Monte Morris is a little tired. He’s fresh from practice and the Wizards have only been home from Japan, where the team played its two preseason games, for a few days. The jet lag still lingers.
“I loved Japan, it was my first time there. I liked the people, they were really nice. The city, it’s clean. That was more shocking for me, to see how clean it was. When we got to the practice facility, and they advised us to take off our shoes at the door,” he chuckles in recollection.
Fresh, too, are some of the pieces Morris — a subtler fashion aficionado compared to others in the league (or alongside him in the Wizards lineup), but a fan of fashion all the same — picked up in Tokyo.
“Celine, Dior, Balenciaga, Cartier, Rolex,” Morris lists off the stores he made a point to stop in. “I did a few things, bought some nice things that I’ll be able to show during the season when I dress up for games. I like their little shopping centers. It was nice.”
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In Tokyo, the team didn’t have very much downtime. But Morris still noticed, in his and the team’s excursions to sumo matches and local restaurants mostly led by teammate Rui Hachimura, the difference between the styles and cuts in the menswear looks compared to home. It was noticeable, he says, that things are “more tailored,” while baggier fits are popular in the United States. Morris was also a fan of the “variety and different options” he saw in Japan.
That variety harkened back to the way Morris started to approach fashion in the first place.
“I always had good swag, even before I had money I knew how to put stuff together,” Morris says of how his approach to figuring out his personal style started. Someone he’s shared that evolution with has been his longtime friend and new teammate, Kyle Kuzma.
“For me, I like the risks that Kyle takes with it,” Morris says. “I like some of the stuff he wears. But me, if I don’t feel it, I won’t put it on. I won’t wear it just to take a leap. Sometime this year, I’m sure he’s going to give me some ideas. It just happens like that, especially with a best friend too.”
Morris’ favorite fits, it turns out, are perfect for fall in D.C.
“I’m more of a turtleneck, sweater type guy. More casual, like Chelsea boots. That’s when I look like my best self, I feel like. I’m trying to stay in that lane,” he says. “Fall attire. I think I can jump into that real well.”
Jumping into best fits — whether in fashion, relationships, or in Morris’ case this season, a new team — takes a great deal of self-awareness. To know who you are and not feel pressure from outside forces as styles or situations change. Morris was selected in the second round of the Draft by the Nuggets and played with the team for five seasons. His role as a rotational player changed considerably when he was inserted into the starting lineup for an injured Jamal Murray. When he and teammate Will Barton were traded to the Wizards at the end of that breakout season, it meant that he would play for someone other than Denver for the first time in his NBA career.
Morris’ game — steady, collaborative, with the fitting nickname “Count of Monte Assist/TO” — is a kind of like a closet staple, something you reach for again and again. It would’ve been complimentary to nearly any outfit in the league, but a major reason his fit with the Wizards has felt so seamless was the familiar face that welcomed Morris to the team: former Denver assistant and current Washington head coach Wes Unseld Jr.
“Me and his relationship has always been more than basketball. I know that I can go to his office and talk to him about anything in life. Him being my coach now is giving me more confidence because I know he’s going to demand that high level,” Morris says of playing for Unseld again. “He deserved this opportunity, everything coming his way, he worked very hard. He can tell you the same for me, two guys that are worth everything they put in the work for, it’s only right it comes together like this — I wouldn’t have wanted it any different.”
Besides a familiarity for Morris’ game, and where Unseld knows how to push and play him in games, the transition to a Wizards team one season into a much-needed overhaul has been, thus far, smooth. Fast forward to a month into the season and the Wizards are more than hanging around in the East. Washington has leaned into a defensive identity, and as of this writing, they’re eighth in the league in defensive rating and find themselves sitting at fifth in the conference with a 10-7 record.
“You can just tell around the league that people are sleeping on us, but in our locker room, we’re like this,” Morris crosses his fingers together. “We’re together. We’re all trying to complete one go. To shock the naysayers. So the locker room vibe is totally different.”
To that end, Morris notes the uptick in “team bonding” activities the Wizards are doing, but the sense of familiarity goes deep. Morris and Kuzma grew up together in Flint, Michigan. Delon Wright and Kuzma both went to the University of Utah. Barton was in Denver with Morris and Unseld, while Wizards cornerstone Bradley Beal — plus relative newcomers Hachimura, Deni Avdija, and Corey Kispert — have all come up with the club.
It makes sense, then, that the bigger adjustment for Morris came off the court. Oftentimes it gets skimmed over that, along with team dynamics shifting in a trade, the real lives of the people involved get thrown in flux, too.
“The move was the toughest part for me, and reality kicking in,” Morris says of first getting to D.C., and the time immediately following his trade. “Like, this is your new home, finding where to go with [a] GPS. All that’s new for me.”
It’s rare in the ceaselessly shifting landscape of the NBA for an athlete to stay with a team, whether because of a trade or making moves in free agency, for five seasons. As much as the trade to Washington was an upset to the style and fit Morris made for himself in Denver, the move offered an opportunity for a new look, a fresh start.
“I like fresh starts. Sometimes you need to get a different type of hunger, or different type of result, just changing something up a little bit,” Morris says with a nod. “For me, it’s just another chapter in my book. Year five — we’ve been through five chapters already — that’s how I look at it. Chapter six, it’s just a change of location with the same drive and the same opportunities. It’s like we’re reading a book, we’re just on chapter six now.”
The attitude of managing a big move, or figuring out where he can benefit and push his new team, is something Morris says he’s gotten better at taking in stride. As someone who admittedly used to “beat himself up” over every single game and strove to be “overly perfect,” Morris has shifted to a wider lens and more long-term approach in basketball.
“Everybody wants to be an MVP, everybody wants to be an All-Star, everybody wants to win Most Improved, but at the end of the day, I always judge on wins and losses,” he says. “So if I can get wins and get to the playoffs, whether I get those awards or not, my life going forward is going to be good. My goal is to get D.C. back in the playoffs. I think this city deserves it.
“I just try to keep my demeanor as straight as I can ‘cause I’m really the quarterback out there,” he continues. “They’re looking at me for answers. I can’t panic or change my demeanor because people are watching me. I try to keep even keel, keep a smile on my face even through hard times, and people will follow. That’s what being a leader’s all about.”
With so much of the season stretching out in front of Morris and the new-look Wizards, it might be preemptive to say the fashion and form the franchise is playing with will turn into something timeless, a lasting style all their own. But the tell-tale signs of confidence that will ultimately take are there. The only carryover, and personal staple Morris is missing, lives in a different kind of lane, really its own runway.
“I’m a big bowler on the side. That’s my second hobby. I’m trying to get into the PBA in the offseason coming up,” he grins. “I’ve only been twice [in D.C.], but I used to go all the time in Denver. I’ve got my own ball and everything, I’m for real for real.
“Brad said he could bowl. I probably could take Brad,” Morris muses. “We can go up against Chris Paul and D-Book on ESPN, that would be nice,” Suddenly, the lightbulb goes off over his head — “Tell CP3, come get me for the PBA Bowl!”
Lasting style has always required the right amount of attitude, you know.