For many, comprehending how any one person could consume the endless output of sports talk is impossible. It’s just a game, right? Isn’t it rather simple?
And there’s some merit to that. Sports, to most, qualify as gameplay. Games are thought to be leisure, games are thought to be fun. They’re not work. They’re not survival. They’re not science or medicine. Their outcome is not changing the world.
Yet that’s what’s beautiful. Enter a field, the hardwood, the pitch, and much of the human experience—the survival, the politics, the inequity—is diminished. The weight of the world is suspended. And yet it’s here, in this suspension, that the very few, the exceedingly fortunate, the mind-bendingly talented—the professionals—do their work, fight for their survival. Yes it’s a game, but it’s a game played by humans—and humans, in all of their glory and grotesqueness, are far from simple.
Today, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and denizen of style, Kyle Kuzma, is chatting with David Hollander, an Assistant Dean and Clinical Professor at New York University, known for teaching his beloved course, “How Basketball Can Save the World.” Hollander’s course, as you might expect, explores the nuances of the game—invented in New England nearly 150 years ago—beyond the court, and how such an exploration might help us confront life’s many trials and tribulations.
For Kuzma, the on/off court consideration is a fluidly plucked bow. Blending disciplines is his credo. Regularly in attendance at fashion shows like Marni and Fendi, and the founder of his own clothing label, Childhood Dreams—which has enjoyed collaboration with sportswear stalwart, Puma—the hooper was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. The eventual first round draft pick attended the University of Utah before being selected by the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. Kuzma would end up in the city this magazine calls home, where he won a championship with the Lakers in an eerie and unfortunate year, when audiences weren’t permitted and their typical pomp and bravado was replaced by hi-def stereo. Kuzma now plays for the Washington Wizards, where he has averaged nearly 21 points and 8 rebounds a game, and chalks up a salary in the neighborhood of a cool $13m a year.
Kuzma was photographed in Washington, DC, where he currently resides, and where he continues to hone his passions for photography and painting. And it’s these passions, it’s this intersectional stroke of artistry and drive and new school masculine modernism, that brings the likes of Kyle Kuzma to the table with Professor Hollander, who is co-hosting a new season of fashion collective Bristol Studio’s podcast, 94&More, where they discuss how the rigors of the cherished sport—where players fly and a nanosecond’s fortune can meltdown an arena—extend off the court, into the world, where everyone else’s dreams are spun, hopes are divine and dashed, and legacies are woven.
David Hollander: Kyle, it’s really nice to meet you. I read that you gave a million-dollar donation to the YMCA of Greater Flint to help build a new gymnasium. The first thing I want to ask you is, how does someone’s imagination change? How does someone’s sense of their own possibility and what they could become change in a space like that, of a basketball court?
Kyle Kuzma: How does that change, I think, for human beings? Anybody? Right? Everybody has something that they can go to that kind of takes them away from reality. Growing up, we were poor. My mom, she worked paycheck to paycheck. The kitchen wasn’t always filled up with food. I always had to watch my brother and sister. Some of my friends were basketball players, which was good. But some friends did illegal things when we were younger. I’ve always said that the basketball court was a place where once I stepped between the lines, you have to become an animal to be successful, right? I always say that when I step onto a basketball court, all my problems, all my issues, all the sad things I got going on—when I get on the basketball court, that’s my safe haven. That’s my serenity. That’s my place where I can just be myself authentically and compete because that’s something that just drives me. Competition drives me.
That feeling if you can almost touch it and remember it, of serenity, how much do you see those moments tied to the range of creative interests and different pieces of yourself now?
That’s why I’m so well-rounded, and I’m so passionate about many things because I’m able to enter all these types of safe havens of my passions and my hobbies. As a professional athlete, I’ve been incredibly embedded into my career, embedded into my work ethic. I’m embedded into improving because I owe that to myself, and I owe that to my family, and I owe that to the game of basketball. But when you’re on this type of high level, there’s also a lot of high pressures and high stresses that go along with that when you’re trying to become great. I believe that all my other passions, I can jump into those different realities and industries and different lifestyles to get me away from my professional job, that’s my baby and my passion, and come back into it feeling even more rage of love and passion for the game.
Let’s talk about some of those interests that you have outside of the game that feed you and nourish you like that. Where do you draw from, to inform your personal style?
