It is the NBA’s equivalent of the red carpet. Buried in the corridors of every arena, a singular camera captures the few steps from the team bus to the locker room. Forget high definition, forget endless angles of instant replay, this may very well be the crowning achievement of modern basketball cinematography.
The traditionally unceremonious entrance, a moment that should be as begrudgingly uneventful as clocking into work, has evolved into the league’s most valuable pregame spectacle. In this minimalistic and monochromatic hall, the NBA’s best players come through loudly, dressed in vibrant, eccentric outfits. The pregame strut has manifested as a performance artform, one that is deeply intentioned and pointed. It is an opportunity for players to step out of the confines of their uniforms, and deploy fashion as a means by which to express individuality and personal mindset.
For the obsessively self-driven maniacs that comprise the NBA elite, the walk has thus become a perfect channel for yet another assertion of dominance. In a ritualistic manner, players part a sea of reporters simply with their presence, moving through the corridor without even the slightest facial expression or acknowledgement of the peasantry that is the press. They are locked in, untouchable and confident, wearing the expensive cloth that demonstrates their success. Without words, players can make the loudest statements.
While the tradition of the NBA walkway is marked by its idiosyncratic fashion, LeBron James recently broke the mold in his first-round playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. As James took his usual march into Baker’s Life Fieldhouse before Game 3, he was joined by all 15 of his teammates— wearing matching designer suits. Every detail on each Tom Browne ensemble was coordinated and consistent, from the made-to-measure three-pieces and the leather black shoes, right down to the red white-and-blue trim on the bottom buttons. The next night, the Cavs did it again, this time electing for loose-fitting black suits.
Throughout the playoffs, LeBron has actively dodged questions about his satisfaction with the performance of his teammates. The aesthetics of his matching suits has thus created an implicit, powerful rebuttal. Despite carrying his out-of-sync team through the first round, James has reasserted the unity of his locker room. This is a clear outward message, but there is also an inward one. Just like a finely tuned firm, LeBron has encouraged each player accept that they have a role to play and a job to do in order to benefit the greater mission of returning to the league finals. On their most daring level, the suits are a subliminal shot at the opposing team. They suggest a routineness, an unjustified confidence in the Cavs’ play on the court. Indiana was just another business trip.
Grey blazers and black shoes represent the most cordial of recent fashion trash talk. In Boston, guard Terry Rozier has been playing above his pay grade, emerging as an explosive and skilled scoring option for an injury-ridden Celtics team. In Game 1 of his team’s opening playoff series against the Bucks, Rozier found himself with the ball at the top of the wing, game tied, the final seconds ticking away. With one quick crossover, a lightning-quick change of direction, and a final between-the-legs stepback, Rozier lost Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe, giving him ample space to hit the go-ahead three.
“Who? I don’t know who the fuck that is,” said Bledsoe when asked about Rozier following the Celtics win (Twitter, [at]NickFriedell, 04.17.2018). Just like that, the NBA’s next great beef was served.
Hostility between Rozier and Bledsoe would take center stage for the remainder of the series, with tensions culminating in a pair of flagrant fouls in Game 5. And when it mattered most, Rozier outplayed Bledsoe in the final game, scoring 26 points to lead the Celtics into the next round.
When it seemed as if the book had been closed on Bledsoe, Rozier made an interesting choice of attire for his walk into the Celtic’s first game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Moving through the corridor, the guard rocked the throwback New England Patriots jersey of quarterback Drew Bledsoe. It was a final victory lap.
“I love my man Drew Bledsoe, even though we haven’t talked,” said a smirking Rozier after the game, giving a dodging answer that he so clearly considered beforehand. “But I think he knows who I am, and I know who he is, so that’s all that matters” (Instagram, [at]sportscenter, 04.30.2018)
If Eric (Not Drew) Bledsoe hadn’t known who Rozier was after Game 1, he definitely must know now. With the jersey, Rozier had solidified his dominance over his new rival—Boston owns Bledsoe.
Rozier’s bold antics are just another example of how the NBA’s new thicket of young, ambitious players have utilized basketball’s social media revolution to build their profile. From their presence online before the game to their walk into the arena, and culminating in the post-game press conference, players’ every movements are closely monitored and publicized. Thus, in order to make oneself known, developing a public character and personality is essential. Through his conflict with Bledsoe, “Scary Terry” must credit his meteoric rise to his ability to create storylines around himself. After all, every superhero needs a villain.
In today’s NBA, the little things speak the greatest volumes. Fans and pundits are more vocal and critical then ever, and the players are emboldened in defense. New avenues for publicity have given the league’s stars greater leeway. As a result, trash talking has made a resurgence, taking on new forms and scopes. So choose your outfit wisely.