Kemba Walker inadvertently wears the far right symbol before the game match


Everything in the NBA relies on the playoffs. Coaches retooled rosters and experimented with patterns, while players plugged holes in their matches. Stylists, too, have prepared, coordinated with brands, and searched online shopping for the perfect fit. That’s right: stylists and gamers save their strongest stuff for the nights they’re on national television. And last night, as his Boston Celtics prepared to take on the Washington Wizards in the first-ever NBA play-in tournament, Kemba Walker was made up: A lemon-lime color palette flowed from head to toe, with green and – a hat, shirt and yellow sneakers. An unfortunate snag: Walker’s outfit was sending out dark signals unintentionally.

On the back of his jacket was a coiled hissing snake above the phrase “Don’t Tread On Me” – also known as the Gadsden flag, a symbol of the Revolutionary War era that has since been co-opted by gun rights activists, white supremacists, and the alt-right. The flag has ties to the Ku Klux Klan and frequently appears in hives of white supremacist activity, such as the Charlottesville rally in 2017 or the capture of the Capitol earlier this year. Walker was probably the first player to match the Nike Dunks with a “Don’t Tread On Me” badge.

The Vetements shirt in question.


Before the match, Boston’s Twitter account posted an image of Walker in the jersey with the caption “Locked in for the Play-In”. The tweet didn’t survive long as people pointed out the significance of the images on the back of Walker’s shirt.


The shirt is not a straight product, it is the product of the Vetements brand, which wields irony and cynicism like a razor-sharp weapon. The simple copy of the product at all retailers reads: “It is made in Italy and features the recognizable snake print as well as the Don’t Tread On Me text underneath.” However, anyone familiar with Vetements and the philosophy of its founding designer Demna Gvasalia knows that there is more to this than pumping a recognizable snake print.

As Rachel Tashjian wrote in a recent review of a Balenciaga show, where Gvasalia is also the creator, “Demna Gvasalia is our contemporary master of runway discomfort. Vetements has played with symbols in a similar way. A previous parade featured similar and slightly modified logos from companies like PlayStation, Bose, and Heineken. Vetements now seems to play with the Don’t Tread On Me symbol in the same way: finding fashion buried in bad taste.


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