You know, over the years, I always just go with how I’m feeling. I would explain my life as very versatile. I think that’s a really good one-hitter for who I am. On a basketball court, I’m an extremely versatile player, I can pretty much do everything on the court. My personal style, it’s all over the place, it’s versatile as well. If sometimes that may just be feeling a little blah, I’ll put on some joggers and sweats, lots of colors. But also I can wear a suit, I can wear something that’s high luxury, I could wear something that’s very streetwear. I can mix and match and still make it become an art piece. I think from a fashion standpoint, how I look at that is just inspirations of life nowadays, I’m really looking at just old photos of iconic people of different times in the world, of some of my idols, or people I may see that I’m like, ‘That looks really really cool, how can I revamp this and modernize it into my own flair to accomplish a look?’ And that really brings me joy.
Joy is a great word. Not everybody has that kind of versatility in fashion. How does confidence or any other values inform the way you express yourself in fashion? How important is that?
Confidence is everything in life. If I wasn’t so confident, if I didn’t have the irrational confidence that I have, I probably wouldn’t be who I am today. It’s all about feeling good and feeling good about yourself. I feel the most alive when I’m confident and I’m happy, I’m free-flowing, and I’m doing what I want. And I think within fashion, within trying looks in the revolving door of how fashion is, you kind of have to have confidence if you really want to be a part of something bigger.
I work with a basketball lifestyle apparel brand out of LA called Bristol Studio, and one of the things they talk about a lot is truth—the truth of how they were growing up around those neighborhood courts. I’d like to know, how much is truth part of the message of your fashion?
Truth is a part of my life. I try to be true to myself, I try to be extremely authentic. And I think that’s why a lot of people either hate me or love me, just because that’s who I am, and what you see is what you get. That coincides with fashion or basketball where I am as a person when you meet me. Truth is lifestyle.
What about some of your other interests, for example, painting? What’s your mindset while you’re doing just classical art painting? And what are you looking to achieve with this?
It’s just my love for art. I started when I was a kid. I used to draw anime characters and different types of figures. I kind of went away from it a little bit, but over the years as I took basketball more and more seriously, I fell in love with it again. Coming back to it, over the past couple years, I find that joy of expressing myself through a different creative lens. I believe, as a basketball player, I’m an artist, but from a painting perspective, it’s something that is very, very therapeutic to me. It’s something that is perfectly imperfect. It’s something that, when I paint, I always look at the canvas, I never go into it knowing what I want to do. I paint and just jump right into it with no thoughts. I think that’s an important space of mind humans can be in because how many times a day are we actually in the moment? And when I’m painting, I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do, but I know that I’m going to finish it. A lot of times, people are scared to finish things, especially when you get in front of a big canvas. It can be a little intimidating. It’s just another outlet. And it’s something that I can kind of use my creativity and just build something and learn lessons from as well.
Open canvas, being in the moment, not sure where it’s going, creative, finishing. Sounds like the fast break.
Sounds like a fast break. Sounds exactly like a fast break.
Is there a difference between what you get from painting, and another passion of yours, photography?
It’s all about the picture. So it’s all about what you see. I think with painting, I can paint something and then look at it, aHERMÈS top and shorts.nd we can just go across the board and be like, ‘Hey, what do you see?’ One person may see something, the next person may see something else. The figure that I may have created may be expressive, and one person may feel like it’s one expression, but I may think it’s something else. And I think photography, going back to what I said prior, it’s about being in a moment. And when you look at a photo that. Click. I click to take a photo, that’s capturing the moment. It’s a stop in time, this picture was at this time, at this second, at this millisecond in the world. And that’s something you can hold for a lifetime.
Do you think of photography as reality, or art?
I definitely think of it as art, and I look at it as art. It’s not just about a picture, it’s so much more complex when you’re actually looking at something and dissecting it. So I may take a picture of it, but something may draw you to spark a different type of idea or vantage point.
Are there contemporary photographers that you really like, or what are the influences that you may have in your photography?
For me, photography is such a new thing, and I’m just enjoying it by myself. I’m friends with Lenny Kravitz, and he comes to mind right away just because of who he is as a person, who he is as a photographer, the things he may shoot, him being a versatile type of person. It really drew me to him and his passions. It’s the same thing with painting. I knew some artists, but as I just fell in love with painting, I kind of grew more and more trying to know the back end of things.
You mentioned the word “iconic” before. I’ve heard you mention it in other contexts about the triple XL Raf Simon’s pink sweater and what you did with Puma’s Futrograde and New York Fashion Week with June Ambrose—an iconic moment. What is it about iconic for you that really excites you?
