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Courting style: five times that basketball influenced fashion

From court regulation turned collectible uniforms to the female figureheads blazing sartorial trails today, here’s a brief guide to basketball’s global impact on style

It’s impossible to talk about basketball without landing on its phenomenon beyond the court. So embedded in culture is the sport, that you’ll no doubt have your own idea of this impact. Is it a signature sneaker from a basketball god? Is it Spike Lee’s lens on Black America? Is it a runway spin on regulation uniform by Prada or Marni? From music to film via gaming, trading cards, politics, and painting, to synopsise the game’s entire cultural impact in one article is impossible. But we’re starting with style.

The sport’s influence on the modern wardrobe is ubiquitous, with mesh jerseys widely accepted as closet-must haves, court-born sneakers a streetwear staple, and athletic footwear replacing dress shoes at boardroom meetings. From courtside to the court itself, players turn heads as billions of eyes scrutinise both their game and their attire, with countless Instagram accounts, like League Fits, dedicated to documenting the best of the NBA’s drip – helping mere mortals identify what their idols are wearing, while propelling athletes to the top of the fashion ranks. Once a male-dominated arena, the likes of Chicago Wings' Isabelle Harrison and Minnesota Lynx Aerial Powers also feature heavily across League Fits’ grid, encouraging hope that the gender playing field, when it comes to financials, might one day soon be levelled — it criminally behind as things stand. 

Basketball’s connection to style doesn’t stop at the hoop, though. The game’s influence has long spilled over into unlikely places and permeated endless arenas of sport away from the court. Back in the 1980s, skaters landed tricks in some of the scene’s most iconic sneakers, as the likes of 80s skate hero Lance Mountain and his crew, The Bones Brigade, made Air Jordan 1s their go-to shoes, customising them with spray cans to cover scuffs caused by gnarly landings. Jordan's recent Nike SB x AJ4 being a physical almagamation of the brand's basketball-skate heritage. In other crossovers, one of the most coveted sportswear drops in recent years saw Jordan join forces with football club Paris Saint-Germain, as PSG x Jumpman kits replaced the OG tracksuits rocked by teens in the banlieue – just one example of basketball’s street-level, community impact that stretches from the city’s Pigalle and Stalingrad courts to the world.

With that in mind, we’ve rounded up a five-point replay of basketball’s impact on fashion – from Paris, where basketball and street culture are one, and the Middle Eastern women battling hijab bans both off and on the court, to Michael Jordan and Mariah Carey.


There have been few athletes as smooth as Los Angeles Lakers centre Wilt Chamberlain and NY Knicks’ point guard Walt ”Clyde” Frazier. Little to none able to replicate their hypnotising style and sex appeal.

In typical 60s and 70s fashion – the pair’s zenith – chest-revealing, kaleidoscopic silk shirts, skin-tight flared trousers and perfectly tailored suits dominated their public-facing wardrobes. This was a time of opulence, when masculinity had a different connotation and men (athletes included) were not afraid to indulge in gender-defiant silhouettes that enhanced their physical features. Elegance was ordinary; both Chamberlain and Frazier knew how to pose for magazine covers such as the iconic Jet Magazine – a print staple for Black culture – sometimes even better than the actual models.

Their fur coats and love of expensive cars paved the way for modern-day stars like Russell Westbrook, whose influence occupies the now well-trodden space between court and fashion industry. Spotted at the hottest shows in New York and Paris alike, Westbrook’s unique sense of style has landed him signature fashion collaborations and a cult following for his own brand Honor The Gift. PJ Tucker is another player to have been handed the Wilt and Walt baton, becoming another centre of discussion when it comes to fashion and basketball. In camp collar shirts and neon ensembles, the Philadelphia 76ers forward has emerged as a leader in what the culture calls fits – as well as the owner of an insane sneaker collection.


Can you imagine a world without the Air Jordan 1? The iconic sneaker’s genesis came way back in the 80s, when a young Michael Jordan landed at the Chicago Bulls fresh out of college. With plenty of sportswear brands lining up to sign mega contacts with Jordan, it was Nike – then a total underdog – that scooped the wunderkind by offering him a hefty yearly contract and a signature line that was to change the trajectory of sneaker culture forever. With its hi-top silhouette, infamous Swoosh, and custom winged ball on the outer ankle, the OG sneaker worn by Jordan earned the nickname “The Banned”, as the basketball legend reportedly landed himself a $5,000 fine every game for violating uniform rules (as it was, Nike itself received a warning, but the rest remains an urban legend). 

