DeMarre Carroll can still remember the smell of his grandfather's cologne.
He was just a kid in Birmingham, Alabama, in the early 90s and he'd watch his grandfather patiently put it all together. It'd start with a spray of cologne and end with a dapper elderly man ready for a formal event.
"My granddaddy used to dress well," Carroll said after Monday's Raptors practice. You can see Carroll go back to those days in his mind, almost smelling the cologne again as he describes how his grandfather looked.
"You'd ask him where he was going and he'd say, 'I'm going to the grocery store,'" Carroll said.
Now 30, Carroll tries to live the same way. In the locker room, Carroll's stall and his Instagram are stuffed with a rotation of the finest clothes he can find, a rich (figuratively and literally) collection that's heavy on Dolce & Gabbana, some of it stop-what-you're-doing bright, some of it low key and casual. While players commonly wear a simple pair of flip flops after games, which run $20 to $40 in stores, Carroll likes to go the extra mile.
His stats aren't diamond-studded or fur-lined—he's averaging 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game—but he's often pictured opposite the biggest stars of the NBA. Now in his second season with the Raptors, Carroll was brought to Toronto to take on the endlessly uphill battle of defending the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Paul George, Andrew Wiggins, and Carmelo Anthony. He's faced James in the last two Eastern Conference finals and through that, may know him as an opponent better than just about anyone else in the league.
"It's difficult, but at the same time you've got toaccept the challenge. I've been doing it my whole career," Carroll said of his role on the Raptors. "Some nights I'm going to have great nights, some nights I'm going to have bad nights. You've got to take it with a grain of salt. There are too many games in this league to dwell on one guy in particular."
Carroll guarding LeBron in last year's Eastern Conference final. Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Carroll stood at the sidelines of an after-practice half court scrimmage on Monday with VICE Sports and went in-depth on his fashion tastes and where they came from.
VICE Sports: Did you always have an eye for this stuff?
DeMarre Carroll: Yeah I think that growing up... it's in my family. My mom always said to us, 'Before you leave the house you're not just representing yourself, you're representing the family.' I still keep that in the back of my head every time I get dressed up or whenever I'm doing anything.
So before you were in the NBA, when you were a kid growing up or you were playing ball at Missouri, how would you stay well-dressed?
It's all about just putting it together and having the same great line of clothes. I always felt that shoes were the most important. You could have on something real simple and you could have on the best shoes and people were still going to say your outfit looked great.
I used to always have the cleanest and nicest shoes and I'd just stay plain Jane. Now that I've got an NBA deal I feel like I can go out and buy the stuff that I actually want.
When you got to that point where you had NBA money, was there stuff you had always wanted? Stuff you had your eye on?
That's what you call window shopping. I used to go window shopping and we used to always say, 'I'd buy this brand, I want to get this.' I'd tell my mom, I'd tell everybody, once I happened to have the money what I was going to do.
So what did you do? Do you remember the first thing you bought, or the store you went to?
Not necessarily. I just went in the mall and started grabbing stuff. At first I was too cheap and scared to buy it [laughs], but I realized that you've got to live, you only live once.
What's the most lavish clothing purchase you've made?
I don't know, I've made a lot of them. Clothes are my vice. A lot of people have vices. I told my wife I'd try to do better... the good thing is she's kind of into fashion now. When we first met she was one of them easygoing people that don't care. Now we'll be in our room, before we go to games I'll have my stuff laid out and she'll have her stuff laid out—it's kind of becoming a competition.
Is there something you see in the NBA, whether it's in your locker room or around the league, that irks you about how people dress?
I just hate when people come in with dirty shoes. I feel like your shoes, we make enough money, we've got shoe deals and you should never—any time you're in the NBA—you shouldn't be wearing shoes you've worn 100 times. I feel like that's a no-no.
Do you call guys out on that?
All the time.
Who's the worst offender?
Actually, I just called Jared (Sullinger) out on it (on Sunday). He's got a Jordan deal and he's got, he showed me a picture of like 400 pairs of Jordans. And he comes in with the dirtiest Jordans and he said, 'I just don't feel like going through it.' I said, 'That's unacceptable.'
Do you feel like you're the best-dressed player in the league?
For sure. For sure. I feel like I'm the best dressed. Different guys have different styles. (Russell) Westbrook, he's a wild dresser and does things off the dome. LeBron's a good dresser but he's more settled down. I think I'm right in the middle. I might be a little wild here, a little settled down there. Having a level head, that's kind of where I'm at.
You've been under the radar with your clothes since you got here. Do you think people are noticing you more now?
For sure. I think people notice me more now and Senior Swag Daddy has made a name. I think the biggest thing is not only winning basketball games but playing in the playoffs, getting into the (conference final) and people see what you can do, I think that's a big thing.
Russell Westbrook has done Fashion Week, Is that something you'd like to do?
Of course. I've been doing a lot of stuff here in Canada. I'm just trying to build, build, build and eventually we'll be right there at Fashion Week.
Westbrook is always looking fresh. Photo by Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
You've started your own clothing line. How's that going?
It's a long process. That's why I have more respect for designers and guys like Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton. You have to go through so much stuff... it's a lot of stuff that's done that a lot of people don't notice. I feel like that's why I have more respect for them.
Would you want to go into fashion more when you're done basketball?
I've talked to a couple of (people that work in fashion). They told me when you're really all in, you're done playing basketball and that's something you really like, you'll probably want to go take a class where you learn the different stitching and textures and you know which ones you can pick. I feel like that's something I want to do whenever I get done (with the NBA).
I think people consider this era the most fashionable one that the NBA has seen. Are there other eras or generations of the NBA you look back at and admire how they dressed?
This (era is) good and I think when big clothes was in that was an era...
Did you like the big clothes?
I didn't like them but at the time that's what was in. Fashion is nothing but a big circle. Right now it's the skinny, tight stuff and back in the old days of like the 60s they used to wear the skinny tight things, the high pants. It's just a big circle, is all. The big thing, that might come back around in five, 10 years, but it'll come back.
VICE: Remember when the dress code came out and how opposed to it people were? It ended up pushing the league in this direction.
It's totally different, I think it's good in a lot of areas. Especially in playoffs, if you're not dressed the part... I feel like that's what most guys do now, they take the time. A lot of fans like to see guys come in (to arenas). 'What are they gonna wear? What do they have on?' Like Westbrook, people like to (follow) stuff.
Do you have a stylist or do you do this on your own?
I do it on my own. I have my cousins, they've been around me so much, they know what I like. They'll call me from Atlanta and say, 'Hey, they've got this.' We kind of do it that way, man. The stylists... they can get very, very, very expensive."