Alvin Kamara knew it was time to go. He spent this muggy Atlanta day entertaining spectators at his friend Quavo’s star-studded flag football game, “Huncho Day of the NAWF,” by scoring the first touchdown and penning as many autographs as he could. Once the game ended, and Julio Jones was named most valuable player, Kamara walked inside the locker room and ghosted out the back door.
Chasing Kamara around in his hometown is as difficult as a linebacker attempting to tackle him on any given Sunday. He’s easy to spot, a compact frame at 5’10” with dreads resting comfortably around his neck, but difficult to contain. In a split second, the Saints running back can hit you with a real-life “B” button, effortlessly spinning outside of your peripheral, as he often did during his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign last season.
But after an hour of waiting, through the same doors that Takeoff and Todd Gurley casually exited, there was no sign of Kamara. The parking lot, once crammed with dripped-out custom cars, thins out. His sister, Garmai Momolu, warned that, like a car engine in freezing temperatures, it takes time for Kamara to warm up to strangers. Except in this moment, Momolu was having a tough time reaching him, too.
From the airport to the game to the hotel, where he went to unwind, Kamara was on the move. Without a moment to himself, he was surrounded by athletes, rappers and fans throughout the day. That is until he bounced out the back door. Kamara is cordial to outsiders, but he is protective of his space, reserving it for himself and his tight-knit circle.
These days, everyone wants to be around the chicken wing-eating, gold-grill- and nose-ring-rocking Kamara. Even beyond his thrilling season, effortlessly making the transition from backup college running back to one of the NFL’s best offensive weapons, Kamara has a personality that can make the sternest NFL-boycotting fan consider purchasing his jersey.
“I’ve been asked, ‘Describe him.’ Man, I can’t,” says Chicago Sky guard Diamond DeShields, who has known Kamara since high school and is a close friend. “He’s one of the most amazing people I know. But he’s also so simple. He has his layers and intricacies—all these layers that make him this dynamic person.”
Everything is a test with Kamara. Guided by his intuition, a gift he inherited from his mother of Liberian descent, he will watch how you respond and react in certain situations that will reveal your true character. He seeks to find an authentic person, and these tests determine how many layers he will peel back.
If Kamara doesn’t sense something genuine, his walls don’t come down. Even close friends can become distant memories if they act out of character.
“He will cut you all the way off like you don’t exist,” DeShields says.
It’s why Kamara has been described as “weird” or an “asshole” by some within the NFL, but he won’t waste headspace offering a rebuttal beyond a shrug.
Nearly three hours after the game, Kamara finally texts back his location.
“Just pulled up to Houston’s on Peachtree,” he says. Say no more.
After racing down the 30-minute drive to Houston’s, I quickly spot Kamara, who is accompanied by Dave Raymond, Kamara’s business manager, and Lil Coach K, the official photographer of rapper Lil Yachty and the son of Quality Control Music co-founder Coach K.
They were in the middle of an active conversation until I walked up to their dimly lit booth in the back corner of the restaurant. The mood suddenly changes at the table. Kamara’s wall is up and, naturally, Raymond and Lil Coach K follow suit.
The tension drags on for a few minutes as high-pitched piano keys echo across the room. Finally, the NFL’s reluctant star sits upright, pouring his “boujee” Hildon mineral water and squeezing a lime slice into a glass while sternly asking, “So what you wanna talk about?”
His food preferences and facial features are like an orange rind, appealing to the eye with its bright color and texture, but an outer layer protecting the fruit it bears. It’s not what makes Kamara special. These signifiers are just synonymous with black life in Atlanta, the real chicken-wing capital of the U.S. (sorry, Buffalo), where a satisfying bite of lemon pepper flats can be found from the rural suburbs to the strip clubs. Black men with dreads and grills are common in Lenox Square, the city’s biggest mall, where they walk around head-to-toe in the latest Gucci or Ralph Lauren Polo.
Just one nose ring? In Little Five Points, a vibrant district in East Atlanta that embraces individuality and where Momolu would take her younger brother thrift shopping, that’s conservative.
“That’s the mystique behind [me],” Kamara says. “There’s no person with an inside scoop, because I don’t move around like that. Period. Unless one of these motherfuckers tell you. And guess what? Not happening.”
It’s simply the influence of the city that raised Kamara on display, and a trap. Don’t fall for it.
“If you’re distracted by that, then I know I don’t even need to fuck with you,” Kamara says. “You don’t even have the depth to even fuck with me or the group of people I’m around.”
What makes Kamara special is that he’s always unapologetically Alvin, whether he’s posing in the stands with Saints fans after one of his 14 total touchdowns last year, picking DeShields up from the hospital following surgery at Tennessee or ignoring the world to play Fortnite. His recently gained status as a young NFL star won’t change how he operates, even if the outside world doesn’t understand just how he does.
“Niggas put on capes in the league,” Kamara says as he leans back in the booth. “They got a character. They got a persona they fulfill, a brand. I don’t see a problem with it. Maximize your pockets. But what I put on, I ain’t gotta put on no cape. I just do what I feel. That’s what draws people. This isn’t an act.”
He’s more comfortable when three more friends, and food, arrive. DJ Tonee, a childhood friend who’s now one of the biggest DJs in Atlanta after breaking in artists such as Migos, Rae Sremmurd and up-and-coming artist Retro, joined for dinner just as Kamara munched on spinach artichoke dip.
Kamara hangs out with the same group of friends, who compare themselves to LeBron James and his circle, the Four Horsemen. They’re often on the road, achieving success relative to their fields, and rarely get moments to reflect together. The dialogue makes Kamara vulnerable for the first time when he thanks his friends for holding him accountable and not being the “yes” men NFL athletes often carry in their circles.
“We don’t put the load on him,” says Tvenchy, a New Orleans streetwear fashion designer sitting next to our booth with his friend, Ralph Carter. Tonee searches for a club to attend for the night. Quavo is hosting his birthday party at Empire, complete with a petting zoo in the club’s parking lot. Quavo would eventually ride up to the front door on a camel for his grand entrance.
They decide against it, knowing it will attract clout-chasers and Instagram “influencers” that want to feel important. Instead, they plan to hit up a club called Josephine.
Kamara has warmed up significantly after the nearly three-hour dinner. He extends the invitation to the club and offers some advice before we left Houston’s.
“If you just vibe, you’ll figure out what you need to know,” he says.