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Kim Mulkey: Basketball’s Reigning Queen of Outrageous Style



Kim Mulkey strutted the sidelines, a human sparkler in her gaudy sequined pantsuit. Under the arena lights, she shimmered and shone, every bit the ringleader commanding her circus. The LSU players were her acrobats, flipping and twisting and following her cadences. The opposing coaches cowered like domesticated animals, fearing her crack of the whip. 

This was The Mulkey Show, and everyone was watching.

She bellowed with the roar of a famished lioness, stalking up and down the floor in sequins that seemed borrowed from a deranged Liberace. Big Bird meets P.T. Barnum in a gleaming biohazard suit. The outfits were impossible to ignore, harsh assaults on the senses like her personality – but that was precisely the point. 

Kim Mulkey had turned herself into a brand, a logo scribbled across the skin as brazenly as a face tattooed on a tough guy’s neck. She was women’s basketball’s answer to the Trumpian ethos, demanding the spotlight with her antics and getups, monetizing her cult of personality.  

“How many eyes are on her every game?” mused her stylist Sydney Bordonaro. “She’s the OG of capitalizing on who you are. Mulkey taking that opportunity is priceless.”

As the women’s game exploded in popularity and new NIL rules incentivized athletes to embrace brands and identity, Mulkey was writing the playbook. She had turned egregious dressing rooms into her catwalks, scoffing at the notion of “fashion” and simply dressing for her role: The one-woman show.

Nobody could look away, whether they loved her or reviled her. Every leer and jeer further amplified her wattage, each barb or breathless compliment stoking her fire. She was reality TV-wrapped in shiny pants, a living psychological experiment to see how far one person could push the boundaries of good taste.

It didn’t hurt that she also happened to be an elite coach, her players’ Success in the opening act before the real show began – The Kim Mulkey Experience, a three-ring circus with no ringmaster other than the lady herself, equal parts Don King and Donatella Versace in a clashing kaleidoscope of colors and feisty bombast.

As her LSU team advanced in the NCAA tournament, having just slayed one dragon in UCLA, America’s darlings, she prepared for her next conquest. The Iowa Hawkeyes would feel her blazing glare and searing words next, while she inevitably blinded them with Next week’s eye-popping ensemble, perhaps accessorized with flaming batons or a boa constrictor.  

Because this was the Mulkey Show, and she was Playing every night to packed houses. The hoops were just the sideshow preamble. When Kim Mulkey took the court, she was the main event.

A Brief History of Basketball Coach Fashion

It was the Lakers coach Pat Riley who set the tone for sideline fashion back in the 1980s when he adopted a wardrobe of Armani suits, using clothes to convey his ambition and polish. “He became the standard-bearer,” Jackson said. “But he also blended in.”

Pat Summitt, who spent 38 years as the women’s basketball coach at Tennessee, took a similar approach, becoming known for her shoulder pads and power suits. As Lindsay Gibbs, founder of the Power Plays newsletter, pointed out, female coaches had long understood that “they were being scrutinized to a different level” and that what they wore would play a role whether they liked it or not.  

Yet overall, it has been the men who have garnered much of the attention – perhaps because they also had bigger paychecks and discretionary income. Perhaps because the WNBA has a fraught history with gender stereotyping, which for years saw the organization pushing classically “feminine” ideals, including makeup tutorials for rookies.

In recent years, especially in the men’s game, coaches have ceded the spotlight to players, opting for team apparel over designer clothes, even as their stars have become front-row regulars at fashion shows. Mulkey is an alternative to all that.

Sexist Column Controversy 

The Los Angeles Times faced backlash over the weekend for an opinion piece that LSU coach Kim Mulkey decried as sexist toward her team. The column by UCLA beat writer Ben Bolch contrasted the Tigers as “Louisiana hot sauce” and “dirty debutantes” against the Bruins as “America’s sweethearts” and “milk and cookies.”

After Mulkey slammed the “sexist” language in her postgame press conference following LSU’s Sweet 16 win over UCLA, the Times removed the original column and added an editor’s note saying it “did not meet editorial standards” and was updated to “remove language that was inappropriate and offensive.” 

Mulkey was livid at the initial column, saying, “You can criticize coaches all you want…But the one thing I’m not going to let you do, I’m not going to let you attack young people, and there were some things in this commentary, guys, that you should be offended by as women. It was so sexist, and they don’t even know it.”

She took specific issue with the “dirty debutantes” phrasing, telling reporters, “Take your phone out right now and google ‘dirty debutantes’ and tell me what it says. Are you kidding me? I’m not going to let you talk about 18- to 21-year-old kids in that tone.”

Bolch admitted on Twitter that he “failed miserably” with his “deeply offensive” word choices, writing, “Our society has had to deal with so many layers of misogyny, racism, and negativity that I can now see why the words I used were wrong.”

UCLA coach Cori Close, who had initially shared the column, also apologized, saying “I made a huge mistake in reposting without reading it first…I would never want to promote anything that tears down a group of people in our great game.”

The controversy shined a spotlight on the ongoing issues of sexism that female athletes and coaches face from media narratives. As Mulkey put it, “It was even sexist for this reporter to say UCLA was milk and cookies.”

Mulkey’s Intentional Branding

Whether clashing with reporters or embracing her flashy personal style, Mulkey has shown a willingness to court controversy and make herself the center of attention. It’s all part of her unique approach to personal branding in the women’s game.

“She’s the OG example of how to capitalize on who you are,” said stylist Sydney Bordonaro. “With how many eyes are on her during games, how could you not take that opportunity? It’s priceless.”

From her $3.2 million annual salary (the highest for any women’s college coach) to her eye-catching sequined pantsuits, Mulkey has become one of the most recognizable figures in the sport. She’s an embodiment of the new era of personal branding and monetizing athlete images that has arrived thanks to NIL rules.

“She has built herself into a brand,” said author Mitchell Jackson. “It’s about ratings and about personality.”

Love her or hate her, Mulkey’s style and persona are impossible to ignore – just like the winning culture she has instilled at LSU. After clashing with a reporter over a “sexist” column, she led her team past Iowa and into the Final Four. There, Mulkey’s Tigers will likely be making another loud style statement, courtesy of their deliberately provocative coach.

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