With long, baggy shorts instead of the normal, tight and obscene variety, Michigan’s famed “Fab-Five” brought into basketball the hip-hop flair that has defined the game ever since. With the vast popularity of street-ball, $500 Nikes and throwback jerseys, it is hard to imagine basketball without “bling.” Yet, last Monday National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern introduced a league-wide dress code that would target aspects of the game he wrongly sees as the cause of NBA’s troubles. He must realize that the league’s real problems are volatile individuals who spend more time in a court than on one. Dressing such players another way does nothing to change their attitudes. The commissioner must avoid white-washing the league and eliminating the urban flavor that is an integral part of the game’s identity.
The proposed dress code, which because of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement requires no approval from the players’ union, would prohibit T-shirts, headgear, sleeveless-shirts, chains, medallions, headphones, sneakers, sandals and work boots at all league-related events, such as while arriving at games, leaving arenas and during press conferences. Furthermore, the code requires players to wear a sports jacket at all times when not in uniform on the sidelines.
The purpose of the dress code, as stated by the commissioner, is to freshen the image of the largely urban game and counteract the league’s sinking popularity. However, Stern is wrong to think that requiring players to wear business attire will solve the NBA’s image problems. Clad the Indiana Pacers’ Ron Artest in Armani and he’ll still be every bit the lunatic who muscled into the stands at The Palace of Auburn Hills. In fact, making a connection between the hip-hop attire popular among the league’s players and the rogue and violent actions the league has become known for is a discriminatory leap that the commissioner must avoid.
Basketball has never been a clean-cut, polished-shoes type of game. Yet, the underlying reason for implementing this dress code is to make the game appeal to a largely white, upper-class audience that finds baggy FUBU jeans and giant canary-diamond medallions devious and disturbing. This motivation, however, is no excuse for changing the urban character of the game and requiring players to wear clothing that neither represents them nor the game. As Fab-Fiver Jalen Rose said, “At the end of the day, whatever I wear to the game, whether I have on jewelry, a sports coat or not – I’m still going to hear Notorious B, I’m still going to hear Tupac.”
This new dress code, instituted for less-than-pure reasons, will not polish the NBA’s tarnished image. Indeed, it may further separate the league’s players and owners. NBA superstar and headgear aficionado Allen Iverson and maverick Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have vowed to fight it, while Boston’s Paul Pierce flatly asserted, “I’m not rolling with that.” If the league truly wishes to fight its negative perception, it should institute tougher policies against specific negative behaviors on and off the court instead of trying to paint a false image by putting its players in suits.