As the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics go head to head in the NBA Finals, each team’s players have brought their best play to the field — and their best looks to the tunnel.
Basketball stars have turned their matchday arrivals into runway shows. The “tunnel walk”, in which players make their way from an underground arena entrance to the locker room, has become an opportunity for them to flex their fashion muscles before donning their uniforms. Stephen Curry, the Golden State observatory, has used those apparitions to showcase the work of independent black designers.
Sherri McMullen, the owner of Oakland boutique McMullen, has been working with Mr. Curry and his stylist, Sheraine Robinson. “His camp reached out to see if I was available to style him for Black History Month, particularly with a focus on highlighting underrepresented black designers,” said Ms. McMullen.
Throughout February, Mr. Curry posted many of those outfits on his professional Instagram account @sc30inc, tagging menswear labels like June79, Talley and Twine and Spencer Badu in his posts. On February 28, he wrote in an Instagram caption on his personal account, @stephencurry30, that while Black History Month may be ending, “#BHMFits doesn’t stop here.” In the postseason, he would continue to work with Ms. McMullen and Ms. Robinson to source pieces from black designers and shine a light on their work.
The finals give players the opportunity to show off their style and get the names of designers in front of a large audience. According to Nielsen, nearly 13 million viewers watched at the peak of Game 1. (Game 2 peaked at over 14 million viewers.)
For that reason, Ms. McMullen said, “the first look is always very important.” Patrick Henry, a Los Angeles designer called “Fresh” who has a line called Richfresh, created a tailored lightweight wool suit accented with red, green, and yellow color blocks as a nod to Pan-Africanism. An Instagram video of the look, shared by the NBA and Golden State accounts, has nearly five million views.
“If nothing else, wearing my clothes helps Steph build my brand,” said Mr. Henry. “I am an independent entrepreneur, so moments like these are very important for the growth of my brand. And when he wears my clothes, it makes other NBA players pay attention.” He added that other players’ stylists approached him on Instagram after the tunnel walk.
For Game 2 of the finale, Ms. McMullen turned to designer Akintunde Ahmad to outfit Mr. Curry. His label Ade Dehye makes extensive use of screen printing and manufactures its clothing in Ghana.
“It was a big win to see someone the size of Steph wearing my overcoat,” said Mr. Ahmad, born and raised in Oakland. “We’re not talking about him wearing it to the car wash where someone might have taken a picture — we’re talking about walking into the NBA Finals where all eyes are on him.”
mr. Ahmad said the engagement on his personal Instagram page and the sales on his Shopify site in the 48 hours after Mr. Curry peaks. “This is also a big win for sustainable fashion and goods manufacturing people in West Africa – and Ghana in particular – because it shows that there are things coming from that region that people often overlook,” said the designer.
Whitney Michel, a Parsons graduate whose minimalist Michel Men line includes socks, hats and bandanas, designed the sky-blue sweater Mr. Curry wore on Wednesday night’s pregame walk.
“It’s a stamp of approval and feels like confirmation that I’m on the right track and need to keep working it out,” she said, adding that “it really speaks to supportive industry people like Sherri, and people like Steph who really vote for uplifting for people who are worthy, but may not always receive support.”
“He helps open doors that others might not otherwise answer unless it’s Black History Month of Juneteenth,” she added.
Randy D. Williams, of Talley and Twine, was excited to see Mr. Curry wearing his brand’s Worley chronograph watch before Game 2. for 100 years and giving celebrities free products,” he said. “Unless celebrities make it a point to do what Steph does, it’s really an uphill battle for smaller brands.”
Mr Curry, who declined to comment on this article through his publicist, has a particularly strong influence on consumers. After mr. Curry donned a green Trophy Hunting terry cloth tracksuit in May, the night the Warriors won the Western Conference championship, the company sold hundreds of the tracksuits, according to Jason Gaines, a Trophy Hunting founder.
Mr. Gaines said Mr. Curry is driving sales even outside of California – “New York, the Midwest and everywhere because he has fans everywhere, including abroad. We always get a huge hit of orders from China and South Korea. ”
“These basketball players have influence like musicians and rappers,” he added.
And that influence is not limited to fans. “These players are influenced by each other more than they care to admit,” said Mr. Williams.
Courtney Mays, a stylist whose clients include Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul, said the tunnel has been linked to social media, “associated with consumerism.”
“And so if you see Chris, Steph, LeBron — fill in the blank with the name of the player wearing a product — you could buy it and in turn support that small business,” she said.
The visibility is striking. The NBA’s Instagram account, which regularly highlights tunnel walks, has 67.8 million followers. The Golden State Warriors and Mr. Curry have tens of millions of followers on Instagram.
Ian Pierno, a stylist who describes the fashions of NBA and WNBA stars on the Instagram account @LeagueFits, says otherwise. “Celebrities like actors and musicians only have a few red carpets a year, but basketball players play between 80 and 100 games,” he said. “They actually have a red carpet every third day of the year if you spread them out.”
Joe Williams, who runs @LeagueFits with Mr. Pierno, said this translated to “100 different opportunities to be a platform.” “If you look at another popular sport, like professional football, there are only about 20 chances,” he said.