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Beyond The Basketball Court: The Influence of the NBA on Street, Style and Culture in India

We take a deep dive into the rather exceptional rise of the NBA India and the impact of basketball culture. Hint: it’s not just the Ranveer Singh magic.

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With basketball having been solidified as a mainstay in fashion, music, content, movies, and various other collaborations, no other sport matches up to this benchmark. It’s through this influence on pop culture and by nurturing community and communication via NBA Style (a platform to showcase the convergence between creative expression and basketball), it has had the power to establish a strong hold even in a newer, emerging market like India. Directly or indirectly influencing the street, style, and lifestyle of an entire generation. So, let’s unravel the journey of the NBA and basketball culture, from America to India.

First, A Little History

Though fashion and basketball have been synonymous with each other since the 60s and 70s – courtesy of Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Frazier, and many others, the influence of the NBA on fashion really started to take the world by storm in the 80s. One of the major cultural moments of the decade was the launch of Air Jordans with Michael Jordan and Nike; “a shoe is just a shoe until there’s a ‘Jumpman’ logo on it!” And then, there’s Dennis Rodman and Allen Iverson who were key to sartorially defining the pop culture moments of the late 90s and early 2000s. Like Dennis Rodman’s infamous VMA 1996 gender-fluid fit featuring a gold crop top, velvet coat, and pants, and a diamond belt, and Iverson’s all-white party fit with the signature blend of street and early 2000s hip-hop.

(L-R) Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Frazier, Michael Jordan
(L-R) Dennis Rodman, Allen Iverson

What further cemented the influence of the NBA on style and culture was the NBA tunnel, which is when the players exit the bus and walk through the tunnel to the locker room. This pre-game fashion runway of sorts has been setting Instagram aflame season after season. From showcasing distinctive personal style to attracting brands and conveying social messages, the NBA Tunnel Walk has helped shape the new ideals of the game of the NBA Style and thereby created a direct link between the players, brands, and NBA’s massive community.

For instance, Chris Paul highlighted African-American designers and USA’s historically Black colleges and universities with his tunnel fits during the past seasons, and this season, LeBron James created the much-needed buzz for the Tiffany X Nike collaboration by wearing Tiffany X Nike Air Force 1 and a supremely limited-edition varsity jacket. Fashion historically has been the ground zero for creative expression, whether it’s the streets of Paris or the Basketball court in New York. NBA players know it too well!

Chris Paul & LeBron James

Hop Skip & Jump To India

While the crossover between fashion and the NBA has forever transpired pop culture moments across decades and generations in the USA, it’s been a fairly recent yet strong phenomenon in India. Yes, basketball is a number’s game. And with more than 3.6 million fans across localised social media channels and 2.2 billion impressions during the past NBA season, it isn’t surprising that basketball has been steadily growing in popularity in India with a continued dominating influence across the street and culture. And to tap into the global force of the NBA operating at the intersection of sports and style and India as its rapidly growing market, the NBA launched the NBA Style India in 2021.

Love Thy Community

NBA Style has been documenting the best of style, creativity, and expression to engage Indian street culture with basketball culture – after all, fans don’t just follow the sport, but also look for an insight into their favourite players’ sense of style and way of life, while toeing the line between style recreation and personal expression. It also exposes a wider audience to the ideals of the NBA through an incubation of style and culture-centered content and community. This amalgamation is elevated furthermore when fashion-forward celebrities and creators share their love for the NBA and serve consistent heat with their basketball-inspired fits. So, to take charge of ingraining the NBA Style in Indian pop culture and beyond, NBA India brought forward a bonafide fan of the sport (and fashion!)  Ranveer Singh as the NBA Brand Ambassador for India. 

Ranveer Singh, NBA Brand Ambassador for India

Singh has changed the way we perceive men’s fashion in India with his luxuriously maximalist fits boasting of hybridisation of tailoring and sport, street and androgyny, and indie and international luxury brands. So, when he steps out in a bright and bold All-Star fit or attends matches almost as India’s number one NBA fan, the country notices. Just last week, he starred in the NBA’s highly talked-about #ThisIsBasketball campaign to influence and inspire the next generation to play the sport. But that’s not all he does, when it’s the basketball season, he truly lives and breathes the sport. You can tell that his understanding of and the love for the sport is not transactional or incidental to him being the face of the NBA. And, that’s what attracts new people to the sport – to share his enthusiasm.

His fellow musician, artist, and creator hypebeasts are doing their part too. Case in point – creator Aahana Sharma’s sneaker-highlighting traditional Indian and street fits, model Elina Banerjee’s eclectic balance of trends, sneakers and layers, musician DIVINE’s play on hip-hop and basketball style with bejewelled neck, tracksuits, and high-top sneakers, and cricketer Shreyas Iyer’s patchwork varsity jacket and bandana print tracks ensemble. The cricket icon also features in NBA Style’s newly launched campaign that brings forward his fit philosophy, inspirations, and admiration of Lebron James. From Air Jordan 1 to Lebron 17, from Air Force 1 Crater to Travis Scott X Air Jordan, his sneaker collection features the most coveted styles – and yes, he chooses his sneaker first, when putting together a fit. 

(L-R) Shreyas Iyer, Elina Banerjee, DIVINE

Besides these sartorialists, Indian designers like Dhruv Kapoor and Kanika Goyal bring an Indian influence to American street style codes with their designs. In 2022, Ananya Modi’s Urban Wear brand ALL2DEFY released a celebratory collection for the 75th anniversary of the NBA reimagined streetwear with classic basketball elements, the NBA logo and iconic teams. Even, the recent ‘All The Way Up’ campaign in India captures the rising hip-hop and basketball culture in the country by bringing forth the stories of artists – GD47, Irfana Hameed, Fotty Seven, and Hanuman Kind who have found and continue to find kinship in this amalgamation of rhythm and flow, street and court.

Ananya Modi’s celebratory collection for the 75th anniversary of the NBA

‘All The Way Up’ campaign featuring GD47, Irfana Hameed, Fotty Seven, and Hanumankind

Hello, Gen Z

For a widespread cultural convergence, it’s essential to shift the attention to the fashion’s beloved Gen Z – because if the streets are where the culture is made, it’s the youth that makes the culture. In order to capture their attention, NBA Style released the Y2K campaign in India featuring Krishen Riyat, Ikisvon Jamang, and many other Gen Z favourites. To continue to string together the nostalgic hearts, the NBA Style brought back the culture-defining basketball trading cards from the 90s (with a digital twist) to celebrate and share the stories of Indian basketball stars like Lalrina Renthlei, Dhruv Barman, Akanksha Singh, Raspreet Sidhu, Amjyot Gill, and Shireen Limaye. To true ballers of the game and culture! 

Y2K campaign with Krishen Riyat and Ikisvon Jamang

BB Trading Cards with Lalrina Renthlei, Shireen Limaye, Amjyot Gill, Raspreet Sidhu, Dhruv Barman, Akanksha Singh

Scroll down NBA Style’s Instagram page, and you’ll see fascinating images of jerseys suited up, reimagined camouflage styling, player dunking in a gold sari, and sneakers, it’s a wonderful world of global basketball trends marrying contemporary Indian aesthetics.

By now, you are hip to the game of the NBA and its fashion-forward players. And yes, the hottest action is no longer just happening on the court. Zoom in on the courtside, pre-game tunnel, or even Instagram to experience the new wave of the NBA ft. street and culture – after all, the phenomenon of the NBA in India isn’t just impacted by structural development, but rather by the much bigger force of lifestyle and influence. A slam dunk!

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