The Washington Wizards are not projected to be very good this year. They’re not projected to be very bad, either. Another season hovering around .500, maybe competing for the playoff play-in tournament, maybe not — and so Wizards fans are in a state of stasis. But at least they’ll look good?
D.C.’s NBA team is promoting the 2022-23 season with throwback jerseys and sweater-inspired bobbleheads. Opening night October 21 against the Chicago Bulls features a “classic jersey” rally towel, and tickets for the January 13 game against the New York Knicks includes a Kyle Kuzma Pink Sweater Bobblehead. The team is reliving the not-exactly-great Michael Jordan/Gilbert Arenas days with blue and bronze both on the team and on the court for select games.
Little of this comes as a surprise to CJ Toledano, Follow Through creative director, Running the Break podcaster and director of Nike commercials. “The Wizards have been struggling for many years to be relevant for their basketball record — so what do you do promotionally and creatively when your team isn’t climbing the rankings? You grab onto the stories that people know and still talk about,” he says. “That pink sweater with stone was super long and had super-long sleeves and is still talked about.”
The pink sweater in question — the one about to make that bobblehead appearance — shot to fame when Kuzma wore it before a November 2021 game. It was raved about in GQ. For better or worse, it was one of the Wizards’ 2021-22 season highlights.
Toledano should know: Along with Alex Wong, he takes a look at the best and worst of basketball looks over the past few decades on Running the Break. It’s sort of a dream job. “It was just leisure and like, my hobby,” he says. “In the last decade, there has been such an overlap from media outlets covering players and players showing off their outfits, showing off what their hobbies are inside. Seven years ago, it became a job accidentally. It’s not a thing I have to study up on because it’s just what I enjoy watching.”
He’s also a director of Nike commercials, recently working with Luka Dončić and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Working with NBA megastars has led to some pretty memorable compliments. While filming a commercial with the Greek Freak, Toledano’s version of the Freak’s shoe’s literally made the MVP do a double take.
Though Toledano was technically wearing Antetokounmpo’s Nikes, Freak 3s, it was Toledano’s customization that earned the second look. “Nike has so many little pockets of sneaker culture. One is called Nike By You, where they put some of their signature athlete’s shoes on this customization section of their website. I just love making different colorways that make no sense,” Toledano explains. “I think a lot of people go in there to make a colorway of their high school basketball team’s uniform or a Milwaukee Bucks colorway, but I was just like, ‘I’m just gonna make the coolest sneaker to me.’ I made the colorway that I was wearing in that video. I did this months before I knew I was going to be directing that thing. It was such a mind-blowing moment, where I’m telling Giannis where I got his own shoe.”
Toledano has literally made a career around NBA fashion. Most of us have not. There’s a fine line between looking good and becoming a Seinfeld meme.
“When I was working at a big company, we had two floors — the second floor was where all the creatives worked, and it was people with cool sneakers, always knew the latest in fashion, were the funniest, most creative, blah, blah,” Toledano says. “On the third floor was the sales team, the people who went to finance school, wore suits at their last job. And then they got this job. And then they went out and bought a pair of Jordans. And they changed nothing else about their fashion. They were looking at the coolest, hottest, most expensive Jordans. And they weren’t learning how to wear those or they weren’t confident wearing them. We used to call them third floor ‘Jordans.’” In other words, just because something is the most expensive, the most buzzed-about thing, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
“They very clearly went out to get those just so they can get into conversations. It did them a huge disservice. The number-one thing in any sneaker you’re buying — you gotta like them, know why you’re buying them and know what they’re going with. You have to be confident about it. That’s just not Jordans, that’s any sneaker. Don’t just buy a sneaker because it’s the most expensive sneaker out there. How are you going to pull it off? Do you have a cool backstory for that particular sneaker, like, ‘Oh man, I had these when I was in fifth grade, and they’re really cool. And they came back out again, I’m gonna wear them.’ You will figure out how you should wear those because you’ll tap into when you’re a kid wearing those. It’s almost this inherent feeling inside of you, that can tell you whether or not these sneakers are for you.”
Quick Tips from Toledano
If you’re not willing to scour eBay or Stock X or Depop….
“Nordstrom has some decent Nikes in there. I do like a Macy’s. My D.C. buddy Jamel Johnson and I bonded over a love of a good Macy’s because they have great polos, decent Nikes and Levi’s.”
The most basic pair of socks that go along with every shoe….
“White Nike athletic crew socks, with just one black swoosh. Get them at Kohl’s. Kohl’s has the 12 packs.”
The most readily available, won’t look like an idiot, wearing these shoes
“An Air Force One low and any colorway. The all-white ones are good. But when they look to beat up, stop wearing them. That’s not a look.”
“Some detergent and a wet rag. And again, just keep them clean. The second they’re done, when they’re cooked they’re cooked. Move on, find another way to get another pair.”
This article was featured in the InsideHook DC newsletter. Sign up now for more from the Beltway.