Before the start of every NBA game, photos of players strolling down the arena hallways showing off their pregame clothing apparel can be found all over social media.
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Pregame photos have become the way for players to show off all the latest fashion trends. As many players continue to make inroads into the fashion space, some of that clothing seen is designed by the players themselves.
Most recently, Keita Bates-Diop of the San Antonio Spurs showed up to a game wearing apparel from the ‘Free The Future’ clothing line. The line was designed as a partnership between NBA player Wes Iwundu and fashion designer Eric Archibald of Diplomacy.
Getting into the fashion business was something that Iwundu had wanted to do for a while and it finally came to fruition during a meeting with Archibald through mutual contacts a year ago.
“They kind of brought me together for a link-up late last summer and we just got together, put our ideas together and what we came up with we were excited about,” Iwundu told Basketball Insiders. “We were like, ‘let’s go with it.’ Free the Future came about and we just kept working at it, putting more ideas into it and this is where we’re at right now.”
Where they’re at right now is Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, CA, home to quite a few different little fashion shops. On a little strip of the boulevard nestled right by The Grove shopping center, you can find anything from clothing to sneakers.
For the next month, there will be one more pop-up shop added to the mix. The shop, also titled ‘Free the Future,’ will feature clothing from Iwundu and Archibald’s line as well as products from Nouvintage eyewear and LUVV therapeutics.
The message behind the name for the clothing line first originated during that initial meeting in the summer of 2020. The country was experiencing a period of social upheaval alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. Iwundu was with the Orlando Magic at the time who did not make the trek to the bubble restart.
He used that time to help cultivate the clothing line as well as what he wanted the message to be. The clothing features an astronaut as part of its design, a design that Iwundu said was intentional.
“It just pretty much represents that everyday struggle the average person faces in today’s world. The astronaut is representative of growth, no matter where you start from, there’s always a chance to get better and see continued growth,” Iwundu said. “We just wanted to bring the spotlight to that. There’s always a way to get as far as you want as long as you keep working towards it.”
The line was initially launched on June 19, 2021, to commemorate Juneteenth. Part of the proceeds will go towards 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 is still at the forefront, Iwundu believes it’s crucial to continue to spread the message of ‘Free the Future.’
“There are so many issues we are facing today in the world as humans,” Iwundu said. “It’s about figuring out ways to get better with it and become more of one I would say. It takes time, everything takes time. You got to start somewhere.”
And aside from striving for social change, the fashion industry gives players the opportunity to embrace their creativity and carve out an outlet outside of basketball. NBA players are often compartmentalized into what they do on the court, and people sometimes forget that they have lives off the court as well.
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 made the venture into apparel. And of course, there’s Michael Jordan’s signature Jordan Brand line.
“It’s a different way to express yourself besides just basketball. It’s easy to get caught up with us being athletes,” Iwundu said. “We’re human too, we have other ideals and other things that excite us. These are just different ways to get it out and express it whether it’s clothes, video games, whatever it might be. It’s easy to get caught up in it, especially as an average fan, but you just got to understand that everybody’s human.”
Part of what makes Iwundu’s partnership with Archibald so significant is that Diplomacy is a Black-owned brand. During the bubble restart when players made sure that social justice was at the forefront, the NBA came up with a plan to start the NBA Foundation.
The purpose of the foundation was to award Black-owned businesses grant money to continue to build up the economic power for communities most in need. Promoting the growth of Black-owned businesses is something that Iwundu feels is crucial when it comes to social change.
“We’re in a time where being diverse with things and including diversity is a big point and I think it’s a beautiful thing just having different inputs, different backgrounds, different stories all coming together. It’s a beautiful thing when you can do that as a team, I feel like that produces your best work,” Iwundu said. “Being a Black-owned brand, I want to see more. It’s just continued growth. It’s all about starting somewhere.”
And while Iwundu is having fun with his venture into the clothing 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 at the trade deadline along with James Johnson for JJ Redick and Nicolo Melli. The Pelicans then traded him this past summer to the Charlotte Hornets in the sign and trade for Devonte Graham, and the Hornets cut him in training camp.
Currently a free agent, Iwundu is continuing to stay ready in case that phone should ring.
“I’m just getting back into the swing of things, every day is a basic routine. I’m solid right now, just trying to stay with that routine,” Iwundu said. “I know that call can come at any moment, any hour, any minute. Right now it’s just keeping that routine, staying in shape and staying ready, that’s the whole process.”
As he waits for that call to come, Iwundu is confident that he can contribute to another NBA team as well as show off a little bit of his game that he feels like he hasn’t gotten to show just yet.
“I can bring a lot of things. First, defensive versatility, and also my playmaking. I haven’t been able to show a lot of my playmaking the past couple of years with the ball being in my hands, that’s something I want to get back to,” Iwundu said. “That’s something that made me get to where I was. Just getting back to the basics and doing what I’ve been doing to this point. It’s just going from there and trying to get me the best opportunity.”
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