How Mahershala Ali Brought Swagger from the Basketball Court to the Red Carpet

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Daniele Venturelli/WireImage

Before he took home the Oscars for Best Supporting Actor for his roles as Juan in 2016’s Moonlight and as Dr. Don Shirley in 2018’s Green Book, Mahershala Ali played basketball at St. Mary’s University. Although he was not known to be a scorer, Gilmore (his last name before he converted to Islam in 2000) was the hustle man/defensive specialist for the Gaels. 


Ali’s skills on the court were undoubtedly impressive, and the 45-year-old actor has been transferring that heat to the red carpet. His tenacious qualities from basketball show up in downright fire styles. 

As early as 2013, Ali really started dressin’, straddling the line between streetwear and suiting. More low-key events, like smaller film festivals, have given us ear-baring beanies and loose silhouettes. The larger red carpets, like the Emmys and the Oscars, have called for tuxedos and strong velvets. 

Here, we take a look at Ali’s range of style, organized from swaggy street to simple and chic, and rated for their level of fire on a scale of one to five.

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Ali attends an AOL Build Speaker Series at AOL Studios on June 23, 2016 in New York City / Kris Connor/FilmMagic

Swag-o-meter: ?

Tan France, from Netflix’s Queer Eye, would approve of this use of a bomber jacket and a patterned button-down. Ali keeps it cool with straight-leg jeans, cuffed a few times for added swag.

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Ali attends the screening for 'Green Book' at The Roxy Hotel Cinema on November 14, 2018 / Jim Spellman/WireImage

Swag-o-meter: ????

This look is very “foggy day in London Town” and we’re into it. The combination of slacks, polka-dot button-down and navy jacket is emphasized by amazing black-and-white loafers and a sharp haircut. This is Ali at his best. 

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Ali attends Esquire Townhouse on October 11, 2018 in London, England / Mike Marsland/Wireimage

Swag-o-meter: ????

Here, Ali rocks the beanie-that-doesn’t-cover-your-ears trend. When paired with a neutral suit and gray t-shirt, the outfit is the perfect balance of elevated and street. We’re also digging his warm smile and sneakers. This look is a home run.

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Ali attends the Tribeca Film Festival on April 14, 2016 / Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Swag-o-meter: ??

Perhaps the edgiest of Ali looks, this graphic combination of black and white is as hip as we’ve seen the former b-baller. A long, high-buttoned shirt paired with a fedora could’ve gone very wrong, but somehow he manages to look sharp. Laceless boots complete the fit.

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Ali attends the GQ Men of the Year Party at Chateau Marmont on December 8, 2016 / Mike Windle/Getty Images for GQ

Swag-o-meter: ???

Our personal favorite Ali moment, this patterned blazer over a white shirt and black slacks feels fresh and fashion forward. If you look closely, the actor’s shoes are a combination of shiny patent leather and navy suede: a winning combination. 

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Ali attends the HBO premiere of True Detective at DGA Theater on January 10, 2019 / Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO

Swag-o-meter: ?????

The most daring—but perhaps the most memorable—Ali look comes in the form of this chevron-embossed shiny green silk suit with a tied belt. The square-toed, cognac leather shoes feel elegant and unexpected. This look gets an A+. 

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Ali attends the National Board of Review Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on January 4, 2017 / Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

Swag-o-meter: ???

Ali slays this gala red carpet in head-to-toe black. The star of his look is the floral-embossed black button-down. When paired with an otherwise basic suit, it makes the outfit feel elevated and exciting. 

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Ali attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 / Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Swag-o-meter: ????

This upscale look exemplifies Ali’s ability to merge the hip world of streetwear with the elevated world of red carpets. Details like a striking velvet jacket, powder-blue double collar and laceless shiny boots launch this fit over the edge. Also, doesn’t his smile just look so warm and inviting?

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Ali arrives at the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 22, 2013 / Jeff Vespa/WireImage

Swag-o-meter: ????

Ali has been nailing classic suiting since 2013, and this photo from the 65th Emmy Awards proves just that. His fallback look for elevated red carpets is a black tuxedo with a black bow tie, and we’re very OK with that. 

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