The NBA is looking to defuse notions that its new dress code has any racial connotations.
The code has drawn mixed reviews, with several players questioning the league's motives and the audience it is attempting to attract with the move. Indiana Pacers swingman Stephen Jackson, who is black, took the complaints a step further this week when he stated that the league's ban on chains worn over clothing was "a racist statement" that was "attacking young, black males."
When told of Jackson's comments, NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said yesterday, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it would be unfortunate if someone walked away with that thought."
NBA Commissioner David Stern, whose league has taken its share of public relations hits in recent years, argued on Tuesday that he created a "quite liberal and easygoing" policy that players will have no trouble complying with. The dress code, which was announced on Monday and will go into effect when the season begins Nov. 1, requires players to wear "business casual" clothing -- blazers, collared shirts, dress slacks and dress shoes -- at all league functions and activities.
Players will no longer be allowed to wear sleeveless shirts, shorts, T-shirts, sunglasses (while indoors), headphones (other than on the team bus or plane, or in the team locker room) and chains, pendants or medallions over their clothes.
Jackson, who was suspended 30 games for his role in the infamous brawl with Detroit Pistons fans last November, wore all four chains he owns at the Pacers' exhibition game against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday in protest.
Orlando Magic guard DeShawn Stevenson said he agreed with Jackson to an extent, but he was unwilling to call the new policy banning jewelry racist. "I don't agree with it, but there is something wrong with that. I'm all for wearing suits, even though I don't wear suits. I think jewelry-wise, that's a decision on how we want to spend our money," said Stevenson, who admits to owning four chains of his own. "I feel like people want that. People like the watches, the chains. Even when I go out, when I don't wear it, people ask me, 'Where's the chain at?' It's going to be pretty tough to get everybody to stop wearing their $30,000, $40,000 -- maybe more than that -- chains. It's a waste of money if we can't wear it where we want to wear it."
The players' union signed off on the dress code during the league's negotiations for the last collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect in August. The players' union, which was consulted in establishing the dress code, has not fought it.
"It's not as bad as it could've been," Wizards union representative Etan Thomas said of the restrictions.
Most players will adhere to the new rules when the regular season begins Nov. 1, but Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson has vowed to protest. "It's not fair," he said.
Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan disagrees. "I think it's very, very fair. I applaud the commissioner for putting it together," he said yesterday. "I think it's something the players can handle very easily."
Stern is expected to announce penalties, which could include fines and suspensions for violators, next week.
Pat Garrity, the secretary-treasurer for the players' union, said he felt the dress code was the NBA's way of presenting a more favorable product to its corporate fan base. But he believes it could be counterproductive.
"I think a big reason why a lot of guys are so popular is because of certain traits of their personality," Garrity said. "But we're athletes and we're asked to express ourselves on the floor. I think that's where the main source of individuality will come out."