In December 2017, the Washington Wizards were eating breakfast in a hotel ballroom before a road game. John Wall, then the team’s star point guard, entered the room with 15 green boxes in hand, each containing a Rolex Day-Date. He proceeded to give one to every member of the team as a holiday present – the ultimate leadership flex for a franchise player.
For many of his teammates, most of whom weren’t stars, it was their first truly nice watch. Which makes a certain sense, because the Day-Date has become the unofficial starter watch for many NBA players. It almost feels wrong to call the Day-Date a “starter,” but we’re talking about the NBA, where Audemars Piguet, Hublot, and Richard Mille abound. In a world where players can wear just about anything they like, it’s worth noting that this particular watch is all over the league, on the arms of benchwarmers and All-Stars alike. With the NBA season tipping off tonight, let’s dig deeper into this seldom-discussed Rolex fascination.
The Rolex Day-Date launched in 1956, and gained its nickname as the “President” because it adorned the wrists of many U.S. Presidents. It’s always made of a precious metal and is the de-facto watch of success. Whether you’re President of the United States or a master of the hardwood, the Day-Date carries the same meaning: You’ve made it.
Getting to the NBA is “making it.” Only one percent of collegiate basketball players ever play in the pros, and the draft itself is limited to just 60 selections. Over time, many players have chosen to mark their ascendance to “The League” with this watch.
Pay close attention the next time you watch an NBA tunnel walk. This is where players – such as Day-Date wearers Russell Westbrook and Damian “Dame Time” Lillard – show off their style on the way to the locker room. Very often, you’ll spot the iconic President bracelet on players’ wrists.
So why does a 64-year-old watch design appeal to NBA players? Well, as with most things basketball, we can look to Michael Jordan. He’s been known to wear a platinum Day-Date – a case material worthy of a six-time, never-lost-in-the-finals champion. He made Nike cool, so it stands to reason he’d do the same for Rolex in the NBA. (He’s also been spotted wearing other truly incredible watches over the years, from an original Lange Datograph to pieces by Urwerk.)
Modern NBA players have taken a page from Jordan’s book, treating the Day-Date as a stepping stone into the larger horological world. Kevin Love, power forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers, once said in an interview that looking at his Rolex Day-Date is “a reminder that I don’t have a Paul Newman Daytona.” For NBA players, this is the gateway watch.
LeBron James, for example, has been known to wear a host of complicated watches from Audemars Piguet, as a former ambassador of the brand. In 2016, however, he wore a yellow-gold Day-Date II during the Cavaliers championship parade. This was arguably the most special day of his career, after he helped end Cleveland’s long title drought. To honor it, the King chose the President.
James’ inner circle of NBA friends, dubbed the “Banana Boat Crew,” includes Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul, and all of them wear Presidents too. Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant may wear his ceramic bezel, white dial Rolex Daytona most often, but he wore the Day-Date first. You can add former Durant teammates (and fellow MVPs) James Harden and Steph Curry to the list of Day-Date devotees too. All of this to say, the Day-Date keeps good company.
But LeBron and his contemporaries are now the old guard. Will the allure of the Day-Date continue to tantalize new generations of players? The proof is in the pudding. Just last year, the NBA welcomed arguably its most touted prospect since James: rim-wrecking Duke star Zion Williamson. After NBA commissioner Adam Silver called his name as the 2019 number one draft pick, Williamson ascended the stage with his crisp off-white suit, New Orleans Pelicans hat, and – what else – a solid gold Rolex Date-Date on his wrist.
Photos: Getty Images