D’Angelo Russell: A Closed Book Opens Up

D'Angelo Russell
OVERCOAT: Zegna x The Elder Statesman
SUNGLASSES: Jacque Marie Mage

Photo Credit: Mark Hanson








(Presented by Christine Hong – Coldwell Banker Global Luxury; listed at $14,500,000)

D'Angelo Russell
SANDALS: Birkenstock
SUNGLASSES: Jacque Marie Mage

Photo Credit: Mark Hanson

Some people are open books. Los Angeles Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell is not one of them.

In fact, the 27-year-old NBA All-Star says he’s the complete opposite. “I’m really a closed book,” he admits. “I don’t speak often. I don’t do a lot of talking. I’m not an attention seeker — I’m just kind of a guy that flies under the radar.”

But he’s talking now. Russell can’t help himself. He’s just returned from a trip to China with NBA icon Dwyane Wade, and the experience has opened his eyes to an entirely new way of life.

“Basketball has always been the main focus in my life, but now I’m in a unique position where I’m traveling and experiencing more; I’m seeing more. I’m trying to figure out what it is that I’m interested in and finding ways to collaborate within those experiences. Right now, I’m trying to build a life after basketball at an early age, and I’m finding that through traveling the world. China [in particular] really opened my eyes a lot. I found a lot of business opportunities over there, and I realized that any way I can expand my brand and continue to be more than a basketball player — especially while things are still kind of in my favor and I have a little momentum on my side — is smart. I came back [from China] with this battery in my back, wanting to be more involved in business, be more business savvy.”

The Chinese trip was a promotional tour with Li-Ning, the Chinese sports brand he’s worked with for the past four years. Wade signed a lifetime deal with the brand in 2018, hence his overseas presence on this particular trip, where he was promoting his Way of Wade shoe brand, with which Russell also has a signature shoe (which includes numerous colorways pertaining to his teams, hometown, family ties, and more).

The truth is, traveling through Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong with the recent Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, who has developed a significant post-NBA career for himself as a philanthropist, businessman, and entrepreneur, was as eye-opening as the international travel itself. Russell discovered what he could be — and what his post-retirement life could look like — in a way he had not before.

“[Dwyane] is really the blueprint of what I’m trying to do,” Russell confides. “Seeing how he’s operating and seeing how he’s finding ways to expand his brand and utilize what basketball did for him, but also collab with what he’s interested in, has been [indispensable]. We were there to see how D Wade is operating his own company. I got to just see it up close, how he was doing it, how he was going about his business, how he was conversating and communicating with these companies and all the important people on the board of these companies. He still had a sense of himself within those meetings, which I noticed more than anything. He never got out of his own lane.”

There was the added bonus of further indispensable advice from another league veteran along the way: recently retired Miami Heat legend Udonis Haslem. “I was fortunate enough to witness Udonis Haslem’s retirement tour while I was on my promotional tour for [Li-Ning], and we all got to just kind of be a part of it together. In the process of that, it brought me to [thinking about] life after basketball because, obviously, I’m with two guys that are retired, seeing how they were networking, and how they were obviously expanding their brands. They didn’t stay in the States to do it — they went global. That inspired me.”

D'Angelo Russell

Photo Credit: Mark Hanson

Altogether, this particular trip was one he’ll never forget. If anything, it will serve as a baseline plan for what comes next. And just in time, too, because soon he’ll be entirely focused on giving it all to the Lakers in his ninth NBA season. It will be, without a doubt, one of the most important seasons of his career as he seeks to prove that he’s a championship-caliber starter for the Lakers, as well as the point guard the team needs for the future. Basically, there’s a lot riding on the 2023-2024 season. But that’s in the not-too-distant future. Right now, he’s still all about business, baby. Including his relationship with Li-Ning, he has additional off-court partnerships and investments with companies, past and present, such as Pair Eyewear and Coco5, as well as fashion collaborations with Armani, Bloomingdales, and H&M.

Russell is still toying around with what his future business ventures might be, and what he’s come up with, in an unformed way, is this: “I want to stay focused on the things I’ve always been interested in,” he explains. “For example, I’m a big health guy. I enjoy being healthy, exercising, and training, and there are a lot of categories to choose from if I go that route. There’s nutrition and things like that that are attached to it. And then you have style. A lot of what we have in the States is made in China, so being able to collaborate and connect with the direct designers— for shoes, clothing, whatever it may be — was huge for me. There were also potential business ventures with restaurants; a lot of unique opportunities.”

