Kelly Oubre Jr. and Alvin Kamara: New Orleans's unique sons
Kelly Oubre Jr. will be the first one to admit that he’s a weird dude.
“The weird ones are usually ones who will crack the codes and take over the world,” Oubre explains. “We’re not bad people, we’re just weird in a good way.”
Just like Oubre himself, his story is unique. The journey on how the 22-year old got to the nation’s capital starts in New Orleans, where the Wizards will play the Pelicans on Wednesday night.
Oubre was born in New Orleans on December 9, 1995. He lived in Magnolia Projects public housing, which is known as a high-crime area of the city, with his father Kelly Oubre Sr. The family would move to Uptown New Orleans after that, seeking a safer community. Around the time Oubre Jr. was seven years old, his family moved to New Orleans East into a house. The Oubres would only stay there for two years, as Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and called for evacuations in August of 2005.
In response to one of the deadliest hurricanes in history, Oubre Sr. packed their belongings and drove west, evacuating to the Houston area. Their house in East New Orleans ended up escaping any flooding, but the Oubre family decided not to return to New Orleans. Kelly Sr. decided it would be better for him to grow up in a different place, taking the hurricane as a sign from God.
After attending Findlay Prep high school in Nevada his senior year, Oubre Jr. went to Kansas for one year. The Wizards would trade up in the 2015 NBA Draft to take Oubre, who is now starting for the Wizards in his fourth NBA season.
Converse recently signed Oubre to a multi-year footwear and apparel endorsement deal, the company’s only current representative in the NBA. Oubre will mainly wear Nike basketball shoes on the court and show off the Converse’s casually. Already with a love for fashion and what he likes to wear off the court, Oubre was an ideal fit for this sponsorship. He always impresses with what he wears to games, sticking to his own ‘wave’ and style.
During the Wizards’ lone trip to New Orleans last season, Oubre didn’t wear his usual fashionable pregame attire. Instead, he wore New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara’s jersey to the game.
Kamara is one of the NFL’s most exciting offensive players, and Oubre, a lifelong Saints fan, copped his jersey after watching Kamara jump over somebody last season. This season, the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year has helped lead the Saints to an NFL-best 10-1 record, scoring 15 touchdowns in 11 games. A fantasy football legend to many, there’s much more to Kamara behind the mask of his helmet.
Kamara’s mother, Adama, came to the U.S. from Liberia in 1989 when she was 29, narrowly escaping a civil war. Adama Kamara raised him; he has never spoken to his father. Kamara was one of the top players in the country at Norcross High School in Georgia, and committed to Alabama under Nick Saban. His time there was short-lived; Kamara partially tore his lateral meniscus and missed the majority of his freshman season. When he returned to practice, he had already redshirted and did not take drills seriously. Saban would end up suspending him for their game against LSU and the Sugar Bowl.
In February 2013, Kamara was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt. The police officer then discovered Kamara had a suspended learner’s permit, and arrested him. Adama would bail him out of jail later that night.
As a result of what had transpired at Alabama, Kamara was not allowed to transfer to another SEC school for a year, so he transferred to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas in 2013. He would then transfer to Tennessee where he would finish his career before getting drafted. At Tennessee, he began becoming the person he is today, debuting the dreadlocks and gold grill, and proving to the world he was bigger than what had happened at Alabama and shortly thereafter.
Oubre is not just a fan of Kamara’s, they actually have mutual friends and have met before. Oubre stayed in touch with friends from the AAU circuit in New Orleans, and one of his best friends, Jalen, still lives down there. Jalen is friends with Tvenchy, a close friend of Kamara’s and local streetwear fashion designer who is responsible for many of Kamara’s outfits. Both Oubre and Kamara are known for their unique styles on and off the court, so it only makes sense that their connection is through a New Orleans native and stylist.
“He’s a dog on the field, and he doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him off the field,” Oubre said. “That’s exactly me.”
“I think when guys have that same kind of vibe, you tend to gravitate or connect with them,” Kamara said of Oubre. “So that’s kind of like our connection right there.”
“We both have our brands going off the field or off the court,” Oubre explained, “which kind of makes us who we are, which brings us over the top from not being the normal athlete. At the end of the day, I just feel like I want to be the best at doing what I do, and I’m sure he wants to do the same. That’s kind of where the foundation is right there – just wanting to be great.”
The two athletes consider one another peers, as they have similar lifestyles due to their strenuous schedules. They also hold a love for New Orleans, even though the city has relatively speaking only been a small portion of their respective lives.
Oubre’s connection to the city has already been told, but he’s continued to give back to the community that helped raise him. Last season in New Orleans, Oubre, presented 10 high school students with $1,000 scholarships before the March 9 game. The students were from his father’s alma mater – Cohen College Prep. Oubre plans to do the same on Wednesday, awarding 10 new students from the New Orleans area with scholarships.
Kamara has fully embraced the city as well, becoming a true home for the 23-year old. He walks through the city like anybody else. After every game last season, Kamara walked home 1.1 miles from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to his downtown condo. He’ll stop by and chop it up with people on the streets and sign autographs and photos to his biggest and truest fans. Kamara often hangs out in the same areas Oubre’s friends like to frequent.
“A lot of people from the city don’t really accept athletes because sometimes they act bigger than what they are or what the city is, Oubre explained. “And he [Kamara] doesn’t. He’s actually in my old hood hanging out with people that I know. He’s around the city, he’s a guy that you can come to if he’s out. And that’s the biggest thing. Just like me being in D.C. – I embrace the D.C. culture because whoever is around, whether we’re in the southeast or downtown, you can come holler at me because I’m a human being as well. It’s just about being transparent, and I feel like that’s what he’s doing out there in the city.”
“It’s the people here,” Kamara says of his embracement of New Orleans. “I mean it’s just a good vibe down here. I think everybody looks out for everybody out here. When you give back to the community, it gives back to you.”
Oubre – or Tsunami Papi – certainly has a brand: the clothes, the earrings, the tattoos, the hashtags, and the emojis all embody who Kelly Oubre Jr. is. He’s a weird, energetic, and caring dude who wants to be himself. Kamara is similarly weird, but different in his own style, approach, and story. He has the gold grill, a bull nose piercing, and the dreadlocks.
“I think it’s fire,” Oubre said of Kamara’s style. “It’s very different, man. You can’t judge him, that’s just who he is. You have to accept people for who they are man and he’s different. I obviously don’t have the nose rings, but I got a lot of tattoos, I’ve got wild hair, I’ve got four piercings in my ears, a lot of things like that make us different.”
“He’s a rockstar in his own regard so I definitely respect it.”
Oubre offered Kamara tickets to last season’s game, but it didn’t work out with his strenuous schedule. Still, when the opportunity presents itself, they could easily hang out and share ideas about things that interest both of them.
“I’m a person that you don’t really need to know me to understand my energy because it’s so out there,” Oubre said. “I show love to everybody, and same from him – that’s the vibe I get from him.”
Both Oubre and Kamara have fully embraced their weirdness. They’ve dealt with adversities in mainly single parent homes. Every step in their journey has made them who they are. Oubre has his wave. Kamara has his vibe. It’s one of the main reasons they’ve been able to build their brands.
“Two weird dudes with connections to New Orleans,” Oubre said of he and Kamara.
“Yeah, I think he hit it on the head right there,” Kamara responded with a laugh.
Before Oubre switched to Converse, he and Kamara participated in an Adidas photoshoot. They both styled themselves based on the selection they were provided. Two guys with a love of fashion wanted to make sure they dressed themselves.
And of course, they ended up picking almost the exact same outfit.