NBA Star Turned Fashion Designer Kevin Willis Talks New Career and Clothing Line

Keith Schlosser@KnicksJournal Analyst ISeptember 14, 2011

For NBA athletes, finding a second career following their playing days has come easy in recent years. We’ve seen the usual and predictable transition into broadcasting and/or coaching. Some players have even gone back to school to finish their education in hopes of securing a front office position with one of their former teams.

When someone has been around the game of basketball their entire life, what else is there to do but stay involved in the game?

Former players have taken positions like that time and time again, because quite frankly, some guys just simply aren’t ready to ride into the sunset and enjoy retirement at the ripe age of 40.

That being said, former NBA iron-man Kevin Willis (who actually played until he was 44) has assumed a position entirely different than many of his counterparts. His new post-retirement title? Fashion designer.

The bold new career choice is actually not quite as surprising as it may seem. In recent years, NBA players have taken pride in their appearance, honing in on their status as national icons with a more fashion-savvy sense. In fact, New York City welcomed stars like Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire, who actually launched a clothing line of his own, during Fashion Week in the Big Apple.

Willis hosted a fashion show Tuesday night to introduce the 2012 spring/summer collection for his company, “Willis & Walker.” The collection featured an interesting array of different styles, ranging from suave business suits to casual summer wear.

The seven-footer, who holds a degree in fashion and textiles from Michigan State University, talked about how the clothing line began, saying, “The line actually got started many years ago, when I was still playing basketball. I knew that I was passionate about fashion, and wanted to do something because we couldn’t find any clothing in stores to buy. High-end stores, boutiques, wherever—players couldn’t find anything.  My partner and I wanted to start this as a way of bridging the gap, and that’s how it came to life.”

Willis’ clothes are aimed at providing fashion-conscious men 6’3” and taller (potentially focusing on past and present NBA players) something stylish to wear.

As noted, good fashion is becoming a fast growing trend in the NBA. As an expert in the field, Willis shared who he thought were some of the league’s best-dressed players, saying, “There are so many guys with good fashion. I like Dwight’s style, LeBron’s too. I like Carmelo Anthony, for sure! You can add Josh Smith and Joe Johnson in there as well. Those are guys who simply just know how to dress! That’ll always be very important.”

Willis went on to say that while he had not collaborated with any other NBA players to get the business going, many of his colleagues, NBA counterparts and friends have been supportive of the brand over the last two years. Furthermore, Sports Illustrated reported just a couple months ago that former NBA big man Shawn Bradley, who stands tall at 7’6”, is a customer of the clothing line.

Willis visits New York City quite a bit and his new career is sure to continue bringing him back again and again. Since he never got a chance to don orange and blue for the Knicks throughout his luminous career, how does the big man really feel about the Big Apple?

He insisted, “Let me tell you something, man. New York City is the best city in the world! I love it. I remember back in 1984 when I was about to be drafted, I was invited to the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden. Flying in and seeing all those big buildings was just phenomenal. Every time I come here, it’s awesome. Yes indeed.”

While style is definitely important, clothing is simply not all that makes the man.

Willis, who became the oldest player to appear in multiple games during an NBA regular season for the Mavericks in 2007, looks as though he could still muscle his way through the paint. If you look good, you’ll feel good. Echoing that sentiment, Willis, now 49, talked about his ongoing training, adding, “I like to maintain good fitness and workout, knowing that health is very important. As you get up in age, you definitely want to maintain a good, healthy spirit and mind.”

With that mentality, Willis is sure to experience more success in life and his new career. He and the fashion show were welcomed by a packed house of supporters, including Quinton Aaron, star of the critically acclaimed film “The Blind Side,” among others. 

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