Sent into the starting lineup as an undrafted rookie, the newest Net is turning heads on the court with spirited play — and in the tunnel with his fashion-forward looks.
The “next man up” mentality is one of those mantras that’s been repeated in team sports for so long that it risks losing its meaning. But before our eyes, it’s playing out as a baptism by fire for NBA newcomers now destined for big minutes, as All-Stars and proven starters get pulled into health and safety protocols.
Such scorched earth circumstances have provided a path for David Duke Jr. to flourish for the Brooklyn Nets in every sense of the word.
Previously putting up numbers in Providence and Peru, the stylish scorer abbreviated as DDJ led the Friars and US National Team before declaring for the 2021 NBA Draft. Though the fashion-forward guard got it done in both Americas, he’d prove overlooked by the league on what was supposed to be his big night.
Undrafted and unphased, the pride of Rhode Island remained ready in Rick Owens, staying tight with his family and hitting the gym with skills trainer Chris Brickley. A week after his peers shook hands with Adam Silver on draft night, a contract came by way of the Brooklyn Nets.
As fate would have it, the two-way deal proved the perfect runway for DDJ to take off.
Landing in the modern Mecca for hooping and shopping, it was DDJ’s decision as a teenager to transfer to the prestigious Cushing Academy that set him up for success on the court, leaving behind his first love — soccer, as it turns out — in pursuit of basketball.
Just the same, it was the school’s international population that paved a path for Duke to become a favorite for League Fits Rookie of the Year honors.
“What really got me into clothing and high-end fashion was boarding school in Massachusetts,” Duke notes. “There were kids from all over the world that were into all sorts of things that I’d never see in Providence.”
At boarding school, Duke’s taste for luxury matured alongside his ability to understand other cultures.
The international influence at Cushing Academy pushed his boundaries beyond what most pro prospects see at a prep school, inspiring him to try new things without trying too hard — an art mastered by the flyest folks from the Eastern Hemisphere.
“Meeting kids from all over the world and seeing their styles? I started to appreciate it,” declares Duke. “I tried to take bits and pieces from everywhere. I don’t really strive for a certain style; I try to be versatile.”
That crash course at Cushing, as well as the NBA’s recent pandemic protocols, both opened up the opportunity for DDJ to shine on the big stage in Brooklyn.
With much of the Nets roster sidelined despite a best in the Eastern Conference start, Duke has become a fan favorite both on the court and in the tunnel.
“Getting that call-up? Things worked out to be in this position now,” he reflects.
Set on making the most of the opportunity, that means showing up and showing out in looks likened to rap royalty and franchise favorites.
Early examples include pulling up to a game in a babushka straight out of A$AP Rocky’s wardrobe, or donning a throwback shooting shirt from Jason Kidd’s days in New Jersey.
“The babushka!” laughs Duke. “It was different and I liked that. I remembered when A$AP Rocky was rocking the babushka and it was just the perfect vibe after seeing the whole fit.”
From Flacko Jodye to the pass-first point guard, Duke isn’t afraid to mix it up and pay homage to icons from different eras and arenas that speak to him.
“The Nets shooting shirt?” smiles Duke. “That was a throwback. I matched it with the shoes custom-made by @itsjustpatterns. I honestly didn’t think it would blow up like that.”
Blowing up on social media and taking over the tunnel has been Duke’s calling card early on in his career. But to be clear, it’s what he’s doing on the court that will further his ascent.
In his first five games of NBA action, the rookie’s recorded two double-doubles and managed to impress his Hall of Fame coach.
“He was great,” Steve Nash told Nets Daily after Saturday night’s game in Orlando. “I said you can get your 20 points, but you’re going to get it out of the gate, not out of going and finding it. He understood that, and his approach in the second half was outstanding.”
Duke’s ability to stand out stylistically while fitting into his coach’s broader mission has made him a favorite among fans and teammates already.
As it turns out, the fly guard is actually grounded as they come.
“I pray before every game,” shares Duke. “That’s my ritual. Spending time with God.”
And it’s from this well-honed sense of preparation that DDJ’s presence ultimately dictates… well, his presence.
The rookie from Rhode Island has landed a starting spot while his All-NBA teammates await a return to action, leaning into his expanded role but always ready to adapt and evolve.
“It’s amazing,” admits Duke. “Day in and day out, I just look around and it gives me more reason to be grateful. Steve Nash is a Hall of Famer and I’m playing alongside the best of the best in the NBA.”
On the court, DDJ has become an energy guy for Coach Nash, euro-stepping on fast-break finishes and grabbing boards like they were designed by Dior.
All told, the Five Boroughs have proven to be the perfect place for Duke to shine — and they’ve quickly become a home he’s already keen on.
“New York really is where I’d love to spend my career if I could,” Duke shares. “There’s people from all over with different types of styles.”
The passion for fashion and energy on court began at boarding school, but it’s blossoming in BK.
Despite an undrafted, unheralded arrival, the two-way talent continues to show up and show out each time he steps in the arena.
“I’ve always been into fashion, but haven’t had the luxury to buy the pieces I wanted to or even really had a reason to,” closes Duke.
“Now I do.”