America’s most fashionable sports league is having an upscale run-up to its All-Star Weekend. The National Basketball Association announced Friday that it has entered a partnership with the luxury retailer Bloomingdale’s for a special array of pop-up stores that will sell a curated line of exclusive NBA-themed merchandise in the weeks leading up to the 2015 NBA All-Star Game in New York City. The partnership will also include an editorial dimension created by the men’s magazine GQ.
“We haven’t done a program to the scale of the Bloomingdale’s partnership with a luxury retail partner before,” NBA spokesperson Sheena Morales said.
Many of the brands on sale, including Mitchell & Ness, Sportiqe, Junk Food, Been Trill, Mark McNairy and Stance, will be familiar to hardcore fans of the sport. Mitchell & Ness has long been a leader in throwback gear, while brands like Stance have done clothing deals with NBA players including Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade.
GQ will also participate as an unofficial media partner. In addition to an array of videos, the magazine will feature a spread on Houston Rockets guard James Harden in an upcoming issue of its magazine.
The partnership represents a milestone of sorts for a league that felt compelled to impose a dress code on its players 10 years ago. The move was widely criticized when it was announced by then-NBA Commissioner David Stern, with players like Allen Iverson saying they felt unfairly targeted and commentators calling it "racist." In the years that followed, the NBA has become one of the most fashion-conscious sports leagues in the world.
"Overall the NBA players and league are among the most fashion and style-conscious on a global basis," said Peter Farnsworth, the former senior vice president of global business development for the NBA and the founder of marketing consultancy Foxrock Partners.
"It's fun to see how much the players have embraced it over the years," Farnsworth continued. "The walk between the bus or player's garage and the locker room is the newest form of a fashion runway for the guys."
In addition to athletic shoe deals, a number of players, including Wade and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, have launched fashion lines at top-shelf retailers like Barneys, and watch deals with high-end brands like Hublot. The Association has begun dipping its toes into the fashion world as well, forming partnerships with fast-fashion brands Zara and Forever 21 to sell T-shirts over the past couple years. It has also done smaller partnerships with retailers like Kitson.
But the Bloomingdale’s partnership is much more involved, much more visible and, in Farnsworth's view, the tip of an iceberg. "This will all lead to other nontraditional fashion brands getting involved," he said. "You'll continue to see the creation and delivery of engaging fashion-centric content, the development of cross-over, style-driven events."
The NBA's partnership with Bloomingdale's will run through the NBA's All-Star Game on Feb. 15.