Those include, predominantly, working with his non-profit, the D’Angelo Russell Foundation, whose mission is to give back to youth in the communities that he has lived and worked in, such as his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Spreading the word and creating additional opportunities for his charity was another invaluable focus of his Asian trip, which he didn’t realize until he was there, doing the damn thing.

“Where I come from, there are no pro sports, not a lot of opportunity, not a platform for people to expand and grow themselves. So, being one of the few guys who had the opportunity to make it out of here, I’m all about giving back. I host a basketball camp every year that basically my whole city comes to, and they anticipate who the next professional guy is gonna be walking through those doors. It’s just an environment of pure love, with the heart of the city under one roof. It’s one of the best feelings ever, and this is what I’m all about — giving back to the city that I’m from.” He adds, “I have a small family, and they’ve been through a lot. So, knowing that my family has struggled, I can relate to a lot of people who grew up in similar backgrounds, and that has allowed me to connect with a lot of people. So, it’s been a gift and a curse in a sense, but the pros have outweighed the cons.” 

He also offers scholarships to students at Central High School, which he attended for one year before transferring to Florida’s Montverde Academy for the duration of his high school career. [Side bar: the school produced another great athlete in former student, boxing great Muhammed Ali]. 

Russell adds, “I just enjoy giving back because I don’t need anything else. I have everything I ever wanted. But to cross paths with those retired players in China put me in the frame of mind I have now: to give back and prepare for the future.”
Speaking of the future, well, there’s no time like the present to discuss it. ‘It’ being the upcoming season, of course. And despite having lingering daydreams about his time in China, “DLo” is more than ready to kick it on the court. [In his Li-Ning’s, natch.]

He’s set up to reign alongside current King James [LeBron, that is] and Anthony Davis in his second chance at greatness with the Showtime-era team. When he first joined the National Basketball Association, he was initially selected by the Lakers in the 2015 NBA Draft, but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets two years later. This past February, he was traded back in a three-team trade involving the Utah Jazz. He made his grand return on February 11, putting up 15 points, five rebounds, and six assists over his former team and then-league champions, the Golden State Warriors. And in July, he re-signed with the Lakers with a two-year, $37 million contract.

Russell feels that the place where he started is where he’s meant to be… for now. And it’s a totally different experience the second time around. “I think when I came back, I obviously knew what I was signing up for. I’ve been here before. My locker’s the same. When I was here the first time, I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I didn’t know how to prepare myself or what to prepare myself for. That was a huge difference right there.”

And now? Well, it’s a fit, obviously, especially now that he’s looking at his life from a business perspective. There may not be a better city to play in to be set up for future success than Los Angeles.

“I think the main thing about LA is that you’re on a global stage, so learning how to maintain your personality and learning how to express where you’re from on that stage allowed me to become who I am and speed up the process of becoming who I am. [When I played here before], being on that main stage, I got to express myself a little bit on a larger platform.”
As a whole, the City of Angels shaped him. It gave him more than a little sense of how he’d like to look and who he’d like to be.

“Getting drafted in LA allowed me to see a wide variety of different styles, that I could stay in any lane when it came to fashion. Growing up [in Louisville], I wasn’t a fashion fan at all. But because I was in LA when I first got drafted, I got to find out what I was attracted to, and I gravitated towards that. So, being in LA at a young age definitely molded my style. People in LA dress how they want to dress — anything goes. You can get away with whatever, and it might start a trend. That trend may go viral and go global. You never know. And I kind of got a piece of that, being here. [After all], LA is a place of dreams — a place where you can find your dream.”

Which begs the question: is this where Russell is finding his dream? The answer is still unclear.

D'Angelo Russell
SHOES: Santoni
SUNGLASSES: Jacque Marie Mage

Photo Credit: Mark Hanson

If Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are responsible for the ongoing evolution of D’Angelo Russell, credit should be given to the late, great Kobe Bryant for starting his off-court education.

The two were teammates for a year until Bryant retired in 2016. Russell was the rookie he took under his wing, and though he may not have appreciated the icon’s advice at the time, it definitely resonates now.

