The NBA Finals are nearly here, and I’ve been covering them since 2002 when the LA Lakers swept the NJ Nets, first for BET and then Fox and now ESPN. The networks change, but one thing stays the same: Every year I come up with a unique signature look, whether it be a slick silhouette, cut or a blingy accessory. I’ve done double-breasted suits, Cartier frames and a “Godfather”-style red rose in my lapel to name a few. My clothes have to be just as flamboyant as my analysis.
I grew up poor, but I grew up in Detroit, where dressing up was a way of life. We like to put a little extra sauce on things, and get loud with our clothes. I know my style isn’t going to be for everybody, and that’s OK. And that’s a credo I have always lived by. I love to be fearless, even if I do have a misstep or two — that comes with the territory of being a tastemaker.
For me, fashion became a companion to what I did on the court and in the studio. I’ve always equated nice clothes with a sense of pride and a tangible symbol of success.
In 1991, when I burst on the scene with a norms shattering crew called the Fab Five, I was all about being punk rock rebellious but through a hip-hop filter. While everyone else was wearing shorter shorts, we all wore ours long and baggy. We sported black socks, black sneakers and bald heads. It was an attitude-driven aesthetic that changed college basketball forever. When I was drafted, I went full on Motor City bold. In a sea of tan- and earth-toned suits, I stood out in a red pinstripe number and red gator shoes. Why red? Well, I thought I was going to be taken by the LA Clippers, and I wanted to represent their colors. I’m sure the Denver Nuggets really appreciated my suit when they selected me.
And before it became normal for NBA players to work with stylists, I signed on as the first client of a woman who later gave the league a style makeover. Rachel Johnson — who turned LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Paul and Victor Cruz into bona fide fashionistos — helped me embrace a more gentlemanly, refined look, while the rest of the league was wearing baggy duds before the dress code was instituted in 2005.
For me, fashion became a companion to what I did on the court and in the studio. I’ve always equated nice clothes with a sense of pride and a tangible symbol of success. More importantly, it helps to forge an identity. When you become an athlete, people try to minimize everything you do and call you a winner or a loser based only on how many championships you’ve won, which means there are only a handful of successful people, like Jordan, Magic and the late great Kobe. I never won a ring, but blazing my own sartorial path has been a championship of sorts. Looking sharp makes me want to work harder and reminds me of all of the times as a child, that people called me skinny and bumpy and I was wearing patches in my pants and holes in my shoes that were too small.
As a kid, I always admired highly fashionable people, like Don Cornelius and Berry Gordy. But I learned the merits of being crisp from a special lady. My “Grammie,” Mary Belle Hicks, who passed away last week at 103 was the matriarch of the family and kept everyone in line. She was an angel. Grammie worked in health care, fed us V8 in the morning and gave us all a whooping. She was also immaculate. She always wore big hats to church, like the colorful ones that you see at the Kentucky Derby. One very special thing she did was create scrapbooks for me. She clipped every newspaper article and taped every TV segment that mentioned my name since I was in the fifth grade. She was at the draft with me. She told me I was going to make it. She gave me wings.
With Grammie in mind, I’m still kicking around a sartorial concept for this year’s NBA Finals that will get people talking or maybe even shaking their heads. I’ll be deliberating on that and more in this Renaissance Man column. I’ll be sharing style tips, dispatches from the sidelines, anecdotes, food experiences, culture and music, and bringing you into my unique world — with a little Detroit flair, of course.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.