Inside the Tiny Bags of the NBA's Biggest Stars

Dave Schilling@@dave_schillingWriter-at-LargeMay 4, 2018

B/R

With determination and swagger, the Cavaliers marched in lock step through the tunnels of Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, for Game 6 of their Eastern Conference first-round matchup against the Pacers. Once again, they were rocking matching gray Thom Browne suits—the proportions just slightly off, as is the designer's trademark. But the accessories were what made the ensembles pop: LeBron James and Jordan Clarkson carried full black duffel bags, but Kevin Love made the loudest statement, clutching a tiny toiletry bag known as a dopp kit.           

As the later rounds of the playoffs begin to take shape, the dopp kit—a compact carry-all for sundries and grooming supplies—will continue to catch the eye of basketball fans and hypebeasts around the world. The Cavs have moved on to another matchup, but they are still fitted in those matching suits, with the dopp kits to go with them. Before Game 1 of the Cavs-Raptors second-round series, Clarkson rocked a handleless bag that was almost like a clutch. Kyle Korver held his in one hand and carried an iPad in the other.

Love likes to lace his own Louis Vuitton dopp kit (the same brand favored by first-round opponent Victor Oladipo) with essentials for his gameday needs—including a variety of dental instruments. He admits that he has a bit of an abiding interest in teeth. "Dental hygiene has always been a huge thing for me," he says. "Having braces a number of times, I've always had to go through that s--t and I don't want to do it again."

Getty Images

For Love, the exterior look and the brand choice matter as much as what's inside the bag. "Not only is it a necessity—something you need—but also an accessory," he says. "You can almost make it a fashion statement."

Pros accustomed to the long walk past prying cameras before nationally televised games have helped dopp kits take on a greater significance than their typical use in cramped hotel bathrooms.

Perennial fashion magnate Russell Westbrook is seemingly rarely photographed without his dopp kit by his side. 

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

During the season, he lent his name to a line of bright red Tumi luggage and even posted about what's in his toiletry bag.

Russ also brings the bags to his postgame press conferences. After the Thunder's Game 3 loss to Utah in their first-round series, Russ sauntered up to the podium with his Tumi bag, all smiles and oddly cheery. Was it an advertisement or a statement?

Maybe it was something else. Russ' teammate, Jerami Grant, says he has often dared to nab specific items from his brodies' bags when they aren't looking. "I steal stuff out of Ray (Felton)'s bag," Grant says. "There's a certain body butter that I like to use on my skin, and also beard oil. Usually, either Russ or Melo"—Carmelo Anthony also makes heavy use of a dopp kit, his being a black and orange Burberry bag—"has the best lotion. So I'll snag it from them. Whoever's got the best deodorant. I like to use Axe … Each guy's got their own certain thing that I take a piece from."

Grant has an encyclopedic memory of what's inside each teammate's dopp kit. When asked about Russ, he rattles off: "Lotion, chapstick, deodorant. I don't know if it's hair grease or coconut oil. … His brush. A comb, as well. Shower supplies: shampoo, conditioner, body wash."

Arguably one of the most fashionable men in the NBA is James Harden, who has crafted all manner of garments and apparel through his relationship with Adidas. The Beard is one of the most prominent devotees to the tiny bag in the league today, and he is meticulous in planning his pre- and postgame outfits. It all starts with one item worthy of the spotlight, which then dictates how the rest of the ensemble rounds out. "[I get] a fire piece, I gotta build around it," he says.

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

For Harden, the fit usually starts with his sneakers, generally a pair of his own brand. The toiletry bag has to be coordinated and appropriate to match the rest of his look. "You can put anything in there," Harden says. "Guys put wallets, cell phones, toiletries, anything. Jewelry."

Even though it seems that the dopp kit has exploded onto the NBA scene this year, Harden says it's been going on forever. It's only recently that eagle-eyed fashion observers and basketball heads have begun to notice. "People just picked it up, find different toiletries, little bags," he says.

Indeed, long gone are the days when a superstar would drag a rolling suitcase through the tunnel, or worse, sling a duffel bag over their shoulder like a sherpa leading an expedition up a mountain.

"Everybody got their own swag," Harden adds. "You just gotta put pieces together and be creative with it."

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