Maybe The Hip Hipsters Of Sports Will Understand The Importance Of Dress From A Man Who Knows How To Be A Successful Black Businessman

By Gregory Moore
Updated: December 21, 2005

December 2005 cover of

December 2005 cover of “Black Enterprise”

SAN ANTONIO – I’ve had numerous e-mails and some frank discussions about the NBA dress code and why I felt it was an important step for the league to go down that road. Of course many, including some writers on the BASN site, felt that it was an intrusion of the league to mandate such measure and some people even thought it was racist.

Of course the debate is still trickling here and there but it is still a hot topic but maybe somebody with a little more panache can get the younger generation to understand the importance of such a measure in not just the NBA but also in the real world itself.

The individual that wrote an editorial that every young person should read can be found in Black Enterprise magazine and was written by the publisher himself, Mr. Earl Graves.

Now as one who fully reads this magazine as soon as I get my hands on one, I am imploring everyone else to start picking this magazine up and reading what’s inside the glossy cover. If you have not picked up a copy of the this magazine and read some of the enlightening editorials and articles on Black wealth, business matters, etc., then maybe this editorial is the perfect start of such a worthwhile journey.

So it is my pleasure, courtesy of Black Enterprise magazine, to bring to our esteemed readership, Mr. Graves’ editorial as released to the media by the magazine. I’ll return at the bottom of his piece with a few words of my own.

THE NBA DRESS CODE: SETTING HIGH STANDARDS On Nov. 1, opening day of the 2005-2006 National Basketball Association season, NBA Commissioner David Stern implemented a policy that, frankly, I am amazed the league has gone without for as long as it has: a dress code. The NBA (as well as the individual clubs that comprise it) is, after all, a business, and a global one at that.

Of course, that didn’t stop some NBA players from condemning the new “business casual” dress policy, which, among other things, requires players to wear dress shirts and slacks (including dress jeans) but forbids sneakers, headgear, or chains worn outside their clothes. Some even called the policy racist.

Those people are absolutely wrong. Stern is right to require NBA players to do a better job of representing their business. Moreover, the new NBA dress code is absolutely the right message to send to young black men aspiring to careers in professional basketball-or any profession.

Earl Graves, publisher of the financial magazine aimed at the African American community, writes how the dress code is vital for business success. His article appeared in his magazine's December 2005 issue.

Earl Graves, publisher of the financial magazine aimed at the African American community, writes how the dress code is vital for business success. His article appeared in his magazine’s December 2005 issue.

It was not that long ago that the most popular NBA superstars saw themselves as ambassadors of the league, determined to set a standard of excellence both in how they performed on the court and in how they represented the sport off of it.

All-time greats Dave Bing, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Michael Jordan all showed-through the business attire they wore before, after, and between games–an instinctive understanding of the fact that the operative word in the term “professional basketball player” is not basketball or player, but professional.

It’s the perception of professionalism that makes the game-and the apparel and other NBA-team-branded products-worth the increasingly high price.

What is the difference between a professional and an amateur? Many people would say it’s that professionals have achieved a level of experience, expertise, and proficiency that allow them to be paid for what they do. But there is far more to being a true professional than extraordinary skill and a big paycheck.

Professionalism is about setting high standards for how you choose to communicate, conduct business, and present yourself. It’s no coincidence that many of the highest paid, most respected professionals-lawyers, doctors, television journalists-embrace dress codes as standard for their respective professions. But we expect the same level of professional representation from transit workers and restaurant wait staffs.

This is why I’ll accept nothing less than the most professional business attire from every BLACK ENTERPRISE employee, from our operations and administrative staff to our senior management team, as well as the many outside vendors, freelancers, and temporary workers who do business on behalf of our business.

There are no casual dress days at our company, and there never will be. In fact, the NBA’s new business casual dress code would be unacceptable here at BE. This is not just about my personal style preferences; it’s about what’s best for business. Whether we like it or not, what we wear to work and how we look on the job affects how others perceive and choose to (or not to) interact with us.

The bottom line: our success is dependent on our customers and prospects electing to choose us over a competitor. In that sense, the primary business objective of every employee, in every job, in every profession, is to overcome the reasons, whatever they are, that potential customers or clients may have for taking their business elsewhere. This is as true for the NBA as it is for BE or any other business.

It’s no coincidence that Bing, Johnson, and Jordan have all built successful businesses, enjoyed thriving careers, and accumulated significant personal wealth long after their glory years in NBA arenas.

The NBA’s dress code can help show young black athletes what will be expected of them in post-basketball competition for jobs and business opportunities, which is far more brutal than any hotly contested playoff race. By insisting that players save personal style preferences for personal time, and dress for business when handling business, Stern has taken an important step toward preparing them for the real world-the one outside of the NBA.

– Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine.

MY SLANT ON WHAT MR. GRAVES SAID If you haven’t picked up the December issue of this magazine, please do so and read the article again. Now I wanted to jump back in here on this topic and explain why I whole-heartedly believe in what the NBA is trying to do and why being business in any field is so important.

When I first wrote my editorial on the story, I had many tell me that the league had no right in doing so, that you are forcing players to lose their freedom of expression, etc. I guess when I look back on things that have influenced my life, I look at what my father did for a living and understood the importance of being in business attire at all times.

It is what Mr. Graves has mentioned in his editorial piece that also shows me that I am on the right track.

Young people heed the words from an old dog like me. If you are thinking that the dreadlocks, the earrings, the tattoos and other likes that make up your world will pass in the business world, you are very mistaken.

Whether you like it or not, the way you look leaves an impression as to what and who you are. You may think that people will overlook your dress style, your personal hygiene and look at the talent within.

Folks, get real and understand that in corporate America, perception is EVERYTHING and there are no second chances at getting a first impression.

Maybe you think that looking trendy in urban gear is the way to go. Well that’s fine and if you want to work at the GAP your entire life go right ahead. But keep this in mind and understand where Mr. Graves was coming from. For many African Americans, business attire is the key to success.

You don’t have to take my word for as a managing editor of a newspaper and a columnist here on the BASN site. As a matter of fact don’t take my word for it. If you want to see who is truly the successful former Black athletes now turned successful businessmen, you only have to understand that they listened to individuals like Mr. Graves.

They have read magazines like Forbes, Business Week and Black Enterprise. The very things that made them successful at the start were their first impression and that came from their impeccable dress.

The younger generation may not like hearing a bunch of old hounds saying such things but the truth of the matter is: you are only successful as the clothes you wear. So make a choice guys. Which would you rather be? Urban and trendy 100% of the time and making minimum wage, not really getting the shot at a college scholarship or pro contract because many look at your trendy dress or wear the corporate attire on those first impressions and get your dreams realized.

Yeah, it’s that simple, gang. Don’t get it twisted because you look at the magazine cover and you see a few not in business attire. Understand business market you are trying to get in and also realize that until you actually get in, you cannot dictate your own style. There’s only one Usher or LJ23.

It really is just that simple; whether you believe Mr. Graves, your favorite pro athlete or me.


Earl Graves, publisher of the financial magazine aimed at the African American community, writes how the dress code is vital for business success. His article appeared in his magazine's December 2005 issue.Earl G. Graves Sr. is a nationally recognized authority on black business development and the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, a business-service publication targeted to black professionals, executives, entrepreneurs, and policy makers in the public and private sector. Today Mr. Graves serves as Chairman and CEO of Earl G. Graves Ltd., parent corporation for the Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., which publishes Black Enterprise magazine and produces the Black Enterprise ‘Keys to a Better Life’ report for radio and the Black Enterprise Business Report for television.