Dress Code: Hit or Miss?

By Jerold Wells Jr.
Updated: October 20, 2005

MINNESOTA—Clothing. There may not be a thing more telling about a person than the clothing that he or she chooses. Based on clothing alone, people often draw assumptions on ones self-esteem, personality, character, and level of professionalism. Oftentimes those assumptions are faulty and upon closer inspection of the person in question, they are actually quite foolish. What a person wears does not define or create in them something that they do not hold dear. There are unprofessional people that wear three piece suits and astute businessmen who prefer jeans and sneakers.

Recently NBA Commissioner David Stern handed down a new dress code policy for players earning paychecks in the NBA. The new dress code will include sports coats/blazers as well as collared shirts and ties for any player sitting on the bench during a game. The code also excludes hats, gym shoes, jeans, sports apparel of any kind (read: Jerseys or T-Shirts) and chains (read: diamond laden chains) for those same players. Those found in violation of the dress code will be subject to fines and repeat offenders will face suspension.

Upon hearing of the new dress code policy the first player I thought of was Allen Iverson. Iverson is the poster child for the rebellion of my generation. He is the embodiment of our culture. Our music, our style of dress, our achievements and struggles can all somehow be found in his persona. His struggles represent our downfalls and his victories our triumphs.

One of the reasons for Iverson’s immense popularity, aside from his formidable basketball skill set, is the perception (one that is very close to reality) that Iverson is “real.” That with him you get what you see; that he has not lost his identity whether it is in attire, verbiage, or style of play, you get the impression that it is genuine.

I fully expect Iverson, among other players, to seriously beef with the new dress code. Not necessarily because it is unfair, (I think it is by the way. Why is their no new dress code for coaches? GM’s? Owners?) but because it is too rigid and in places, too pointed. It is as if David Stern singled out a group of 10 high profile players and made this rule just for them. (Before I go any farther let me say that I do not think this rule is racially motivated. The jewelry aspect will address more young black males than any other part of the dress code but that in and of itself does not make it ethnically insensitive.)

Consider if you will the normal off day dress of the reigning League MVP, Steve Nash. He is praised by numerous respectable fashion publications for his low maintenance approach to fashion, which is made up almost entirely of jeans, T-Shirts, and sneakers. Dirk Nowitzki and Jon Barry are also good examples of players whose style of dress is diametrically opposed to these new standards of what has been deemed “acceptable attire.”

One of the reasons I’ve been offered for this new dress code is that the NBA’s image with viewers and consumers is lower than that of all the other professional sports. It seems as though the well documented merge of Hip Hop culture and Professional basketball is now beginning to cause concern amongst the leagues elite. To them I say nonsense. Any one who has ever been to a basketball game in person knows that the majority of season ticket holders are middle aged men and women who head middle class families. They also know that the greatest consumers or NBA merchandise fall into the very same class category. In addition, the parents in these homes most likely purchase game tickets and team merchandise for their children, not themselves. It is the desires of children that drive sales not the opinions of parents. Example: the sale of Kobe Bryant merchandise is beginning to rise again in the wake of his on and off court struggles. I can guarantee that such a trend is a credit to the demand of young people as opposed to the choice of their parents. I can also guarantee they don’t care if Kobe wears a Nike jumpsuit on the bench or a Gucci suit.

Another image concern for the NBA may be with corporate sponsors. Companies that offer money in exchange for ad space and exclusive marketing rights may be turned off by what Phil Jackson has termed the “thuggery” of today’s players fashion choices. Again I respond with a hearty baloney. While I agree that corporate sponsors should be exposed to the suits and ties they are most comfortable with, those suits and ties should belong to owners, GM’s and coaches not players.

Being a professional entails so much more than clothing. It is an attitude, an outward reflection of inward choices. As a multi-billion dollar business, the NBA does deserve to be represented well. I do not necessarily think that today’s players are failing their league. One of the most important factors in professionalism is taking pride in your appearance. A person should take care to ensure that he is well groomed and neat, that his clothing reflects money and time spent to ensure quality. Whether the manifestation is a $345 jersey or a $400 suit, both meet the standards recently mentioned. I can assure you that Allen Iverson spends as much money, if not more, to maintain himself as a player like say Shaquille O’Neal who will have no trouble with the new dress code. I can also ensure you that he places just as high a premium on ensuring that his clothing is first-rate and orderly. In short he is no less a professional because his style is more “urban.”

If David Stern feels as though the NBA has an image problem then maybe he should put his energies into other aspects of professionalism; this new dress code is definitely an air ball.