Nuggets’ Monte Morris Talks Conquering Flint and Discovering His Style in Denver
LOS ANGELES -- On a warm October afternoon—far from his hometown of Flint, Michigan—Monte Morris sits on the bed in his hotel room at The Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. With the Denver Nuggets in town to play the Lakers, the team's sixth man takes the opportunity to run through pregame outfits for the upcoming season with his stylist, Rocio Doyle.
She wheels in a rolling rack, and arranges outfits and shoes accordingly, ready for the second-year Nuggets guard to try them on. From a vintage-looking 1970s leather jacket to trendy streetwear to designer brands like Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, Rocio pitches look after look as Monte gives his feedback.
“You know how I like my shirts to fit a little slim,” he jokes with Rocio after noticing her selection of slender cut tops for him. The two first met in Ames, Iowa, at a fashion show that Rocio styled and in which Monte modeled when he was a junior at Iowa State in 2016.
“We have a vibe with each other,” he tells CloseUp360.
Though they’ve known each other a while now, this will be the first season that Rocio consistently styles Monte. He’s taken more of an interest in fashion to match his motto: “If you look good, you play good.”
CU360 recently caught up with Monte between fittings for his first comprehensive interview as an NBA player.
(The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Monte Morris tries on a Loyal Americans long-sleeve tee, strap-back hat and joggers. (Magdalena Munao)
CloseUp360: How did you get into basketball?
Monte Morris: My mom was a coach when I was young. She coached at my high school, so I was always around basketball when I grew up and kinda just fell in place. Been playing it all my life, since I was four.
CU360: Because she was a coach, did you feel like you had to play? Or was it something where you wanted to play?
MM: No, I wanted to play. I mean, that's all I really grew up around, so I ain't gonna say ... I had a choice, but that's all I knew. I knew playing. I knew I was going to grow up and be a basketball player.
CU360: Growing up, what was your family life like?
MM: I never met my dad, personally. It was just me and my mom. I got a picture of my dad with my mom, but other than that, I don't know. He passed away—heart attack. We got the phone call at two in the morning one night and that was it. I was probably about 16. So it's really just me and my mom. She was just making stuff happen, so that's why I respect her. That's why we're so close.
CU360: What’s your relationship like with your mom?
MM: It's everything. We've been through a lot of stuff. She's always kept it real with me and we got that relationship now where we talk about whatever's on our mind. And we can actually tell when something's going on with us because we're that close. I know when something's on her mind or she's going through something. I can just tell just being around her with her energy. Yeah, I'm all she got. I'm the only child, so that's just the bond that we got. I got her tatted on me now, so it's cool. She got my name [tattooed] on her in a rose.
CU360: What are some ways that you’ve been able to provide for your mom?
MM: I was on a two-way contract last year, so she really didn't ask for much but little stuff she needed. I was able to take care of it. She wants to move to Arizona, so she's looking at places. I'm going to help her with that and get her a house.
CU360: Being from Flint, what challenges did you face growing up?
MM: I had a lot of things I had to stay away from, like the negative life as far as, like, I was so much younger than all my friends on the block. So they were five years older than me. And they were into stuff faster than I was, so I saw a lot of stuff early. Then my mom just told me what to stay away from. So I had to learn real quick. I just tried to keep playing ball and stay out of the street life and being bad.
CU360: Why did you have such older friends?
MM: Just the neighborhood we lived in. It was a neighborhood full of kids, but everyone was just so much older than me. I just had to act older than I was.
CU360: Do you feel like you matured quickly because of that?
MM: Yeah, I did. They were real talented, but I've seen why they weren't successful because they were doing a lot of other stuff and didn't have the right guidance. I'm just happy I had good guidance with my mom and my family because it kept me on the right path.
Monte sits on the bed in his hotel room while wearing Stampd joggers. (Magdalena Munao)
CU360: What else was it like growing up in Flint?
MM: I mean, just the vibe is hard because you can just be somewhere and anything can break out, and you ain't got no control over it. I think that's one of the toughest things growing up—you wanted to go outside and play. You know, being a kid, you want to go places, but you really don't know the circumstances of doing it because you're so young, you just want to go. I had to take some time and not do things because of the violence and things that were going on around the city.
CU360: Do you have any experiences you can share of things that have happened?
MM: Yeah, I mean, being at parties and people just come out of the streets just shooting. It's some crazy stuff. Like fights, that's just normal like where we come from. Always fights when we go places. It's crazy to say, but you're just immune to it.
