NEW YORK — It seemed as though you couldn’t walk though Lincoln Center’s Fashion Week tents without tripping over an NBA player.
There was Matt Barnes of the Los Angeles Clippers, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks, and, of course, Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat.
But none of those players took his fashion week experience quite as seriously as Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. Sitting in the Conde Nast building in Times Square over the weekend, the 26-year-old Rondo explained that he wasn’t in New York just to check out fashion shows and hit the party circuit like his hoop-playing colleagues. Rondo was at the GQ magazine offices for several days working as an intern — unpaid — to learn more about fashion.
“This is something I’ve always been into,’’ Rondo said. “I’m just here to learn new things, network, and meet people in the fashion business, and have fun doing it. It’s not like I’m planning to retire now and go work for GQ. It’s not like I’m 35.’’
That’s surely a relief to the Celtics, with whom he has a five-year, $55 million contract. Still, Rondo met with the magazine editors back in July to discuss an internship. At first they mistook his intentions, thinking he was only interested in attending the star-studded fashion shows. But what Rondo wanted was an opportunity to learn about the business.
“It was something he really wanted to do. We were in disbelief,’’ said GQ creative director Jim Moore. “He said it would be a dream for him. He wasn’t here to be the celebrity superstar athlete. He’s here to be helpful to the staff.’’
So what did Rondo do? In his short time at GQ (he interned for less than a week), he packed boxes of clothes to be shipped off for a photo shoot in Los Angeles. He walked through fashion showrooms and met with designers such as Billy Reid and Michael Bastian.
He even picked through about 100 hats in the GQ fashion closet to find four winter caps that he liked, and then blogged about them as winter trends. (Regarding a Coal striped knit cap with a burgundy pompom on top, Rondo offered faint praise: “I would only wear this particular one to practice or when traveling.’’)
In fact, the debonair and low-key Rondo, who was tastefully attired in a YSL shirt and tie, Ralph Lauren pants, and a Chanel watch, was prepared to do everything short of coffee runs.
“They’ve treated me like a regular person, nothing out of the ordinary,’’ he said. “They don’t talk down to me and they don’t kiss up. They’ll ask me to organize the shirts or ask me to do other things, but it’s all very respectful.’’
Rondo may be GQ’s first professional-basketball-playing intern, but he’s part of a growing list of NBA players making headlines for their fashion acumen. Last season, a few big-name players drew nearly as much attention for their style as their performances on the court.
Wade and Heat teammate LeBron James took to wearing glasses off the court — even though they don’t need them. Westbrook upped the geek chic quotient with bright, busy shirts buttoned to the collar. And then there’s the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, the king of geek style, with his backpack filled with an iPad, headphones, charger, and a Bible.
How did the court turn into the runway?
“You’re seeing this with basketball players like Rajon, or football players like Tom Brady, because they spend all their life in a uniform,’’ Moore said. “There’s a chance to express your style out of uniform, so that’s what they’re doing.
“In some ways, you see athletes now embracing fashion more than actors. What’s fun to see is that guys are seeing their heroes experimenting with fashion, and I think that gives them license to try new things.’’
Unlike nerdy-cool fashion plates in the NBA, Moore describes Rondo as having “a real continental look.’’
Bastian, a noted menswear designer who met with Rondo during Fashion Week, says the point guard really knows his way around fashion.
“Rajon is a great example of this new generation of sports stars who are not afraid of real fashion,’’ he said. “Or maybe I should say real style because it’s going beyond fashion. They develop their own personal style.’’
But Rondo is the first to confess that he doesn’t put it together all by himself. He works with stylist Calyann Barnett, who also collaborates with Wade and singer Nicki Minaj. However, Rondo’s role in choosing clothes is not that of passive client. As he sees it, his brief tenure at GQ is a way to expand his knowledge of fashion.
There’s no question the man knows his brands — he’s a huge fan of Louis Vuitton and Lanvin — but he feels that he’s learning more about the details of fashion and how it all comes together.
“Look at this cover,’’ said Rondo, pointing excitedly to a framed picture of Johnny Carson on the cover of GQ in November 1971. “They probably went through 400 or 500 different shirts to make sure they had just the right one that fit him perfectly.
“That’s the kind of eye for style I’d like to have. It’s all about knowledge of the details.’’