CHICAGO – Something big changed for Alex Caruso in the bubble. It wasn’t on-court metrics, it wasn’t him getting in the “best shape of his life,” and it wasn’t winning a championship (okay, he did do that). It was reigniting a love for golf. The then-Lakers guard, like a lot of guys killing time at Disney World, took full advantage of the accommodations, most notably the course that was available to players pretty much exclusively.
Thankfully he had a willing teacher and partner in Lakers assistant coach Mike Penberthy. Penberthy, who has been dubbed a “whisperer” for his ability to get the most out of NBA guys looking to improve their golf game, transformed Caruso’s approach. The result was knocking quite a few strokes off his handicap and making him as pesky to play against as he is on the hardwood.
Caruso has carried that passion since the bubble, and is settling into his hobbies, his role, and his part as a fan favorite. After inking a $37-million deal with the Bulls, he also picked up his first major apparel sponsorship in golf brand TravisMathew, where he’s being announced as an ambassador on Thursday. While the headband wearing, scrappy defender might not be the first name that comes to mind for fashion, it’s part of a long journey for Caruso, who has gone from G League to reliable contributor in the league. And he can’t go anywhere without being recognized as long as his signature shaved head is showing. (Although he can still hide incognito with a hat on.)
Going from uncomfortable to comfortable is everything to Caruso, who sat down with Dime from Miracle Mile before his photoshoot to talk everything from golf and his fit with the Bulls to his personal style and what NBA players’ group chats are really like.
You’ve been in Chicago now for a minute. How’s the adjustment been? How have the fans been? What has this experience been like so far? Obviously you’re still getting to wear the headband. Some people worried that it wasn’t going to be on when they saw you in a Bulls uniform.
It’s been a nice adjustment. But it has been an adjustment going from Manhattan Beach, California, and LA for four years to living in an apartment in a city-city now. It’s different, but I like it. It’s a change of pace for me. I think it’s good for me. A little uncomfort, get out of my comfort zone, which I think throughout basketball and kind of my life has been a good thing for me. I feel like I grow a lot when I’m uncomfortable in new situations. Fan reception’s been great.
I know Chicago’s a big sports town, a big sports city and they’ve been fiending for good basketball and good sports for a while. So, got off to a good start in preseason [and so far this season], but we’ve got a lot of work to go. We’re excited. We’re excited for sure.
You mentioned that being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Is that kind of how you approach everything? Because it seems like that’s been the case for you is you don’t back down from any challenges. But more specifically in terms of clothing and fashion, it’s not necessarily what some people are known for off the bat.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, everything from fashion to my hobbies, to life for me, it’s just about being comfortable and having fun. Never really stressing too much about either what you’re putting on for clothes, or who you’re now with, or what you’re doing. I’m a real big go with the flow guy. I never really take stuff too seriously. And that’s just been really, really easy for me to push that into all facets of my life.
A big hobby of yours is golf. I know you got to play a lot when you were in the bubble and it really improved your game.
Yeah, my agent [Greg Lawrence] swears it was help from one of the assistant coaches. Mike Penberthy. Former Laker player. And now assistant coach. I played a lot with him and some of the other guys in the bubble. I probably went from like a mid 90s to like a mid 80s guy coming out of there. And he swears by him being like my swing doctor. There might be a little truth to it.
Favorite course you’ve ever played. You have one?
Probably Pebble Beach. I went to play with Greg and my dad and my financial manager, Joe, late August. And I mean, for a golf head, yeah, man. It’s one of the ones I’ve played on video games. I played that.I love golf and I love playing new courses. But this was the first time where I was like a little kid. I was giddy going around the course. I know this whole, like I’ve seen Tiger Woods hit this shot or such and such hit that shot. And then cap it off 18. You know, along the coast, it’s pretty sweet.
With regards to kind of your personal style and aesthetic. Did you pick anything up in LA that you didn’t expect to pick up, wear some stuff that you were a little shocked by? Maybe taking cues from Kuz?