We were playing Saginaw Buena Vista, my high school. But I was young, probably fifth grade. It was always a big rival. The game had ended. The gym was real small. We were up in Saginaw. My mom put me in the middle of the car. I had to sit tucked [away] because there was a big-ass brawl in the field. The field was so big and it was like our whole school and their whole school and people busting windows. It was crazy.
CU360: What’s the water crisis like in Flint? And how is it for your mom?
MM: The thing is, there's certain spots in Flint where, like, you can't do nothing with the water. Where she stays, you can shower in it. It's just certain filters that messes you up. You can't drink it. Like in the crib, you got like 10 boxes of water in a room just stacked up. It's bad. We ain't had clean water since 2014. They put it on CNN. I feel like they did that because they had to. They had no choice. But it got brushed over so quick.
Monte inspects Yves Saint Laurent white leather sneakers while wearing AllSaints flannel, an YSL tee and Stampd joggers. YSL Chelsea boots sit on the table. (Magdalena Munao)
CU360: Do you think people don’t care about it anymore?
MM: Not that. I just feel like people don't care about a thing unless it's them. They don't know how severe something is unless it's happening to them, and then they want to take action. People don't look at stuff, like, if you were in their shoes. That's just how the world works. You can't blame them for not trying to give back or help. They're not there. It's sad, but what can people really do?
CU360: What are some ways the water crisis affects people in Flint daily?
MM: I was in college when shit hit the fan. But I'm sure it was like that way before, like when I was in high school. We just didn't know and we were drinking it. You go over to your homie's house and you just see all these bottles of water. It's just bad. It's a bad vibe, to me, just going back and seeing that. People are suffering. The government was bringing in water like every month for homeless people, but they stopped doing it.
CU360: What’s your relationship like with fellow Flint natives and NBA players Kyle Kuzma and Miles Bridges?
MM: It's funny—me and Kyle grew up together. We went to the same elementary school from second grade to fifth, and then we kind of branched off and did our own thing. But we were always on the same AAU teams, local teams, football team. I got pictures of when we were young. Miles was a little bit younger than us, like three years younger than us. He was the little fat kid begging to play one-on-one against us all the time. Miles is just the little brother out of the group. He was always talented. He could play. It's just funny to see him now. He really developed and changed.
Kuz is a story, too. Kuz's whole body changed. I played against him junior year. He was at Bentley. I was at Beecher. He was about 6'3", clumsy, then he went to prep school and grew to be 6'9", and Utah took a chance on him. It was crazy to see for sure.
CU360: So we know your nickname is “Man Man.” Where did you get it from?
MM: I don't know know really how it came up. That's just the name I grew up with. I think my Auntie Nicole came up with it and everybody just ran with it. Around the community, everybody still calls me “Man Man” to this day. But it’s funny. Nobody called me that in college. They called me "Te" [as in MonTE] and then here [in Denver] they say "Te." Nobody calls me “Man Man” unless I’m back home.
CU360: Do you have any favorite memories of being at Iowa State?
MM: I won three out of four years of championships of the Big 12 tournament, and I got MVP of the Big 12 Tournament my senior year. Hitting two game-winners was big for me. Beating Kansas was big because they're like the head honcho of the league. And then I gave back to Flint. They helped me send like 11 truck loads of water my junior year back to Flint. And they all drove. Like Hy-Vee did it and it was through the university.
CU360: Going into your second season, what are some goals that you have for yourself?
MM: Just trying to make an impact. I'm just trying to change the pace of the game every time I check into the game, whether that's scoring, picking up defense, lead my team—just make the game easier for everybody. That's my job. They lean on me to get the second unit going—just making it easy for everybody always, just being a threat out there. The game slowed down for me a lot from year one to year two. I can see a lot more things out there, and I'm just more comfortable playing and understanding the schemes and what the coaches expect. And just the communication part is a lot easier for me. I'm just ready to show everybody I can play in the league.
CU360: What drives you?
MM: I really drive myself. I'm just obsessed with basketball, so when I know I have a big matchup, I just meditate the night before and just play the game before I play it.
CU360: How long do you meditate for?
MM: Probably the whole night before I go to sleep. I just make plays in my head and then the next day I go out there and do it.
CU360: How do you like living in Denver? Is it at all like Flint?
