If you followed the NBA last season, you saw them.
Wrapped elegantly around the head like a Japanese Hachimaki, there is no doubt they were aesthetically pleasing. The so-called “ninja-style” headbands streaked behind players like the contrails of a jet and took the league by storm, adding something extra to every dunk, block and three-pointer made by those who wore them.
Jimmy Butler, Jrue Holiday and Mike Scott were among the players who embraced the look, and by the end of last season the headbands appeared destined to become a league staple. But after reports this week, it is clear they were more akin to a shooting star: here for a brief moment and gone the next.
In a decision seemingly no one asked for, the NBA this week said the ninja headgear would not be permitted this upcoming season. A league spokesman told The Washington Post that members of the NBA’s competition committee met Monday and expressed “concerns on safety,” namely the looseness of the bands.
“The ninja-style headwear is not part of the NBA uniform and hasn’t been through the league approval process,” league spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement. “Teams have raised concerns regarding safety and consistency of size, length and how they are tied, which requires a thorough review before consideration of any rule change.”
Teams were notified of the ruling in May, Bass added, but the league “did not want to cause a disruption” by forcing players to stop wearing them in the middle of the postseason. There is no definitive answer as to how long a “thorough review” will take, but it’s clear that won’t happen before the season begins next month.
Some have taken a more cynical view and speculated the NBA’s edict on the headbands was because the league wasn’t able to market them, a concern that is floated after many NBA apparel decisions. In July, Nike reportedly derailed LeBron James’s plan to gift his new Los Angeles Lakers teammate Anthony Davis his prized No. 23 jersey, apparently because of “production issues and the massive financial hit” that would have reached into the “tens of millions of dollars.”
Davis opted to wear No. 3 instead.
The league said on Thursday the headband decision had nothing to do with marketing concerns.
While there’s a debate about who wore the headgear first in the NBA (the look has also been spotted on tennis star Rafael Nadal, who won his 19th Grand Slam singles title this week while wearing a $769,000 watch), the look appeared to be an overwhelming hit among fans and players alike. One of those players was Scott, the former University of Virginia standout who was also the first to unofficially report the ban Friday on Twitter:
In another tweet, Scott alleged he was told the headgear was “too unprofessional,” a loaded phrase with worrisome connotations that recalls the NBA’s effort to formalize its dress code in the mid-2000s.
No matter the motive, the decision has upset a number of the league’s players. The Washington Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell were among a handful to speak out, with the latter using several expletives to express his bewilderment over the league’s “safety” explanation.
What hurts most, perhaps, is that fans will no longer be able to see which players planned to debut the ninja headband next season. Heck, even James teased fans with a photo in a July Instagram post, in which he referred to himself as “Bruce Lee-Bron.” James has since posted several photos of himself working out while wearing a ninja headband.
But it appears fans won’t get to see “Kung Fu King” on an NBA court, at least not anytime soon.
With that in mind, let’s take a moment to appreciate the single season of joy the ninja headbands gave us.