I started getting a little more adventurous in LA, but I think that’s also just me growing up, kind of realizing the kind of taste that I had. Being exposed, obviously, like you said, a lot of my teammates, or ex-teammates and current teammates have very loud fashion choices. I’m a little more reserved. I did start to rock the no socks, little high cut pants. That’s one of my favorite looks, but nothing too crazy. I think, at least in my eyes, I was, like I said, wearing stuff that you’re comfortable in and I like it, I’m going to wear it, and don’t really care if anybody else doesn’t.
That Premier League fantasy league, are you still in that with those guys?
I’m not, no. Didn’t do fantasy soccer this year. It’s hard for me to keep up with that and fantasy football. And watch basketball. There’s just a lot. Also just wasn’t very good at that. That was a big kicker in it too. The hardest part about being an EPL fan was living on the West Coast. Yes. Cause if your team got the early game, it’s 4:30 AM. I missed the 4:30 games. I will not lie to you. 6:30 and after I’ll get up.
How did you get connected with TravisMathew? I mean, other than being a golf fan. What does this line represent for you, and the opportunity to be the face of something like this? Where you’ve had some opportunities, you’ve had endorsements, but a major clothing brand putting their way behind you has got to feel pretty cool.
Yeah. It is. I mean, I’m excited for it. Even outside of them approaching us with this partnership. I just like their clothes. That makes it really easy for me to have this partnership when you back a product, and you actually enjoy it, and wear it, and are comfortable in it. I liked TravisMathew, and was just excited. I remember a couple years ago when I connected with somebody through their socials and was like, “They’re going to send you some clothes.” I was like, “Oh, that’s awesome.” And a couple shirts that I had, I was excited. And now it’s like TravisMathew is pretty much one of the only comfort brands that I wear around the house, out with my friends, pretty much the only hat I wear too. I have a bunch of TravisMathew hats. Too many.
And then, when it comes to comfort wear and athleisure, we’ve seen such a big change in kind of that relationship between guys and what they wear. I mean, not that long ago when you wear stuff, that’s your team warmups. But now you don’t have to sacrifice comfort to have some style.
I think that’s partially why I love it so much. Because it’s formal enough to wear if you need to wear it to dinner, out with some people. It’s a nice outfit. Or, if you just want to hang out with the boys and watch football, you can throw it on. I’ve worn different TravisMathew stuff into games before, I’ve worn it traveling. For me, it’s really diverse, how you can wear it, where you can wear it. And that’s part of the reason why I like it so much.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the new rules on offense. How is that affecting how you’re maybe approaching how you guard guys? Is it going to be a feel-out stage? Because you don’t want to maybe bite too quick if refs haven’t adjusted all the way yet or are still making those foul calls.
It’s a lot of trust. There’s a lot of trust in the system just that they are going to adjust it. Like they say they are. They’ve been really good about it and diligent about it in the past when they have emphasis on rules. So for me, I’m going to keep just doing what I’m doing and keep preparing, and being ready to guard some of these high profile and dynamic players in the league. But hopefully these rules will make it a little bit easier on me, because these guys are already as good as they are. They don’t need any extra help.
With so many moving parts on the Bulls, and so many guys that have come in, new face-wise, do you feel like you kind of have an advantage in knowing your role? In knowing your comfort level in that role? Because of everything that happened in LA, it was next man up every single year with new faces, new guys, and you went out there and you just were Alex the entire time you were in Los Angeles.
Yeah, that’s something that I pride myself in, is just being myself. We talked about off the court, wearing certain outfits and stuff like that. Or on the court, being myself, playing my game, it’s the same thing. Being comfortable. I think I’ve grown a lot as a player while I was in LA, learned a lot from some of the older guys and great teammates and coaches I had. And I’m really just excited to kind of keep pushing myself and see how far I can take my skill set, my game, and continue to be that great teammate and try to win games.
Did you see that meme of Jordan passing the torch to you?
Yeah, I did. That made it to the boys group chat. That’s what I think people understand is that, all this stuff that goes on Twitter, my friends send it to me before I see it on social media. They love it more than everybody else.
This interview has been edited and briefly condensed for clarity. Dime was invited on a hosted trip to Chicago by TravisMathew for reporting on this piece. You can find out more about our policy on press trips/hostings here.