By the time the NBA season tips off in November, players will look more buttoned-down and less laid back.
Commissioner David Stern has pushed the league and the players' union to establish a strict off-court dress code specifically for inactive players on the bench and players at team functions and road trips. Stern would like the dress code to include sport coats, collared shirts and possibly no blue jeans.
The league has taken its share of public relations hits in recent years -- most notably, the brawl between the Indiana Pacers and fans of the Detroit Pistons last November. Stern considers the dress code a baby step toward establishing some decorum within the league. He told the Boston Globe two weeks ago, "It's a small thing that contributes to a sense of professionalism."
Washington Wizards forward Antawn Jamison supports Stern to some extent. "I'm fine with the part about making guys look presentable on the bench or when we're representing the team because that's when we're in the public eye and people are seeing us," Jamison said. "But as far as when we're traveling, I don't see that as being necessary. We're the first ones at the arenas so no one sees us and then we're out of here and on a plane where no one sees us so why does it matter what we're wearing?"
And what will happen to players such as Larry Hughes, who decided to take a "professional" approach during the Wizards' first-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls last April? Hughes, now a guard with Cleveland, broke free of his typical attire -- St. Louis Cardinals caps, Timberland boots and velour sweat suit -- and wore dress suits to Games 1 and 2 in Chicago. They were the only times all season that Hughes dressed up for games. Not only was Hughes ridiculed by teammates when he went to the team bus each night, but the Wizards lost the games. "You won't see that again," Hughes said at the time, feeling a bit superstitious.
They just might. There has yet to be a study linking high fashion with a poor performance on the basketball court. But if the casual garb of some of the league's recent most valuable players -- Steve Nash (tight jeans, dingy-looking clingy T-shirts), Allen Iverson (baseball caps, 'do-rags, oversized T-shirts and excessive bling) and Tim Duncan (quadruple-XL plaid shirts, extra baggy blue jeans and high-top sneakers) -- says anything, comfort trumps Prada.
"You have so many all-stars, great players, who don't wear suits," said Wizards guard Antonio Daniels, a friend and former teammate of Duncan in San Antonio. "Are you going to tell them that they aren't representing the league well? It's going to be funny to see how this whole thing transpires."
The NBA already has a dress code for coaches, requiring them to wear jackets and ties or turtlenecks during games. Dress codes used to be the responsibility of the individual teams, ranging from suit and tie to no code at all.
Eleven years ago, Derrick Coleman scoffed at then-New Jersey Nets coach Butch Beard's dress code, which required players to wear a jacket and tie when traveling, and presented Beard a blank check for the fines he would incur.
Current players have already begun preparing for the change, but the reaction has been mostly negative.
Nuggets center Marcus Camby, who will earn $9.3 million this season, suggested the NBA provide a stipend to help players pay for their dress clothes. Duncan told reporters he didn't plan on buying a suit, "Don't own one and never have." Iverson sounded willing to pay whatever fines are levied. "It's not fair," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Just because you put a guy in a tuxedo doesn't mean he's a good guy." Even Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who often wears T-shirts at games, objects to the change.
When asked about players' casual style, Stern said, "Well, the job description has changed."
The league is working closely with the players' union to determine exactly what will be included in the dress code. Although several media outlets have reported that blue jeans will be outlawed, that may not be the case when teams receive the memo. "Specific details are being finalized," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said yesterday. "People should wait until they see what the actual facts are before they rush to judgment."
Daniels said the damage has already been done: "It's almost like slowly but surely everything is becoming controlled. What's next? Do you have to wear your hair a certain way? Are they going to tell us what color shoes we can wear? It's ridiculous."
Staff writer Ivan Carter contributed to this report from Winston-Salem, N.C.