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The NBA Is Finally Leaning Into Its Fashionable Reputation

With an excellent Elder Statesman collab.

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Image of Elder Statesman x NBA Toronto Raptors Sweater Photo: Barneys

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The NBA is known as the most fashionable sports league in North America, but it mostly fell ass-backwards into this reputation. The league and players’s interest in fashion hasn’t always been in harmony, though: Former league commissioner David Stern implemented a dress code in 2005 that banned players from wearing T-shirts, “chains, pendants, or medallions worn over the player's clothes,” “headgear of any kind,” shorts, and sunglasses while participating in anything NBA-related, according to ESPN.

The new guidelines were considered racist by many players — Jason Richardson, a guard with the Golden State Warriors at the time, told AP it targeted black people and claimed Stern was attempting to “sway away from the hip-hop generation.” It suddenly looked like the league was dressed by now-retired Spurs legend and official dadwear icon Tim Duncan, who distributed Costco packs of oversized suits.

Then players realized dressing was just another way for them to assert their prowess and expertise over competitors the same way they do on the basketball court by dressing better than them, too. “Because of the competitive nature of these players, once they learned about fashion, they started going deep into it,” Marc Beckman, chief executive of DMA United, a talent agency that represents Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and others, told Business of Fashion.

Image of Elder Statesman x NBA Golden State Warriors Sweater The Elder Statesman x NBA Golden State Warriors Cashmere Sweater, $1,620

Players like Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade turned high-water pants into partnerships with The Tie Bar and Hublot. Westbrook, a triple-double machine, made endorsement deals with True Religion; did collaborations with Tim Coppens, Del Toro, and Jordan through Barneys; and designed his own line of sunglasses.

The league even infected high fashion. The most recent collection from eccentric label Gypsy Sport was NBA-inspired and featured vintage jerseys turned into dresses. The NBA and its fashionable players have gone fully mainstream.

We now argue over who the best-dressed NBA player is and a couple years ago, a site covering menswear would probably be shut down if it failed to recap the week in NBA fashion.

All the NBA did was lazily ride this current. The gear available through official channels remained unimaginative; the kind of logoed-out tees, hoodies, and hats you’d expect from a league that didn’t have fashion risk-taker Westbrook as one of its biggest stars. The one exception is a small collaboration between the Public School designers and the New York Knicks that resulted in small runs of merch exclusive to the New York-based squad.

But now, the NBA is finally leaning into its high-fashion persona in a real way with an Elder Statesman collaboration that’s understated and beautiful.

Image of Elder Statesman x NBA Los Angeles Lakers Scarf The Elder Statesman x NBA Los Angeles Lakers Cashmere Scarf, $600

The Los Angeles-based brand is known for turning lush cashmere into the kind of sweaters you fall asleep in on the couch in the afternoon and then wear out to a nice post-nap dinner. But that kind of versatility doesn’t come cheap. Hoodies ($1,200), sweaters ($1,620), T-shirts ($585), hats ($420), and scarves ($600) in the capsule are priced similarly to Elder Statesman’s own products.

The difference is that these are covered with team logos from the Warriors, Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers, Thunder, Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics. The best item in the whole collection is a creamy white cashmere sweater printed with a faded NBA logo.

Image of Elder Statesman x NBA Logo Sweater The Elder Statesman x NBA Logo Cashmere-Blend Sweater, $1,600

It’s not something the average fan will be running out to grab, but the stars sitting front row and the monied VIPs finally have NBA gear befitting of their Shaq-sized wallets. It’s not hard to imagine Knicks superfan Ansel Elgort kicking back in the team’s black and white cashmere-silk T-shirt while sitting on Madison Square Garden’s celebrity row. The Warriors cashmere sweater is the perfect item for Silicon Valley bros to fight the Bay Area chill en route to the arena before sitting in expensive seats well within Steph Curry’s shooting range.

And that’s to say nothing of the luxury box crowd, the mansion-owning fans watching in their personal home theaters, and the pick-up basketball team of venture capitalists that Warriors’s owner Joe Lacob plays with.

The NBA is undeniably cool right now, but even if it weren’t, these are sweaters that still would be. There’s nothing Westbrookian about nicely-made knits with a team name or logo on it. The NBA currently has all the fashion cred in the world, and now it’s finally putting that to good use with team gear. This really is where Amazing Happens.

The capsule collection is available now at Barneys. New products and limited editions will continue to be introduced through the holidays, NBA All Star Weekend in February 2017, and the NBA Finals in June, according to a press release.

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