Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Courtney Lee
Sunday’s NBA slate was filled with a bunch of games you probably won’t remember — with a few exceptions. If you’re related to Reggie Jackson, still angry about Oklahoma City’s treatment of Reggie Jackson, or if you are Reggie Jackson, you’ll probably remember Detroit’s loss to Orlando because it was his first game of the season. (He sunk his first shot, a 3-pointer.) If you’re one of the Clippers’ believers who insist this season will be different, you’ll circle December 4 as the night you began to question if this squad is better than the last three. How can a championship contender lose to the Pacers twice in eight days? The Pelicans are actively trying to will away December 4, hoping to banish rumors about an Anthony Davis injury along with the memory of their 101–92 loss to the Thunder.
Technically speaking, Russell Westbrook won the night with his fifth consecutive triple-double. It’s the longest streak since Michael Jordan recorded seven in a row in 1989, and Russ bested his own 2015 record of four. It’s very impressive, but it’s unlikely that this will be the apex of Westbrook’s season. After all, there are 61 games to go, a blowout loss to the Warriors to avenge, and countless angry dunks to throw down. There’s much Russ to come, and Russ we will celebrate. But not right now.
Instead, redirect your attention to courtside at Madison Square Garden. Courtney Lee did not play for the Knicks on Sunday night against an assemblage of men feigning interest in a basketball game — a.k.a. the mid-road trip Sacramento Kings — but his presence was felt. Still recovering from an ankle injury, Lee sat on the bench, cheering on his teammates. A quick perusal of the Knicks’ Twitter feed shows him celebrating all the times that New York embarrassed Sacramento in its 106–98 victory. Eventually he displayed the necessary enthusiasm to garner a few TV close-ups. It may not be obvious, but he was really excited to see Lance Thomas hit a 3 in the middle of the second quarter, and, in turn, I was really excited to see this outfit.
We’re witnessing a transformation, or at least an attempt at one.
Lee is keenly aware that being on the Knicks means he’ll receive more attention than he ever got in Boston, Memphis, or Charlotte, or all three combined. (Listen to him to talk about his new New York reality here.) Embracing the celebrity that comes with playing in the country’s largest media market could have manifested in a few ways: a high-profile girlfriend, new ad campaigns, regular appearances on Page Six, or flashy clothes. If Sunday was any indication, becoming a New York sports fixture means going casual and repping for Kanye.
This is Courtney Lee’s “Stars … They’re just like us!” moment, and he’s working through being famous one outfit at a time. Lee is in the vicinity of a being a star by default: When healthy, he is a starter on the New York Knicks. Yet, who hasn’t looked at Kanye or one of his sisters-in-law in their Yeezus shirts and wondered, “Can I look as hip in my Yeezus shirt?” The answer is usually “no,” a fact with which Lee has yet to contend, but he has a better shot than most people. He was wearing a blazer that looks very nice and fits well, and it could cost thousands of dollars, or less than $100 at Men’s Wearhouse. There must be hoards of Knicks fans who saw Lee in this ensemble and thought, “Wow, I’ve worn that!” It’s an outfit so obvious that Jordan Rodgers surely regrets that he didn’t wear it on The Bachelorette earlier this year.
It turns out Lee is part of a rising tide of NBA injury casual attire. Through 20 games of the season, players and stylists seemed to have collectively decided that ties are definitely out. Some of the more traditional heads, like bona fide dad Al Horford, are holding on to their traditional suits and tailored shirts.
And why not? Al looks sharp. He also looks like he’s an agent going to a lunch meeting in Beverly Hills — but a trustworthy agent. His teammate Jae Crowder looks like he’s headed to a funeral that he’s officiating, but still they’re bonded by their mutual dispatching of the tie and an attempt at some formality.
Courtney’s jacket-and-T-shirt look has been prominently worn by fashion aficionado Chandler Parsons and occasional pariah D’Angelo Russell during their respective prolonged injury DNPs. Perhaps Lee was inspired to ditch the dress shirt by his own teammate, Joakim Noah. All three of these guys manage to convey that they’re doing us some kind of favor. Sure, there’s a dress code to meet, but nothing can contain their needs for style, for comfort, for personality. And then there’s Dwyane Wade. If he’s going T-shirt and jacket, he will do so with only the richest fabrics and sparkly shoes.
Becoming a household name is a process. Courtney Lee isn’t there yet, but for a night I will call him a king. He was dressed better than French Montana and Cecily Strong, and he picked a T-shirt that pretty much everyone recognizes as cool. That savvy counts for something.