SOMETIME earlier in this decade — a little after Beats by Dre went out of style but before the Cavs started wearing shrunken gray suits — the NBA’s pre-game tunnel walks became the new runways of men’s fashion. Or rather, they became the runways that men’s fashion never really had — because when did actual men’s runways ever tell us how to dress in real life?
So instead, we looked to our sports heroes for inspiration, and we’ve found ever more of it in these pre-game tunnel walks. Years after the league’s controversial dress code mandate, players fully accepted the tunnel walk as an opportunity to dress well. Now, before every game, these guys are dripping in the latest trends, the most covetable sneakers, and a lot of ridiculously expensive designer clothes.
The point is, if you want to know what good menswear looks like, just keep tabs on the NBA’s pre-game outfits.
The 2019-20 regular season opened earlier this week, and naturally, it came with more than a few great fashion flexes. Here are some of the best, plus a few flops:
LeBron James, before Lakers vs. Clippers
Few of the league’s outfits are as influential as King James’s. To start this season, James came out in a Gucci shirt that beamed with much-needed optimism. He also had the finesse to tone things down with a gray suit and white sneakers (the hotly anticipated Cactus Plant Flea Market Air Force 1s, no less), before topping it off with a sprinkle of Off-White. Unfortunately, no shirt could bestow enough optimism to take the sting off the huge L they took that night.
Lonzo Ball, before Pelicans vs. Raptors
For his regular season debut with the Pelicans, Lonzo kept it simple with a blacked-out fit, featuring a denim jacket by Amiri and Louboutin sneakers. Clearly you can take the boy to New Orleans, but you can’t take the Los Angeles out of him.
Anthony Davis, before Lakers vs. Jazz
The Lakers’ prized acquisition came through in an immaculate black-on-black combination, with a Marcelo Burlon shirt and Amiri jeans. But it’s the the self-lacing Nike Adapt Huaraches that really tied everything together.
LeBron James again, before Lakers vs. Jazz
The ‘Red Carpet’ LeBron 7s—easily one of the greatest LeBron signature colorways of all time—are being re-released in 2019. Seeing the man wear them himself, now just as a pre-game shoe, marks a new era; a transition into an age of LeBron James retros.
PJ Tucker, before Rockets vs. Pelicans
It’s no surprise that the league’s biggest sneakerhead, bar none, stepped out with two pairs of incredibly rare sneakers: the ‘Viotech’ Dunk SBs on his feet and the Travis Scott Air Jordan 6s in his hands. Nevermind the fact that there’s way too much going on with the rest of his outfit, and don’t even bother with the Ferrari. This is a W.
Ben Simmons, before Sixers vs. Celtics
This patchwork jacket by Noah is incredible, but it takes style to wear it right. Simmons did well to pair it with washed jeans and a simple white graphic tee. The guy knows what he’s doing. On top of that, he’s toting a Burberry dopp kit (flex) and wearing Cactus Plant Flea Market’s Nike Blazer collab (double flex).
Kyle Kuzma, before Lakers vs. Clippers
Kuz isn’t afraid to take risks. This one, we think, paid off. The young Laker has missed a lot of shots in the sartorial arena, but because he’s always trying to zag where the rest of the league zigs, he ends up with some pretty impressive, unique looks, like this one.
D’Angelo Russell, before Warriors vs. Clippers
The new Warrior scored the team’s first 10 points of the regular season, but he was clearly bringing much more to Golden State even before the tip-off. A big-check suit over a bright shirt and a pair of smart white Common Projects? That’s unassailable style.
Kyrie Irving, before Nets vs. Timberwolves
The league also had its fair share of WYD in the tunnel. Kyrie Irving, who dropped 50 in his first game, missed the mark with this quasi-cyberpunk, not-quite-ninja look. Not even the sneakers—very rare ‘Ostrich’ Dunk SBs from 2003—could save him.
Kawhi Leonard, before Clippers vs. Lakers
Fresh off a championship with the Raptors, the newly minted Clipper star is back in his home city. Kawhi Leonard is off to a good start—beating both the Lakers and the Warriors—but this hoodie just isn’t doing him any favors.
Russell Westbrook, before Rockets vs. Bucks
The original pre-game tunnel peacock is a Rocket now, but he’s still up to the same, still trying to shake things up by wearing some of the wildest clothes in the league. Too bad this jumpsuit made him look more like he was preparing for trick-or-treat than for a game against Giannis.
Chris Paul, before Thunder vs. Wizards
Is he walking into the Chesapeake Energy Arena for a basketball game or into a Republican town hall? You decide.
Paul George, at Clippers vs. Lakers
As a bonus, here’s an on-court fit that drew a lot of attention: Paul George, who’s recovering from shoulder surgery and out until November, sat courtside as his team wiped the floor with LeBron’s. The viewers couldn’t help but notice that PG looked a little overdressed—like he’s late to a red carpet premiere but decided to come through Staples Center first, just to show support. If nothing else, it’s a case for dressing appropriately, rather than just for style.