“You know what’s crazy?” he wonders during our chat. He sounds like he’s in a wind tunnel, but he’s just got slippery service as he heads to parts unknown, having just landed in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where he was cruising around in his latest acquisition, a 1965 Continental convertible.

“Kobe was a guy that I crossed paths with at a young age. I was 18 years old, so a lot of the things that he was saying, I didn’t understand, and they kind of went over my head. I was hearing him, but I wasn’t hearing him. And then as I got older, I would have these, like, flashes of Kobe saying things. I would re-hear his voice, and I would understand.”

He recalls a time in years past when he was waiting for the extremely tardy star at a bar/restaurant. Russell was relaxed, chilling, waiting. When Bryant finally arrived, he said: “‘Sorry I’m late, but I’m not sorry. I just left dinner with the CEO of Apple trying to figure out ways to collaborate with their brand.’ And he was like, ‘Always remember, when it comes to your brand, do things that you’re interested in, not things where [brands] want to use you or use your likeness.’ And it’s come full circle. I’m not doing random interviews or working with random brands; I’m doing things that feel authentic to me.”

Speaking of full circle, it’s amazing that he’s finally taking the advice he gained in his first year in the league and continues to listen and absorb from the players that came before him. He cites LeBron James and Rajon Rondo as mentors, noting, “I’ve had a lot of structure around me from a distance because I’ve been in and out of different teams and organizations. I got to cross paths with Steph Curry. A lot of people don’t even get to see that man up close. I had access to his phone number. Being able to question and bounce things off a guy like that, even for a short period of time, is invaluable. Being able to cross paths with any of these guys is a luxury in itself.”

It sounds like Russell’s life has been a spoil of riches. He played college ball for the Buckeyes at Ohio State University, where he earned First Team All-Big Ten recognition as well as Big Ten Freshman of the Year, foregoing the rest of his university years after being selected as the second overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2015 NBA Draft. During his rookie season, he earned recognition by being named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. In 2017, he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, where he played a pivotal role in leading the team to the NBA Playoffs. He then earned an All-Star selection in 2019.

Following an outstanding season, he secured a max contract extension with the Golden State Warriors before eventually joining the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he helped lead the team to the playoffs during the 2021-2022 season. In 2023, he was, as mentioned, traded back to the Lakers, where he and the team reached the Western Conference Finals in 2023.
But Russell wouldn’t say that ‘lucky’ is the best way to describe himself. Instead, he feels that every experience he’s had makes him, above all, ‘unique.’ Starting with his Midwestern upbringing, continuing through his very brief collegiate experience, up until now.

He shares, “I went to college for a short period of time, but before that, I went to boarding school, right? So, when I was in boarding school, it prepared me for college. When I got to college, college was so easy for me. And then when I left college, college prepared me for — I wouldn’t say the real world — but just kind of being on my own, you know? Being on my own allowed me to form my own opinions, follow my own direction, and find my own likes and dislikes. I got away from family a little bit. I left my friends at a young age. Obviously, I structure my life around my family, but they’re not in the NBA with me. I had to figure things out on my own and live my life. The NBA helped me come out of my shell. You think it’s gonna be one thing, and then it’s not, and you kind of just get used to not getting too excited, right? And you stay level. That’s how I go about things, at least.” 

Though Russell came up on his own, he’s certainly not there right now. Just over a year ago, he and model girlfriend Laura Ivaniukas became parents to son Riley Russell, adding another layer (a welcome one) of complexity to his life. But life is all about finding balance, and for now, at least, he seems to have found it — even if it isn’t necessarily what others deem to be ‘conventional.’

“I’m a guy of many talents, and I’m a guy that has many interests. I go with what I like, and that might be against the norm the majority of the time, but if I like it, I love it. And if I’m for it, I support it. I live my life by that. I think that relates to my fashion, my style of play on the basketball court, the business ventures I’m interested in, and the direction I’m going towards. A lot of people say they hate China, right? And I love China. I find myself going against the grain, sometimes by accident, but I’m fine with it,” he says.

As such, he views himself this way: “I would say I’m a professional chameleon. I’ve lived and played in a lot of different cities. I’m comfortable being uncomfortable. I can adapt.”

So what I’m hearing is this: you should never judge this closed book by its cover, at least in D’Angelo Russell’s case. Make no mistake, he will surprise you. 

D'Angelo Russell
SWEATER: The Elder Statesman
WATCH: Cartier

Photo Credit: Mark Hanson