NBA Champion Kyle Kuzma has not only established himself as one of the most talented basketball players in the world, but he has also proven equally transcendent as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and style icon. His success in the NBA has translated off the court, paving the way for his strategic partnerships, business ventures and philanthropic efforts. Kyle’s love of fashion is deeply personal and rooted in his own ambitions and story, as evidenced by his fashion label ‘Childhood Dreams’, with an emphasis on sustainability, functionality and style.
Kyle, first and foremost the public got to know you as a versatile NBA player, who has become a champion with LA Lakers and currently plays for Washington Wizards. What made basketball your first love? And what is the most special thing about being a part of the Washington Wizards?
Basketball was the first thing that I was introduced to as a kid and that I really found very interesting and intriguing. I’ve been playing for the last 26 years and I think growing older you kind of learn and understand why you love things. I love basketball because of the joy that it brings, the sense of it being a safe haven for me. It’s where I may have bad, rough, tough days, but throughout those tough days I’m not really thinking about all those negative things going on in my life. Just being a part of Washington Wizards is very special because I have the opportunity to be one of the franchise’s faces and try to take this organization to where it is now, into a very competitive space as a team within the NBA.
Throughout your career, you have consistently made an impact in the fashion space as a style trailblazer through boundary-pushing and instantly-iconic tunnel looks, your front row presence at international fashion weeks’ most coveted shows and culture-driven collaborations. How did you first discover your passion for fashion, art and creative expression, and what inspired you to pursue it alongside your basketball career?
I’ve always loved art. I remember some of my earliest years just having a pen and paper or being in the classroom in second, third, fourth grade and drawing anime characters, just expressing my creativity.
I didn’t necessarily know I had passion for fashion until probably getting into college and always trying to look presentable, look nice and make an impression anytime I ever walked into a classroom or walked into a school party or anything of that nature. I think of fashion being like the same as art. Technically, I kind of always loved it, but as I got more financially stable, that really took off and took over as one of my main hobbies and passions in life.
You’ve attended fashion weeks and events globally. Could you share an experience or encounter that left a lasting impression on your perspective as a fashion enthusiast?
I remember one of my first few times in Paris for Fashion Week and just being in awe of not only fashion week, but how in another country they dress, how they present themselves, how they accessorize things, how they not only put on clothes, but it’s a look. And then when you go to these fashion shows and you see how fashion designers lay out their clothes, that’s one thing that’s really drove me to a higher fashion sense over the past couple years.
Your versatile fashion sense has been widely admired. How would you describe your personal approach to fashion, and what drives you to experiment with different looks?
I love art and I love fashion. It’s not just clothes to me because I don’t really look at things as clothes. I look at these as pieces and that’s how in fashion world people look at it. I feel like I brought that a little bit to the forefront in sports because not many people were really wearing runway looks or doing abstract things in tunnels and on the field and in all these other sports. And that’s how you kind of see all the iconic looks or the looks that go viral and people have a lot to say about.
I would describe my personal approach to fashion as like I don’t really have aesthetic, but my aesthetic is everything, if that makes sense. I feel like when you look at a lot of different people, they have an aesthetic and they live by it. But for me, I’m so versatile and I’m also very confident that I can wear anything I want any day, depending on my mood or depending on how I feel. Some days I want to look chic, classy or I can be really abstract. I could be very chill and very baggy, but I can also be very fitting too.
What does your creative process look like when it comes to putting together a look?
I look for inspiration in a lot of different things. It could be looking at old photos of iconic people or fashion from the eighties, the nineties, or I may just be watching a fisherman fish or a painter paint and look at their outfits and draw inspiration from that. And a lot of the times, especially now, I kind of want to go off of looks and something so it stands out, but is not too loud.
You are the founder and creative director of your own fashion label ‘Childhood Dreams’, which was created with an emphasis on sustainability, functionality and style. Tell us more about the brand, its values, its vision and what inspired it?
Art has really inspired me to do my venture as a lifestyle brand. By doing that, that’s really allowed me to show my peak creativeness and all the things I kind of want to do. I think that being a young entrepreneur, it only makes sense to kind of go off and do my own thing one day and try to make something bigger than life in my own lane.
