Don C loves the game. His brand Just Don is known for its premium takes on throwback NBA shorts and jerseys. He’s collaborated with Nike and Jordan Brand numerous times, and even worked directly with Kevin Durant on his signature sneaker line. His collection of vintage Bulls gear, impressive to say the least. So, it should come as no surprise that the NBA has tapped the Chicago native for its latest “Only Here” campaign ahead of the 2020-21 regular season tip off next week.
“I'm beyond honored and humbled to just be able to talk to people from the NBA because it's my favorite sports league,” Don C tells Complex. “It's one of my favorite organizations in general. And so anytime I can participate in projects with the NBA, I'm excited.”
Fittingly, Don’s cameo focuses on one of the most important off court elements of the Association, the pregame tunnel where he says, "your fit be as fire as your game." Like Walt Frazier in a perfectly tailored suit or a fur coat in the ‘70s or Allen Iverson arriving to the arena rocking a du rag and 4XL throwback jersey in the 2000s, the player’s pregame fits have captured the attention of the NBA fanbase once again. Players like Russell Westbrook have become known for their unique personal style. Young stars like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kelly Oubre Jr. highlight the new crop of the league’s best dressed. But it isn’t limited to just a select few anymore.
“It's not just one guy on the team who is fresh and gets the attention. Now everybody is fresh. So I love that. And even the guys that don't ‘get fresh,’ they still have style with their swag and everything like that,” says Don C. “You can express your fashion sense even if you not into the brands that everybody else gives attention to. I always think your personality has a lot to do with it.”
Ahead of the launch of the new commercial, we caught up with Don C to discuss his reaction to players wearing Just Don in the tunnel, helping design the Lakers 2020 championship ring with Jason of Beverly Hills, which NBA player he compares himself to, and more. Check out our full interview below.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
How does it feel to be a lifelong NBA fan and be involved with officially opening the season in this way?
Oh yeah, it's amazing. I'm beyond honored and humbled to just be able to talk to people from the NBA because it's my favorite sports league. It's one of my favorite organizations in general. And so anytime I can participate in projects with the NBA, I'm excited. There's just been a movement of basketball being more and more appreciated and respected by people all over the planet, people of all different backgrounds and origins. I just think it's amazing. It's a huge connector on our planet, and I just love using basketball as well as all sports to just help tell good stories, promote good principles, and connect good people.
The pregame tunnel outfits that all these players are wearing keep getting more and more attention. Your cameo focuses on that. As a designer yourself, who loves the sport of basketball so much, what are your thoughts on the importance of the pregame tunnel fits again? It hasn't really been this big of a deal probably since Iverson was influencing everybody back in the day.
Originally, I'll credit Walt Frazier or someone like that, the guys from the '70s that had the style, but then Jordan took it to the next level, and then Iverson, and our current generation has just continued to groom that. I think it's a really, really big storytelling when it comes to the NBA. Like I mentioned, to me, it's the best sports league. To me, it's the most fashionable sports league. So the guys, they really take pride in looking good on and off the court. So the tunnel is just as important. I mean, not just as important, because it has nothing to do with your game, but it also has a lot of relevance in our society. Some people don’t follow basketball, but they follow fashion. And so that's how they can participate. I think it just continues to widen the spectrum of basketball culture because now fashion is a lane of basketball culture, and a huge lane in it. Me being somebody that designs apparel, I appreciate that.
I always used to say just because people like basketball, it doesn't mean they don't like fashion. Before I started doing it, I never saw a fashion brand want to work with basketball. I used to always promote that. I would say, ‘Man, I like basketball and fashion,’ but people used to think because I liked basketball, I wasn’t fashionable. That was the stigma for a while. You didn't have fashion sense if you were an athlete. So just continuing to change that and fuse culture, I think it's just a wonderful thing. I love it.
I don't mean to put you on the spot here with this next question, but who do you think are the top three best dressed players right now in the league?
Well, Westbrook has always been really dope to me because that's somebody that's been doing it for 10 years, being fresh. But really, I don't want to point attention to any specific players, because they all fresh. I think it's to the point now where the culture has caught up, and now everybody is fresh. It's not just one guy on the team who is fresh and gets the attention. Now everybody is fresh. So I love that. And even the guys that don't "get fresh," they still have style with their swag and everything like that. You can express your fashion sense even if you not into the brands that everybody else gives attention to. I always think your personality has a lot to do with it. That's why I like to use the word “style” over “fashion,” because fashion takes the impression of brands, and brands to me is separating. I like connecting.
I know you don't really want to separate it by brand, but a brand that plenty of people wear in the tunnel is your brand, Just Don. When you see guys like Bron or whoever it may be in the tunnel repping your brand, is that still a big moment for you since the brand is so rooted in sports?
Yeah. I'm excited every time. When a celebrity, or an athlete, or somebody you admire wears something that you created, it's definitely very flattering. It just makes you feel good, like, ‘Oh wow, I connected with that person.' I just want to continue to do that. I continue to put out product that is high quality. I put everything that I have into it, and through the fabric and the trims, I tell good stories, good messages, and good principles. It's going to connect with people that want to absorb that. So I love that, and it never gets old to me.
Speaking of LeBron, I know a few weeks ago it was announced that you're helping design the Lakers championship rings with Jason of Beverly Hills. That's a big moment. Can you talk about that at all? What was your vision? What it was like to be asked to be a part of that?