MM: Totally different. Denver is nice, pretty. Flint is just ... It's not like the normal thing to live in. You gotta adjust. With Denver, it's just somewhere where I can be at peace, especially where I stay now. It's overlooking the city, so I can just sit on my balcony and recap on life and chill, and enjoy my blessings and know where I came from. It's definitely a change for sure.
CU360: Do you feel like you being in Denver helps you focus, as opposed to being in a city like LA or New York?
MM: Yeah, there's still stuff to do in Denver, it's just ... You just know with this profession when it's time to lock in and when it's time to go have fun. Denver is a spot where there's things to do, but it's not like LA where there's things to do every single day. Me being in Denver is cool. You can focus, but at the end of the day no matter what, you gotta tone it down with all the extra curricular sooner or later if you want to be a player in this league.
Monte is all smiles and style in a Yves Saint Laurent denim jacket and hoodie, with Loyal Americans jogger pants. (Magdalena Munao)
CU360: What are some things you like about Denver?
MM: I like the weather. It gives you different dynamics of weather. It's not just hot all year round, so I like that. I like the mountains and the city is cool. People are nice. I don't know if it’s because they smoke marijuana out there. Everybody's nice. That's what I like about the city for sure.
CU360: Has it been difficult adjusting to the altitude difference?
MM: Yeah, but I'm used to it now. You only feel it when you go away for a long time like a month or a couple weeks. But when I first got there, I was having nosebleeds and it was crazy. If you're not hydrated, you're definitely cramping up when you're out there.
CU360: Basketball-wise, do you have any role models or players that you look up to?
MM: I have mentors whose games I like, but now that I'm in the NBA, I’m not a fan of nobody anymore. In college it was, "Oh, that's such and such," but now, like, we're in the same league, so that's the best way. I mean, I was taught that's the best way to adjust to the NBA—not caring who you used to look up to when you're out there. Then you'd just be caught in the moment. So you just gotta go out there and play.
Like when LeBron [James] was out there, I looked up to LeBron growing up. Me and him kind of have the same story as far as, like, no father, his relationship he has with his mom and all that. I respect all of that, but yesterday I was playing with him. I had to screen him. I mean, it was LeBron, but I was just not about to run a play because it's LeBron and I looked up to him. I mean, he's my rival now, so everybody's a rival.
CU360: What’s it like playing against LeBron?
MM: It's weird because you watched him. I mean, he's been in the league, what, 16 years? Yeah, so I've [been] watching him for a long time, but when you're out there with him, you just gotta play basketball and just look at him as another body. And don't look at him like who he is and just go out there and make plays.
CU360: You obviously have an interest in fashion. How did you get into it?
MM: I just like dressing nice. I just seen the best dressed and I've always implemented that to my mind and, like, I can do that, too. So I always want to come fly, look good. So getting with Rocio is a good thing for me, so I can stay fly.
Rocio zips Monte up in an AllSaints moto leather and printed, short-sleeve button-down with Loyal Americans pants. (Magdalena Munao)
CU360: Since working with Rocio, have you seen your style improve?
MM: I always knew what I wanted as far as the looks I was trying to go for. I’m just lazy.
CU360: So Rocio puts it together for you?
MM: Yeah. If I know what I want, I can just hit her up and tell her what look I'm trying to go for, and she'll send me a lot of stuff I can choose from.
CU360: How do you think she's been able to understand your style and know what you like?
MM: Just knowing my body, and what I'm looking for with t-shirts and stuff. She just knows. And she knows how I'm trying to look, so she's usually good.
CU360: What would you say your style is? What kind of looks do you go for?
MM: I feel like I can go deeper with my fashion, but I just go with what I'm comfortable with and used to, like denim jackets, hoodies and t-shirts. I like denim a lot, denim jackets. I feel like I can mix it up, like with leather jackets and things like that. I never got into that, but I could see myself wearing that. I just gotta expand my horizons.
Rocio dresses Monte in an Yves Saint Laurent denim jacket and Heaven tee, with Loyal Americans pants. (Magdalena Munao)
MM: Can you see yourself trying to pull off bold-statement looks like Russell Westbrook and others have in the past?
CU360: Yeah, I would. I got the body for it. I mean, I'm not one of those body types where, like, "This ain't gonna fit." I usually can get into something and look pretty decent.
CU360: What do you like about fashion?
MM: I go by the motto, "If you look good, you play good." I come to the game feeling good, looking good. I have that mindset, going out there and executing what I gotta do.