Released to the public masses in late 1985, the style was an immediate success, as its sales went stratospheric. Fast forward to today, and the Air Jordan 1 continues to inspire, worn by a new generation of kids across the globe, and re-designed and re-released by some of the most important tastemakers of our age – elevating its unicorn status beyond even its 80s mythology. In recent years, the style has been reimagined by Kim Jones at Dior, who sent it down the runway as part of his 2020 Pre-Fall show in Miami, and, of course, by Virgil Abloh via Off-White, who explained the sneaker had fuelled his childhood dreams of entering into the world of fashion. In 2020, Michael Jordan’s original shoe sold for over half a million dollars at a Sotheby’s auction, cementing its status as a legend of our time.


In 2005, as a response to the infamous altercation involving players and fans during a Pacers v Pistons game commonly known as ‘Malice at The Palace’, something radical happened. NBA commissioner David Stern implemented a new policy: the dress code. It was a turning point. Rightfully criticised as a discriminating rule affecting mostly young Black players, the dress code carried a racist undertone as it outlawed outfits and garments often associated with hip-hop and urban attitudes – in short, what was considered inherently Black.

Players were banned from showing up to games and press conferences in triple XL t-shirts, sweatpants, or any kind of excessive jewellery that was considered unprofessional. In this case, “professional”, meant conforming to a style that has historically been regarded as white. Players known for their oversized steeze and tattoo sleeves, like Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, felt like this policy was a direct attack on them and vehemently vocalised their opposition, lamenting the fact that their style had nothing to do with their professionalism. Speaking on the code in a TV interview, Iverson expressed his thoughts that the rules were directly “targeting my generation, the hip-hop generation.” Essentially, Stern was trying to make the league more appealing and “safe” to white viewers and advertisers by deracialising the game and policing Black players on what they could and could not do.

As outrageous as the dress code was, it provided an opportunity to elevate individual style and take it in new directions via a bending of the rules. Without the dress code, we’d probably never see LeBron James turn up to the so-called concrete runway in a short suit by Thom Browne, nor would we have accounts like the aforementioned League Fits or Upscale Hype – two platforms dedicated to documenting the wild outfits of the NBA.


Allen Iverson’s intricate braids – a choice dictated by his busy travelling schedule – is undoubtedly one of most iconic basketball hairstyles. It’s a title to which Dennis Rodman’s changing mane of animal print, slime green, and 90s smileys obviously has a strong claim, too. But basketball’s deep history with hair, and Black expression told through it, goes far beyond eye-popping dye. Julius “Dr J” Erving of the 70s and 80s and Detroit Piston’s defence-king Ben Wallace of the 2000s are perhaps two of the NBA’s most famous afros; examples of players that inspired hoards of recent recruits, and kids across the globe in turn, to free their natural hair, whether on or off court. 

While hair has served as a tool for self-expression in the game, it has also been the subject of controversy. Take the case of Qatar’s national team, for instance, which decided to forfeit the Asian Cup after being reprimanded for wearing hijabs following the FIBA’s headgear’s ban. Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a former college basketball player, took that matter to heart and decided to dedicate her career to campaigning for the reversion of this discriminating policy in order to create a more inclusive playing environment for Muslim women around the world.


Now less a sign of allegiance, more of a statement, basketball jerseys have become an integrated part of pop culture and modern style, a garment replicated by high-street and luxury brands alike. We all remember Riccardo Tisci’s iconic basketball-inspired collection and Nike collaboration that became a smash hit during the heyday of Tumblr and marked the start of a casualisation of fashion at large.

While the basketball jersey became an acceptable piece of clothing for the mainstream in the 2010s, it was back in the early 2000s that young girls across the five New York boroughs began dictating a new style: the jersey dress. Plastered in vintage logos and fitted to the female figure, these dresses were not designed for performance or to advance the integration of women in the game, the origin of this new trend is rooted in surplus stock.

According to a fable told by a 2001 New York Times article, a famous sporting goods store in Philadelphia faced an abundance of small-sized basketball jerseys because of male customers’ preference for ankle-grazing ones. To solve this problem, the owner brought the tank tops to his grandmother who turned them into dresses. Soon, his friend and recording artist Faith Evans was seen wearing one on BET’s “106 and Park”. Teenage girls everywhere followed suit, cementing a trend that climaxed in Mariah Carey wearing a Washington Wizards jersey gown on the stage at the ‘03 All-Star game.

We’ve moved on from the oversized suits and style that’s simply for stunt, but the connection between basketball and fashion continues to evolve through a new generation of players, fans that are detail-oriented and style obsessed. From players owning pre-game style showcases, to mingling with the most famous designers while sitting front row at shows and strategising their own labels, the frequency of athlete on the runway - see Isabelle Harrison closing Kim Shui's SS23 show and being gifted this jersey dress by the designer - is something that might just get increasingly common.