DimeMag

The Ease And Edits Of P.J. Tucker, The NBA’s Fashion Icon

There’s Tucker balancing an ice cream cone and the keys to his Ferrari in one hand, his phone in the other, camera flipped to film him and his son walking back to the car on a warm September evening in Miami, Tucker laughing, eyes crinkled with pride, rivulets of melting ice cream beginning to run down both their cones.

There’s Tucker, solid in the lane with his eyes narrowed on the offensive player with the bad luck of trying to be the one to get him to balk, to shift, to break just then. There’s Tucker in the back of a low, wood speedboat, head tilted cooly to the side and hands resting in his lap as the spray lifted from the Grand Canal kicks up away and behind him and his white Dolce & Gabbana suit.

There’s Tucker pressing his face against Kevin Durant’s, against Lance Stephenson’s, hissing into Dennis Schroder’s ear, coiling around Donovan Mitchell, all in the intimate distance reserved for lovers. There’s Tucker in the tunnel in a green silk Cuban shirt flared with bubblegum pink blooms, in a long snow white wool coat with perfect blue jeans and white Air Forces worn open, in black leather pants and a western denim shirt with pearl buttons and red and black Jordans, in a silk smoking jacket and matching pants with a button-down smeared with water-colour roses tucked snug in the front.

There’s Tucker in the tunnel

There’s Tucker in

There’s Tucker

His moods distilled to looks, to moments and finally, down to the man. A complete picture, nothing out of place. Anthony Leon Tucker Jr., down to Pops Junior, after his dad, down to P.J. — see the trend here? Edits, that’s the easiest way to put it. In fashion, a term that refers to clothes and accessories selected for a particular purpose or time.

On the floor, Tucker makes his edits as a line of best fit, precise flashes of devotion divvied up as slices of scorn or possessiveness. Namely, who is in his way, his guy’s way.

Tucker has honed his sensibilities through the seasons — fashion and basketball floor — since he arrived to the league and was bounced abruptly overseas. Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy, Puerto Rico, Germany, five years away from relevancy in pro-ball terms, squinting at the storylines an ocean away, like gleaning Fall/Winter trends from five seasons ago by rifling through racks at an outlet mall. But he made it all work. Borrowing from the physicality of the Euro game, cinching it with that double-dare you sneer that’s become his signature.

Some people are born with a good eye, others with a knack for sifting like a magpie for whatever in the moment flashes. Tucker has both.

He’s told stories that he’d skip team dinners and go solo through the narrow, winter grey streets of Kiev in search of whatever couture flagship he could find, to come in from the cold among leather bags and boots soft as a promise. To say that Tucker wears clothes doesn’t quite fit. Tucker puts things on with the precision of someone who has thought through the swell of the moment the clothes are meant to carry him through. Even if that moment is going to mean the 30 quick seconds it takes to get from the elevator of the arena’s parking garage, down a dark tunnel, to the locker room awash in, no matter how dressed up, underground lighting.

The flourish and joy in dressing, for Tucker, is the place where he first started to pull away from the lunchpail necessity of his role. Where he warmed to silk, satin and leather as tools in his belt.

Never brooding, not like the other players who are known for the same surfeit of muscle and grit, Tucker punches into games methodically, with a buttoned down icy calm even when snarling. All his flareups and going, literally, chest-to-chest, come with the style and remove better associated with an Armani suit. There is never anything on the verge of losing control, there. Tucker played his first NBA Summer League at 27, forfeiting a contract in Russia on the off chance that the Suns — 2012 roster already replete with brawn in both Morris brothers, a late career Jermaine O’Neal and a prime scowling Marcin Gortat — would see something of that stout control in Tucker. He had staying power in Phoenix, had to, and it was when he helped to hone the rookie jumble of Devin Booker that Tucker would come into his tailored fit, the role he wears best.

Protector, muscle, intangibles with teeth, Tucker bore mercurial superstars like James Harden and teams like Toronto and its internalized demons with the same stoic support. He dug in, length of stay irrelevant, offering the kind of confidence that comes from borrowed clothes. Costumed to start, until parts of that longed for persona start to settle permanently onto the borrowers shoulders.

There’s a reason that Tucker’s tenure in Milwaukee feels longer than a season, and it’s more than a ring. To the Bucks pragmatic, blue collar basketball Tucker was flashy by comparison, a florid jolt of just enough pretension to push the team out of its well-worn comfort zone.

And after chugging champagne in southern Wisconsin and signing to Miami, Tucker took what seemed the entire summer off from the one thing he loved on behalf of the other — the two wolves inside of him, one clad in basketball shorts and the other in a fuchsia brocade silk military jacket — and spent slow, gold days in Paris and Venice watching runway shows and putting all those antiquities dotting the streets to shame with the clothes he did it in. His love for fashion and clothing is open, with appetite, encompassing in the same way people who love food will look at a menu and opt for half of it, revel in the rhythm of plates being laid on the table in a chaotic jumble to make everything fit, insist on sharing. Desirous, with a cheerfully persistent mania that rejects pretension, guided by gut and feeling over attention to what’s popular or what goes with what.

To say that for Tucker, who has spent a career compiling moments, editing each season spent chasing, then maintaining, then methodically transcending, this season with the Heat represents a reinvention would be like lacing a pair of Jordans, pulling on Levis, tying up a trench with a perfectly careless knot, without considering what it is that makes each piece more than a sum of its parts. But there’s a rapturous, lascivious casting-off that’s going on with Tucker now, a perfect combination of role, fit, and a climate ideal for him to drive around topless in his convertibles in.

The hard edges of Tucker aren’t softening, but he has found the best fabrics to cut and drape perfectly over them.

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