Before the start of each NBA game, photos of players walking the arena’s hallways showing their pre-game clothes can be found on social media.
Pre-game photos have become the way for players to show off all the latest fashion trends. While many gamers continue to make forays into the fashion space, some of the clothing seen is designed by the gamers themselves.
Most recently, Keita Bates-Diop of the San Antonio Spurs showed up to a game wearing clothing from the “Free The Future” clothing line. The line was conceived as a partnership between NBA player Wes Iwundu and fashion designer Eric Archibald of Diplomacy.
Getting into the fashion business was something Iwundu had wanted to do for a while and it finally came to fruition when meeting Archibald through mutual contacts a year ago.
âThey kind of got me together for an affair late last summer and we got together, put our ideas together and what we came up with got us excited,â Iwundu told Basketball Insiders. âWe said to ourselves, ‘let’s go with this’. Free the Future was born and we just kept working on it, putting more ideas into it and that’s where we are right now.
Where they are now is on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, California, which is home to several different little fashion boutiques. On a small strip of boulevard tucked right next to The Grove Shopping Center, you can find everything from clothes to sneakers.
For next month, there will be another pop-up store added to the mix. The boutique, also titled âFree the Futureâ, will feature clothing from the Iwundu and Archibald line, as well as Nouvintage eyewear and LUVV therapy products.
The message behind the name of the clothing line was born during this first meeting in the summer of 2020. The country was going through a period of social upheaval alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. Iwundu was with the Orlando Magic at the time which didn’t make the trip until the bubble rebooted.
He used this time to help cultivate the clothing line as well as what he wanted the message to be. The garment features an astronaut as part of its design, a design that Iwundu says was intentional.
âThis pretty much represents the daily struggle that the average person faces in today’s world. The astronaut is representative of growth, no matter where you start from, there is always a chance to improve and see continued growth, âsaid Iwundu. âWe just wanted to draw attention to this. There is always a way to get as far as you want as long as you keep working on it.
The line was originally launched on June 19, 2021, to commemorate June 17. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Houston Boys and Girls Club where Iwundu grew up. As the country continues to grapple with racial and social justice issues and the pandemic still looms large, Iwundu believes it is crucial to continue to spread the ‘Free the Future’ message.
âThere are so many issues that we face today in the world as human beings,â said Iwundu. âIt’s about finding ways to improve and become more,â I would say. It takes time, everything takes time. You have to start somewhere.
And in addition to fighting for social change, the fashion industry is giving players the chance to embrace their creativity and carve out an outlet outside of basketball. NBA players are often compartmentalized in what they do on the court, and people sometimes forget that they also have a life off the court.
Getting into the fashion industry is something that several NBA players have done in recent years. Dwyane Wade, Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are just a few who have dabbled in clothing. And of course, there’s the Jordan Brand line from Michael Jordan.
âIt’s a different way of expressing yourself besides basketball. It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that we’re athletes, âsaid Iwundu. âWe are human too, we have other ideals and other things that fascinate us. These are just different ways of getting it out and expressing it, whether it’s clothes, video games, whatever. It’s easy to get carried away with it, especially as an average fan, but you just have to understand that everyone is human.
Part of what makes Iwundu’s partnership with Archibald so important is that Diplomacy is a black-owned brand. During the reboot of the bubble, when players made sure social justice was at the forefront, the NBA came up with a plan to launch the NBA Foundation.
The purpose of the foundation was to provide grants to black-owned businesses to continue building the economic power of communities most in need. Promoting the growth of black-owned businesses is something that Iwundu says is crucial when it comes to social change.
âWe’re in a time where diversity with things and inclusion of diversity is a big point and I think it’s a beautiful thing to just have different contributions, different backgrounds, different stories that come together. all bring together. It’s a beautiful thing when you can do it as a team, I feel like it produces your best work, âsaid Iwundu. âAs a black owned brand, I want to see more. It’s just continuous growth. It’s about starting somewhere.
And while Iwundu has fun with his adventure in the apparel business, he still has his sights set on his NBA career. After spending the first three years of his career with the Orlando Magic, Iwundu signed with the Dallas Mavericks as a free agent during the 2020 offseason.
He ended up being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on the trade deadline with James Johnson against JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli. The Pelicans then traded him last summer to the Charlotte Hornets as part of the trade for Devonte Graham, and the Hornets cut him at training camp.
Currently a free agent, Iwundu continues to stand ready in case that phone rings.
âI just got back into the bath, every day is a basic routine. I’m solid right now, just trying to stay with this routine, âsaid Iwundu. âI know this call can come anytime, any hour, any minute. For now, just keep that routine, stay in shape, and stay prepared, that’s the whole process. “
While waiting for this call, Iwundu is convinced that he can contribute to another NBA team and show some of his game that he feels he hasn’t been able to show yet.
âI can bring a lot of things. First of all, the defensive versatility, and also my way of playing. I haven’t been able to show a lot of my game over the past two years with the ball in my hands, that’s something I want to come back to, âsaid Iwundu. âIt’s something that got me to where I was. I just get back to basics and do what I’ve done so far. It’s just take it from there and try to give me the best opportunity.