NBA players increase fan engagement by bridging gap between fashion, sports

From the high-profile audience members to the players themselves, fashion strongly influences the experience of a National Basketball Association game. NBA players often are not only professional athletes, but powerful and fashionable celebrities. The opportunities for players to innovate fashion make the NBA more appealing to a wider audience.

In the past, players such as Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, Cleveland Cavaliers center Kevin Love, Miami Heat shooting guard Dwayne Wade, Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Lebron James and Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry have all become fashion icons, according to Men’s Health.

Following players’ style both before or after the game and in their regular lives is a popular pastime for fans. Combining fashion and sports also allows individuals of different interests to engage with athletes in varying capacities.

That being said, players’ freedom of expression when it comes to style is limited in the NBA.

The NBA dress code, which mandates business casual attire for players, was introduced in 2005, according to ESPN. The official dress code states that “players are required to wear Business Casual attire whenever they are engaged in team or league business,” according to the NBA website. The NBA further defines “Business Casual” as including dress shirts with a collar, sweaters, dress slacks, dress jeans, khaki pants and dress shoes, the website says. 

This dress code had a controversial start as it partly stemmed as a result of former Philadelphia 76ers point guard Allen Iverson. Iverson’s style of wearing baggy clothes with jewelry and tattoos was “a symbol of everything the NBA wanted to separate itself from,” according to an article from Fox Sports. The dress code similarly “blindly associat[ed] hip-hop style with crime and thugdom,” drawing criticisms that it was racially insensitive, an article from Complex said. 

This type of discrimination is unacceptable. While there are many mixed feelings regarding the dress code, this restriction has not hindered the flourishing of personal style in the NBA. Players have continued to thrive despite limitations and showing that NBA players can dominate the fashion industry. 

“In a way, Iverson suffered so those after him could celebrate their own individuality,” an article from Fox Sports argued.

While someone may have never watched a Golden State Warriors game, they likely know who Curry is based on his significance in the fashion and pop-culture world. The connection and interaction between fashion and sports appears to increase the popularity of the sport and to diversify viewership.

Fashion creates an increasingly holistic experience for fans and opens up doors for players as well.

“The fashion and music industries have always been partners,” a Nov. 4, 2016 Rolling Stone article said. “The sports industry is now a part of that mix. Today, NBA players have their own fashion lines and brand associations.” 

Athletes in the NBA are not just limited to athletic sponsorships, but now catch the eye of major fashion and luxury brands. 

Younger players, like Los Angeles Lakers power forward Kyle Kuzma, have also begun utilizing social media to market both their athletic talent and fashion. Kuzma is known for his experimental style, and he has taken advantage of the more formal dress code, according to a CBS Sports article.  

“Coming into the NBA, you definitely have to step it up because you’re competing on and off the floor,” Kuzma said as reported by CBS sports. “Not only on the court, basketball-wise, but a lot of us take pride in our style too.” 

It is clear that the growing relationship between the fashion industry and NBA is far from complete. Players continue to work with fashion brands and even with the NBA dress code restricting player’s clothing choices, individuals continue to stand out.

With social media on the rise and the ability for fans to interact with their favorite basketball stars becoming easier, the desire to inspire audiences through style will only grow.

While some are skeptical of athletics interacting with more creative, pop-culture industries such as fashion, it is essential in order to increase the NBA’s audience and benefit players as well.