part I guess, finding who you are and knowing who you are. Even if you do want to venture off. You find something that you like or that you enjoy doing and that can become who you are. Whether it’s something that you’re already doing or that you want to do, it can become who you are.
Photographed by Tayo Kuku
Written by Jake Carlilsi
Styled by Mui-Hai Chu
Groomer: Euni J. Lee
Flaunt Film: Isaac Dektor