Fifteen years after Allen Iverson’s signature sense of style ushered in a new NBA dress code, generations of players are learning the basics of classic menswear, then figuring out which rules they want to break. And sure, the majority of players have shown us that NBA style may still be in an awkward phase of sorts, but as a force of fashion, the league and its cadre of players — who go as hard on their clothing budgets as they do in the paint — has only become more formidable.
And All-Star Weekend, with its relatively low-stakes games and the sheer amount of star power it attracts, has become the de facto flex zone for guys like Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons, Nick Young, and basketball-adjacent figures like Spike Lee, Don C., and Virgil Abloh. For the longest time, it’s been the Paris Fashion Week of sneaker culture, a time when Jordan Brand, Nike, adidas, Puma, and New Balances of the world would unveil a bevy of exclusive kicks.
Of course, as the focus went from on-court performance gear to covetable lifestyle sneakers, the offerings only grew in their scope (but not necessarily their availability). So it’s only natural that luxury brands would start to stake their claim in the same territory. Some labels, like Moncler, opted for a stealthy approach, partnering with Rich Paul’s Klutch Sports Group on a limited-edition jacket seeded to players like Ben Simmons.
Others teamed up with credible partners in the All-Star space for charitable collaborations and other community-focused activations. RIMOWA and StockX created a series of limited-edition apparel and luggage created by pairing Chicagoans like Vic Mensa, Don C., Easy Otabor of Infinite Archives, and artist Hebru Brantley with clout-laden out-of-towners like Chris Gibbs of UNION, Melody Ehsani, and Angelo Baque of Awake. The covetable goods were only made available via raffle after donating to Chicago-based nonprofit Common Ground Foundation.
Meanwhile, Jordan Brand brought out two longtime collaborators, Kim Jones and Virgil Abloh, to give students in the Jordan WINGS program the opportunity of a lifetime. The two oversaw a workshop where prospective student design teams made hoodies, and the winners were selected for a summer internship at Jordan Brand, and would also get to spend a week at the ateliers of Off-White™ and Dior.
“We both are designers that value cultural movements like the Air Jordan. And we put that on the same level as the work that we do in Paris,” said Abloh at the panel. Jones recalled the last time the two were in the city together was in 2008, during a tour stop with Kanye West. He’s equally enamored with the second city’s rich musical history, and reminded the audience that its scene also birthed house music. “This is a very important city that is home for a lot of us, but it’s contributed a lot to the world of basketball culture and fashion,” continued Abloh. “What interests me is how is the younger generation going to thumbs up or thumbs down the existing world ahead.”
Indeed, the resounding message that brands — both in sportswear and luxury — were trying to send at All-Star Weekend was figuring out ways to give back to the community. That was the main impetus for Gucci, who opened a pop-up store dedicated to its new Psychedelic collection on the city’s North Side. The colorful new monogram is emblazoned on a series of apparel, footwear, and accessories, including a $1,980 basketball that subtly nodded to that other event happening during the weekend.
Gucci was celebrating the Chicago-based recipients of the Gucci North America Changemakers Impact Fund. Local organizations After School Matters and Braven were chosen as recipients of grants up to $50,000 for a one-year funding cycle. Youth from both organizations came out to the event and got to meet athletes like Derrick Rose and Nick Young as well as celebrities like Spike Lee.
Susan Chokachi, president and chief executive officer of Gucci North America, grew up in Illinois, so being back in the city felt like a homecoming. “I spent my formative years here, and so to see two organizations that are giving so much of their time, energy, dedication to bringing out the greatest potential in youth here in Chicago really gives me such pride,” she said in a speech at the event.
“What Marco [Bizzari] and Susan have invested into this platform — Gucci Changemakers — it’s a real thing. It’s not an agenda. This is something that we believe in,” added Antoine Phillips, vice president of brand and culture engagement at Gucci who leads the Changemakers Program. “We’re one of the first luxury brands to have a fund set up like this. I’ve had the privilege of working at many, and I know in terms of getting access, space, and opportunity people of color, this is something that’s going to go really, really far.”
While Gucci’s celebration took place outside of any official partnership with the league, there’s no denying the brand’s enduring appeal to players and fans alike. Spike Lee honored Kobe Bryant’s memory at the Oscars by showing up in a custom Lakers purple suit with Lakers gold trim and Bryant’s “24” on the lapel, designed for him by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. Chokachi says it reinforces how he’s made the house a platform for authentic self-expression, where a “Gucci-fication” of the self enhances personal style rather than replaces it.
“Historically, creative directors sort of told you what to wear, how to wear it, when to wear it. He instead unleashes his creativity into the world and then asks you to interpret it based on how it best expresses you,” said Chokachi. “You see Spike looking the way Spike does… it’s distinctly Gucci, but it is so uniquely [him]. I don’t know any other creative director who’s been able to manage that.”
And what does Spike Lee, who hung up his Oscars suit and reportedly is having it framed, think of the Italian luxury house making such a big statement during All-Star Weekend?
“Gucci’s doing the right thing,” he said.