You are also a co-founder and developer of ‘Barcode’, a brand of functional beverages you developed together with former New York Knicks and LA Lakers director of performance Mubarak ‘Bar’ Malik in 2021. Barcode products are the first ever plant-based, all-natural performance drink on the market with added benefits and ingredients. How was the idea for ‘Barcode’ born and what inspired it?
Me and Bar grew our relationship. At first, we naturally became friends, but he helped me in my process and my athletic performance and around 2019, we kind of just put our heads together and thought about doing a drink that really optimizes the performance. Not only as a sport, where it’s obviously beneficial to me as an athlete, but to me as a healthy person too. It can be relatable to people who are very conscious about what goes into their body. We came up with a drink that has all types of vitamins, is organic and not super processed.
It’s been a wonderful thing and something really early in my career up to date, having a company and building it from ground zero to $30 million. We also just announced our new partner, Victor Wembanyama from France, this year’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, which is extremely big and it’s only going to help grow our global presence in the beverage space.
Many people may not know that you have a deep love for art. Could you share some of your favorite art forms or artists that have had a significant impact on your creative journey?
Obviously, I used to draw as a kid. I paint from time to time. I find art in everything. I collect a lot of different ceramic sculptures, paintings, art pieces that are also watches, clothing. I am collecting vintage things that are reminiscent of that. I always try to find art in all types of different ways and I think that’s something that really makes me excited to wake up every morning and finding the beauty in that and the peace within it. It has been something that’s very therapeutic. And even basketball is art.
Art and sports are often seen as two distinct worlds, but you’ve managed to bridge the gap between them. How do you see these two aspects of your life complementing each other?
Art has made me such a more critical thinker and someone that when you look at an art piece, you’re seeing something that others may not see. So naturally, I amdoing that in basketball as well. I may be on the court and I may have a misunderstanding with a teammate and I’m seeing something, but he’s not, and vice versa. And that makes you more open-minded and more confident.
I think when I’m expressing myself with fashion and doing what I want to do, it rubs off on the basketball court. I try to express myself with how hard I play every night and how passionate I am. That’s an art form and I try to express that and show that to people in both worlds.
Creativity can be an outlet for self-expression and personal growth. In what ways has your artistic journey helped you grow as an individual, both on and off the court?
It’s opened up my mind and expanded my view at how other people think. It’s changed my mind on a lot of things in life. I think that’s the beautiful part about creativity and personal growth because once you understand it and see how it impacts your life, you never want to stop growing and you always want to learn. And I think that’s been very valuable to my personal growth.
How do you hope to inspire others in the sports world to explore and embrace their own passions beyond the game?
Especially beyond the game, you have to have something that you truly love. You can love basketball forever and you can be in basketball forever. You could play, you can be a coach or be a scout, but that may not be in the cards for everybody. I think that it’s very inspirational and just from the standpoint of being passionate, this is me. It’s what I do, it’s what I breathe and believe. I’ve learned so much about business and coming into my own. The sky’s the limit.
This January, you also announced an incredible $1 million grant to the YMCA in your hometown of Flint, Michigan to rebuild their gymnasium. What makes this contribution so dear to you?
It’s super important to me because I have a deep relationship with the YMCA organization, especially Flint YMCA. It used to be a safe haven for me, a place where I could focus on basketball as a kid for many summers. The YMCA had a huge, positive impact on my life.
Flint is a place where I grew up and I wish even I had that at that age, a nice gymnasium place where I could go after school and do my homework and not be in a hectic, chaotic environment. One of the biggest reasons why I partnered with the YMCA is because of that and wanting to help the next generation in my city. And then we’re also creating jobs, we’re helping the community, we’re fueling the community. That’s just the little things that are important to me and why I did it.
What other philantrophic projects are you actively engaging in?
I’m working on a lot of different things right now with my foundation, ‘Kyle Kuzma Family Foundation’. I’m going to start doing more things in the communities, whether in Flint or in DC, and then expanding more because I’m not just a part of those communities, but a global person. I am wanting to do more across the world and across the states, things that really matter for people that really need it.
Talents: Kyle Kuzma
Photographer: Phil Chester & Sara Byrne
Stylist: Toreno Winn
Groomer: Jenna Nelson @ The Wall Group using Augustinus Bader
Light tech: Marlon Savinelli
Editor: Timi Letonja
This interview was done for Numéro Netherlands by Jana Letonja.