COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on both the sports and fashion worlds. Since the start of the pandemic, fashion events have either been canceled or significantly scaled-down, and professional sports seasons have come to screeching halts. Not only did the sudden shut down stop games for leagues such as the National Basketball Association, but it also prevented sports and fashion lovers alike from being able to enjoy their favorite athletes' pre-game sartorial choices.
In June, the NBA approved a plan to resume the season, inviting the 22 teams that were within six games of a playoff spot to Disney World where the remaining matches would take place. The NBA Bubble as it is known, is an isolation zone at the storied Florida theme park that allows teams to compete, while also keeping players safe from the threat of contracting the coronavirus. With heavy restrictions in place, fans not being permitted to attend in person, and recent changes to the NBA dress-code that allows players to dress more casually when representing the league while not in uniform, it was assumed that players would veer away from their more striking fashion choices while in the Bubble, but that has not necessarily been the case.
The moment PJ Tucker of the Houston Rockets arrived in Orlando toting an oversized Hermes Birkin bag as a carry-on, we knew the fashion spectacle that has become synonymous with NBA entrances wouldn't be totally lost (Tucker also reportedly brought 100 pairs of sneakers with him to the Bubble). As more players arrived, the main fashion stars began showing up and (kind of) showing out. While the fashions have not been at their normal level of extravagance, more than likely because of sensitivities around the pandemic and the intensity of Florida’s climate, there have still been some interesting looks to enjoy.
One of the main fashion trends spotted in the Bubble has been, surprise surprise, short-sets. In every color imaginable, athletes such as Lebron James have sported the classic summer combo, with James even going for a completely opened camp collar shirt for one look, which probably served just as well for ventilation as it did for style. Bold patterns and prints have been in full effect and executed in almost every iteration on most athletes. However, style stars like Russell Westbrook and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have been taking their patterned outfits to the next level, often combining unconventional prints in the same look. Alexander's plaid worker button-down shirt mixed with a red-lip embossed New York Yankees t-shirt, paired with tuxedo-striped shorts and paint-splattered, rainbow-colored croc shoes was one that definitely caught attention.
However, despite the valiant efforts of most players, it has been Chris Paul who has had the biggest impact on fashion in the Bubble (and beyond). Collaborating with stylist Courtney Mays, Paul’s tributes to historically black colleges and universities via the outfits he has worn during the pre-COVID season and inside the Bubble have served as an opportunity to highlight institutions that often do not get a similar level of media attention that many predominantly white institutions receive, especially in the realm of professional sports.
Through his stylish combinations of high fashion pieces and athletic wear featuring the names or mascots of the schools, he has managed to highlight the vast range of HBCUs that exist including smaller schools like Livingstone College and more well-known institutions such as Howard and Morehouse. Even though Paul did not attend an HBCU himself, through his parents (both graduates of HBCUs) and greater community he clearly recognizes the importance of supporting and showcasing these historic institutions in such a public way. Indeed, it is a perfect example of how fashion, sometimes seen as frivolous, can serve as the best medium to express important political or social messages, specifically as we continue to show the world how much Black lives (and institutions) do matter.