Skip to main content
Publish date:

Picks and Fits at the NBA Draft

As players make their leaps to the pros, some use fashion to help introduce themselves to the world.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated's exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI's photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram. If you missed last week’s edition on Simone Biles’ SI cover, you can find it here.

kevin-knox

The NBA draft has turned into a fashion show of sorts. When a dapper attendee dressed to the nines hears his name called, he struts toward center stage basking in the euphoria of the moment while expressing his individuality through distinct sartorial choices.

For Taylor Ballantyne, photographing players on draft night is an exciting task. “Because every time I’ve gone to an NBA draft, these kids, their outfits are nuts,” she says. “I love them. I love how fashionable they are. I love that they allow their personalities to shine through and be explored through fashion.”

wendell-carter-jr

In 2017, Ballantyne shot portraits of the night’s rookie class in front of a navy backdrop. Setting up on-site at Barclays Center, she sought to create a “very clean, very beautiful, Annie Leibovitz–esque” look. “An elevated portrait,” Ballantyne adds. “I didn’t want it to be basic. I wanted to give it more of an editorial, fashion vibe rather than a normal portrait of athletes from a draft.”

SI Recommends

The year after, she captured players in front of a lighter, hand-painted backdrop, allowing suits to further pop. “Every outfit I feel that went on this backdrop was just tailored to it,” says Ballantyne, who started photographing for Sports Illustrated in 2013 and is part of an elite group of women to shoot a cover in the 60-year history of the magazine. The hardwood floors of Barclays Center also made the images that year feel as if they were taken in a room and not just on the set of a photo shoot, she explains.

trae-young

No matter the draft itself, Ballantyne has grown accustomed to capturing the minutiae of a player’s outfit, such as highlighting De’Aaron Fox’s watch and bracelets, or zooming in on the spider emblem stitched onto Donovan Mitchell’s shirt cuffs.

“They put such attention to detail into their look that I want to make sure that whatever photograph I’m capturing is going to highlight whatever detail they’re taking the effort to show me,” she says.

shai-gilgeous-alexander

As another generation prepares to hear their names called in the ’21 NBA draft Thursday night, they will enter the league at a time when players are increasingly comfortable highlighting their individuality. And for Ballantyne, who loves fashion photography, the night serves as a way to lean into the ways that the athletes express themselves.

“It’s being celebrated for them to stand out and let different pieces of them shine,” Ballantyne says. “It’s so cool with this generational shift that they’re getting the chance to explore and get creative with how they choose to present themselves.”

For more NBA draft coverage, visit SI.com/nba.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated's exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI's photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI's photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram. If you missed last week’s edition on Simone Biles’ SI cover, you can find it here.

Member Exclusive

Get Access to Our Exclusive Content