Iconic is the same thing we’ve just been talking about. It’s being in a moment, that’s a moment in time, when you think of something being iconic. There’s so many things in this world that are iconic, and I love the feeling of being that type of person having those types of moments, because they last forever. It’s something, when you look back at your life… or your timeline. When you look at like, the United States’ timeline you look at 1776, what happened in 1864, what happened in 1964. I want to be able to, when my life is over, have an iconic, memorable timeline of things in my life.
What does it look like if I walked into Kyle Kuzma’s house? Where is that? How is that timeline kept? Is there a room with this stuff? Are there folders? I mean, I love this appreciation of being here.
I think that kind of goes back to how I was raised and my grandparents, my great-grandmother. She had this long hallway. This long hallway was family pictures going back to relatives in the 1800s all the way up to her kids, right? She still has today, photos from 40, 50, 60 years ago, things that she had when she was in the 70s, 80s. I’m a very big vintage fan. I love just vintage things and vintage artifacts. And that’s something that I want to have. As my life comes and goes, just to that snapshot of how that feeling is by just seeing it bursting and going up and remembering it. That’s just like looking at my championship ring. Every time I look at my championship ring, I remember a moment in time, and I can remember those feelings and how I felt. I think keeping artifacts and keeping things that mean a lot to you, do that too.
I love what you’re saying, I feel like so many people miss it, they miss the time that they’re here, and they’re not doing the creative engagement that you’re talking about. And I also want to know, like, tell me more about the feeling one gets from objects—how they remind you and trigger those kinds of memories and emotions.
I think that you can attach feelings, you can attach emotions to anything in this world. That’s what love languages are, right? You attach your love to quality time, you attach your love, what love is, to having physical touch with people, to getting gifts, to heavy acts of service. They always say, don’t get caught up in material things, but the material things that you have that really, really matter are always going to matter to you. I always look at my great-grandfather, he’s got his favorite hat. He wears it every day, and he wears it proud. And you see him with it every day, and then it becomes him. Now it’s not even a material thing. It’s just when you see him over there, you see this blue hat. Right? And that’s attaching feelings, but it means something to you, right?
I mean, we’re physical beings, right? On this earth, physical things matter.
Physical things matter.
There’s something people like to talk about a lot in basketball these days: being positionless; and to me, it’s great training to be a human being which is to me, none of us are just one thing on this earth. We’re here to do a lot of things. How often do you feel that your versatility is just misunderstood?
I think it’s misunderstood off the court. I think it’s very understood on the court. Because like you said, positionless, and I think it’s good training for life. Because on a basketball court, I believe that I can do everything, and I’ve shown that from the standpoint of the nuances. So I could play point guard if I wanted to. I played center as well. I played shooting guard, I played power forward, I played small forward. I’ve been the pick and roll handler, I’ve been the screener and the roller. I’ve been the catches, you come off a screen shooter, I’ve been the isolation score. Right? And in life, I believe in life I’m positionless too. Not only because I’m a basketball player, but I’m positionless—I have love for fashion. I have love for art. I love photography. We’ve talked about so many things that show I’m not just one thing.
And how important then does it become for you to make sure you lift up other creatives and celebrate the community of people like you, people who are positionless, artists who are doing things that maybe no one’s thought about before?
I just try to be myself, and I try to be authentically me at all times, and people either love it or hate it, but the people that love it are why I do it. And why I fully embrace myself because I know that there are people out there that may be confident, but they care about people’s opinions, or they care about what other people think, or what one interest of theirs may reflect to other people. When people look at me, and they see me as a basketball player, and a great basketball player in my craft, I can still do things and want to be known for different things. You can do anything you want in this world. You really can.
A lot of people are worried about being cool. And what does ‘cool’ mean to you, and should it matter?
No, it should not matter. The funny thing about humans is that we all have different opinions. And we all have different reference points, how we were raised, what we were taught. What’s right and what’s wrong. And being ‘cool,’ or being ‘popular’—it’s very subjective. What I think is cool, you may not think is cool. So how does that make me right? But how does that make you wrong? I always say, it doesn’t matter. At the end of day, you have to do you, you have to be yourself. And you have to have fun and the only way to have fun is to do things the way you want. And be yourself along the way.
Photographed by Danielle DeGrasse-Alston
Styled by Toreno Winn
In Conversation with David Hollander
Hair: Darius Mayers
Skin: Abigail de Casanova
Location: Lyle Washington, DC