Ah, man, I'm just humbled to be a part of the moment. Really to be honest, Jason of Beverly Hills, it's his moment that he shared with me, so I just appreciate him doing so. I don't want to talk too much on it because I’d like for him to lead in the talking about it, but we do have a surprise in store with the rings that we think everybody will enjoy. Like you said, it's a big moment, so the word “big” comes to mind when it comes to describing the ring. You mentioned LeBron, so he comes to mind when describing the ring, and we just know the legacy of the organization and how important and special this year particularly was. So we tried to captivate all that into the product. But Jason is the GOAT, man. He the one that led that, so I don't want to try to take the shine from him. He let me come in and design with him, so I appreciate him.
Of course. Shout out Jason of Beverly Hills too.
So Ronnie Fieg recently showed off his City Edition design that the Knicks are going to be wearing this season in a few games. I know the Bulls have their design already, but I have to ask you, what would a Bulls alternate jersey designed by Don C look like?
Oh man, I wish I could design it. I was honored, Nike asked me a couple years ago to design this year's City Edition, but I declined because I didn't like how they let Supreme copy my designs on basketball apparel. I wanted to separate myself at the time. I love Nike and Nike Basketball. I love the jerseys Nike Basketball did, and it's amazing. So in the future I do want to do something, but I did want to explain why I just thought why I should separate from them at the time.
You're talking about the all over print [Supreme x NBA] apparel? The Jeff Hamilton-inspired joints, right?
Yeah. I was inspired by Jeff Hamilton jackets with the shorts I did. Then, my partner, Nike, let their other partner copy me. And I just thought as a partner, your partner should look out for you, and so that threw me off. I tried to explain to them, I was like, ‘Man, if it was the biggest moment in skateboarding, would you let Just Don come in and copy Supreme and do a skate deck?’ That makes no sense. So why would Supreme do basketball shorts? It just made no sense to me. But it's all good. I love Supreme. I love Nike, everybody. I just wanted to stand up for principle.
You know that had to be a big thing, because I love the Bulls and the NBA. So for me be to say, ‘Man, I'm going to fall back and not do the jerseys,’ that was like, man, I have to stand for something. Because I really wanted to do that jersey.
We need the Don C Bulls jersey, man. Hopefully that comes.
I pray that the Bulls will hire me one day. I really, really want to work for that organization. Or the NBA I pray will hire me one day.
During the Finals, you were on Instagram, right before the Lakers won, you were teasing some special Just Don designs that never made it to market. Will we ever see those? Can you talk at all about what else is in the works between Just Don and the NBA moving forward?
I just like touching the people. There is a proper process to get artwork approved by the NBA that I respect. It just wasn't approved. So I had printed them to show to the NBA. The NBA said Disney wasn't going to let it ride. But I would like to reach out to Disney and say, any Black companies that could get a license, it would be amazing. Us Black businesses, we really want to work with Disney too. We like Mickey Mouse. We like Star Wars. We'd like to participate more than just on the consumer end.
Which NBA player would you compare yourself to and why?
Oh wow. That's a crazy question, man. You know it's Dennis Rodman, bro. Yeah, because Dennis Rodman, to me, he's a Hall of Famer that wasn't a scoree. He got to the Hall of Fame on hustling, and rebounding, and doing things that people don't get the credit for. So that's the type of player I am, man. You look at my stat sheet, you might not see no stats, but I bet I did a bunch of stuff in that game to affect the outcome. There's nothing that I'm trying to get an accolade for. So that's what I like to say all the time, like man, I like to be Dennis Rodman. I completely participate and win for the team and don't need no personal accolades, or anything like that. It's all love.
To that point, Complex ran a list back in 2017 of rapper comparisons to NBA players. At the time, we compared Kanye to Kevin Durant. I know you have a relationship and have worked with both of them, so I'm curious if you agree or disagree with that comparison? The reasoning was that they are both kind of like the misunderstood superstar.
I can see that part of it, but their personalities are completely different to me. But they both top of the game and be getting hated on. So I guess that's a high comparison, but I think anybody that's at the top of their game be getting hated on. People that are passionate about what they do and they express themselves, a lot of times they will be misunderstood because the masses don't understand passion and don't understand what it takes to do these things. So being misunderstood isn't a bad thing. It's just misunderstood. We got to help keep communicating so we can understand each other better.
To wrap it up, what are you looking forward to most about the upcoming NBA season?
I'm a Lakers fan. I'm excited to see the Lakers. I'm also excited to see Golden State come back and be competitive. I’d like for them to be a good team again. I'm excited to see all the rookies that just got drafted. I'm excited to see KD in Brooklyn, the trades. For the first half of the year, I think you just be getting acclimated to all these new changes because that's what I noticed about the NBA. It changes a lot every season now. So that's just with me, I got to get acclimated with everybody's new spots and all that, and start getting in the groove.
By midseason, I think then you be trying to focus on who's going to make the playoffs, and then by playoff time, I'm completely embedded in basketball. So that's how it kind of goes with me. Sort of at the beginning of the season, just since I've had kids and a lot of responsibilities, I'm not as active at the beginning of the season as I used to be when it just comes to watching every game and stuff. I'm not able to.
Hopefully you get that Lakers repeat. You can help design the repeat ring also.
I hope so man, I really hope so. That's what I'm looking forward to. While the Bulls are rebuilding, I'm going to just be repping LA, man, my other home.