From the moment I saw on social media that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash with his daughter and others, I was pretty confident I knew how the coverage would play out.
First there would be be the news items that offered as much of the factual information surrounding the tragedy. Next would be stories with reaction from celebrities and other major athletes. This would all soon get drowned out by a series of nostalgic recaps of career highs on the court.
What I did not expect to see were a series of tributes to Kobe Bryant’s fashion and style choices.
Most of these were fairly simple Instagram Stories that simply acknowledged Bryant dressed nearly as well as he played basketball.
The gossip site Page Six, however, created an entire slideshow of 27 images that took us all the way from Bryant’s Draft Day in 1996 to an appearance at last year’s ESPY Awards in an admittedly outstanding dark green suit.
Even better, though, was a collage on Instagram put together by Jay Fielden, former Editor-in-Chief of Esquire magazine, who praised everything from the cut of his suits to his love of monochromic colours:
“He was cool—why didn’t I buy that pair of @nike Zoom Kobe 6 “Grinch”s—but he had dignity and self-respect,” Fielden wrote. “He wasn’t chasing attention with an out-of-control ego or hopping on a silly trend that would make him look like just a rookie again. His legacy is layered and deep. His life was brief, but his influence is big.”
In a profile of Bryant from 2008 that Esquire republished today, there’s a note that his personal popularity translated into strong appeal for the player’s own merchandise. The article article claims that Bryant’s apparel outsold more than any other NBA player.
This led me down a rabbit hole in which I looked up a clip of Bryant being interviewed on camera by GQ in 2015, where he praised “classic” basketball jersey colours and suggested it was time to return to mesh rather than “everyone trying to do something different in terms of the fabric.”
While it’s certainly not unusual for a well-known person’s signature looks to be celebrated as part of the public’s mourning process, it’s usually been something limited to those whose clothes were an integral part of creating their image in an image-based job. Obvious examples include people like Steve McQueen and James Dean, or politicians like JFK.
Kobe Bryant’s influence on men’s fashion and style feels like it’s being captured more quickly, and in a surprising way given that, in the end, it had no bearing on his ability to make a shot or pass a ball.
Unlike movies that get shown in perpetuity on TV, Bryan’t personal style moments are unlikely to be revisited very often (unless you really like watching old ESPY Awards shows). Those who keep up posters of him will likely feature him in a jersey, not one of his suits or leather jackets.
Will Kobe Bryant make it into the pantheon of men’s style that includes Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire, Paul Newman and Cary Grant? Or is this just an effort to notice something other than athletic ability, to reflect more of the person behind the great plays?
Becoming a posthumous fashion icon tends to take years, if not decades, but in the meantime I like the fact that people are recognizing that Kobe Bryant — the legend, the GOAT — worked hard to look the part as well as be the part. To make sure how he expressed himself with clothes had all the panache (and hard work behind the scenes) as executing a slam dunk.