Taiba Zahir, Staff Writer
NBA pre-game entrances and post-game interviews have become a spectacle for both sports fans and fashionistas alike. Now, after strategies for the game are discussed, fashion is critiqued. Today we see streetwear meets business casual with sharp cuts and bold pattern blocking that were not very present in the NBA decades ago. So is it just rich guys trying to make news and get away with wearing ridiculous outfits, or is the evolution of this form of self-expression a reaction to history?
On October 17, 2005, the former NBA commissioner David Stern announced a mandatory dress code for all NBA and D-League players: business-casual attire must be worn while participating in team and NBA activities. This meant no baggy jeans, sweat suits, du-rags, oversized necklaces or the like during interviews, promotional appearances, and during the arrival and departure from the game. Players were upset and felt like they were treated as children who were unable to make their own decisions. Eric Johnson (#0), a sophomore point-guard for the Boston University men’s basketball team stated, “Players should be allowed to dress the way they want. People shouldn’t be forced to be what they aren’t.
What was even more unsettling was the fact that this was a predominantly black sports league with a white commissioner telling them what to wear. The new rule was considered racist and made many coaches and players feel uncomfortable. Basketball is a key component of hip-hop and subsequently black culture. By establishing a ban on clothing traditionally associated with black men, the NBA commissioner was sending a clear message. Players called it the "A.I. rule" after Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson, a revolutionary of the game, and whom many thought the rule was directed at.
“It moved the league along with the developing trends and cultural progression of rap music, as the two go hand in hand.” said Brandon Johnson (#34), a freshman guard for the BU men’s basketball team.“It brought a change from a street and casual look to a more corporate persona, which can be somewhat attributed to rappers like Jay-Z and P. Diddy who give off a more of a corporate vibe,” he continued.
In the late 1990s, young adult fashion became greatly influenced by hip-hop culture involving relaxed, baggy sports-wear. Players and young adults in general spent lavishly on jerseys and jewelry. However, the majority of the consistent NBA ticket holders were of an older generation, unable to relate to the younger style. Some players and coaches did not have a problem with the new dress code and liked the fact that it made everyone look a little more “polished” for the expanding media.
Since then, the NBA has slowly and unofficially relaxed the code. A decade later, fashion-conscious basketball players are fairly common. NBA fashion has evolved from the big and baggy styles of Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady. From 2008 to 2009, men’s fashion became more mainstream; in 2011 Lebron James brought fitted, clean cuts to the NBA. Dwayne Wade was at the forefront of taking fashion risks, while the likes of James Harden and Kevin Durant soared with the possibilities. The unspoken rule now is to push the fashion boundaries and find just about anything that can be pulled off.
One unarguable point is that the NBA and its culture has had a major impact on mainstream culture and young adults. Johnson, who describes his own style as “clean,” commented on the style of his teammates stating, “I would say we’re a pretty fashionable group of guys… We’re wearing closer fit or tailored shirts and pants like the NBA guys mentioned, and obviously we all care about shoes.”
While its inception was ugly, overall both the NBA and the fashion industry have benefited from the dress code. Lakers guard Nick Young is a Forever 21 model, Warriors guard Stephen Curry was named an Express brand ambassador, and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Westbrook—arguably the king of modern NBA fashion—has an endorsement deal with Barneys New York.
In the NBA institution, old, white men hold executive positions over the majority of black athletes. Fashion has become an outlet of self-expression, a statement against the rigid structure these athletes may find themselves in.