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Kyle Kuzma’s fashion game is as strong as his on-court game

The Post’s Ava Wallace talks with power forward Kyle Kuzma about how his time with the Los Angeles Lakers helped him find his voice and his passion for fashion. (Video: Breanna Muir/The Washington Post)

His best-known moment as a Washington Wizard came not on the court but in a hallway at Capital One Arena.

Kyle Kuzma’s outfit ahead of a November home game featured a sweater that looked as though it escaped from a Dr. Seuss book. It was bubble-gum pink and so comically oversize that the 6-foot-9 forward had to stop and yank up a shin-length sleeve to free his hand before opening a door. It immediately went viral, drawing reactions on social media from former teammates LeBron James and Anthony Davis and earning this declaration from GQ: “Kyle Kuzma’s Giant Pink Sweater Is Actually Good.”

And yet the fit was only slightly more garish than Kuzma’s usual looks.

Kyle Kuzma was roasted for his pink oversized sweater. He and his stylist have no regrets.

Kuzma is easily the NBA’s second-wackiest dresser after Russell Westbrook, for whom he was traded from the Los Angeles Lakers this summer. The new Wizards forward slid into Washington in billowy dress shirts and jackets, wide-leg pants and soft, fuzzy sweaters, which makes sense because his favorite fabric (you don’t have one?) is cashmere.

Kuzma’s goal at the start of the season was similarly pliable: He wanted nothing more concrete than to make the best of a trade that had rattled him, grow his leadership skills and take advantage of the chance to flex his game without having James and Davis on the court dominating time and space. The Wizards, like an oversize sweater, had more than enough room.

“Opportunity,” Kuzma said. “It’s just all about opportunity.”

Since then, Kuzma has found his place. The 26-year-old has flourished individually even as the Wizards are spiraling with the trade deadline looming.

He entered this week averaging 22.5 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from the three-point line in the 13 games he had played this calendar year, balancing his passion for basketball with his second love — fashion.

Contrary to what Kuzma says is the biggest misconception about him in the NBA, one doesn’t come at the expense of the other.

“People look at me, I dye my hair a different color, with the clothes I wear, it comes off as like I’m not focused to the average fan,” Kuzma said in a recent interview.

“But what’s being focused? How can you tell me what’s not being focused? I won an NBA championship — how many people do that? It’s a rare thing. People don’t understand, because a lot of times with me, I show what I want to show. A lot of that comes from fashion, art, just living life. I’m from Flint, Michigan. I want to live life.”

Kuzma is far from his hometown one recent afternoon as he details his love of fashion, art and basketball and how the three intertwine. In a barn-turned-art gallery housed at Black-owned Wellspring Manor & Spa in Upper Marlboro, Md., Kuzma has turned up in a black hoodie and wide-leg, moss green corduroys to shoot a segment for an upcoming Wizards Black History Month campaign.

It’s off-duty Kuz, as he’s called by teammates and coaches and just about everyone in the NBA.

By now, much of his backstory is known. Raised by mother Karri in Flint, Kuzma moved constantly by his midteens as Karri constantly searched for a safe place for her family to live while she worked to provide for Kuzma and his two younger siblings.

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He transferred schools every year from the start of middle school until junior year, when he left for a prep school in Philadelphia that turned out to be unaccredited, later earning his GED and attending the University of Utah.

Asked about his college town, Kuzma closes his eyes and purses his lips as though he has just had a bite of the tenderest, most buttery steak he has ever eaten.

“Loved it,” he said, tilting his head back slightly for emphasis. “Loooooved it.”

If a fondness for Utah doesn’t seem to jibe with a man who once sported brick-red leather pants and a fuzzy teal sweater with matching red polka dots on the sleeve — or who, another time, showed up to a game in a fuzzy, all-beige tracksuit featuring a bucket hat of the same material over which he wore noise-canceling headphones — well, that’s just being close-minded.

Kuzma fell in love with Salt Lake City first for its natural beauty, and here’s another layer the forward peels back: He identifies as an outdoorsy type. He describes his dorm at Utah as sitting practically at the foot of a mountain, where excellent hiking and waterfalls were plentiful.

But Utah is also where Kuzma started seriously caring about how he dressed. Ralph Lauren polos and khaki cargo pants were the look on campus in 2015, and Kuzma wanted to be presentable.

“I’m fresh in college — my first time alone. I was kind of sheltered growing up, and there are a bunch of girls around,” he said. “So it was like, you need to look nice.”

What started as a desire to look sharp became part of his identity when Kuzma was drafted with the 27th pick in 2017 and he moved to Los Angeles.

The fashion and art scene drew him in. But it was in the Lakers’ locker room where he connected fashion with status in life.

“Especially being in the NBA and being around teammates who had a lot more money than me and would dress really nice, I would be like, ‘I want to do that,’ ” Kuzma said. “… You think of Los Angeles — a lot of people are not even from there, but they live there, and their dreams and their goals are to figure out who they are and be somebody, right? Mind you, I’m a basketball player. I know who I am. But finding myself off the court, what do I really like? Who do I want to be? Who am I? Those are all the things I learned coming of age in Los Angeles.

“I think just the fashion scene in L.A. just spoke to me. I was like: ‘Yeah, this is what I like. I enjoy putting on clothes. I enjoy looking at fabrics, touching different fabrics, knowing the difference between them.’ ”

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Kuzma, undoubtedly, has fun with his wardrobe, which he works to curate with stylist Toreno Winn Jr. Last week, he donned studded, platform dress shoes (think Elton John) before a game. Ahead of a game near Christmas against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden when the omicron variant was surging in New York, he wore black cargo pants, a neon-green puffer coat and a covering that shrouded his entire head and neck, complete with solid black eye patches.

To him, the outlandish outfits are art, and his penchant for maximalism dovetails with exactly what he wants on the basketball court. He’s getting a chance to show off his game in Washington after operating “as a shell” of himself in Los Angeles. He wants more.

“I want to be a great basketball player. I want to be an all-star. I have an NBA championship already — I want to add to that,” he said. “… Prove it, to myself, who I can be as a basketball player. I want to be big. I want to be huge. Bigger. Those are the things that motivate you every day. It’s not like I have this, I have that. I want to make more money. I want to squeeze life, you know what I mean?”

What to read on the Washington Wizards

Beal gets the max: The 29-year-old guard agreed to a maximum contract that will cement him as the cornerstone of the franchise. Only in Washington do NBA stars get $251 million participation trophies, writes Candace Buckner.

Wes Unseld’s first season: Players praised the coach’s even keel. But the defense was still bad.

Offseason needs: Securing Bradley Beal’s future is at the top of the organization’s to-do list. Finding a permanent solution at point guard is No. 2 on the Wizards’ offseason checklist.

Candace Buckner: Forget the excuses about lineup disruption, chemistry issues brought on by the massive trade-deadline makeover and Bradley Beal’s season-ending injury. The Wizards took a step back this year.

Peace for Kristaps Porzingis: The big man called Washington the “perfect place” to help him reach his career goal because of the Wizards’ mix of young and veteran players.

Kyle Kuzma’s fashion game: What started as a desire to look sharp became part of his identity when he was drafted with the 27th pick in 2017 and he moved to Los Angeles.

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