Still smarting from image problems nearly a year after players and fans attacked one another during a game at Auburn Hills, Mich., the National Basketball Assn. has cracked down on . . . apparel.
The NBA says it will require players to wear “business casual attire” when they are on league or team business and not in uniform—apparently the first attempt by a major U.S. pro league to regulate how its millionaire athletes dress when not competing.
Deemed “quite liberal and easygoing” by NBA Commissioner David Stern, the code bans sunglasses worn indoors, sleeveless shirts, shorts, T-shirts, chains and do-rags, while requiring players on the bench and not in uniform to wear sport coats.
No longer will Kobe Bryant of the Lakers be seen arriving at Staples Center wearing a vintage jersey. Nor will Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers be allowed to wear caps cocked sideways during team functions or Rasheed Wallace of the Detroit Pistons to don headphones during news conferences.
Players who violate the code could be fined. Repeat violators could be kicked out of the league, Stern suggested Tuesday.
“I don’t think there will be a problem unless somebody wants to make a problem,” he told reporters in New York. “If they really want to make a problem, they’re going to have to make a decision about how they want to spend their adult life in terms of playing in the NBA or not.”
The rules go into effect Nov. 1, opening night of the season.
“We obviously have an image problem, and the commissioner is trying to make it better by doing this, but who knows if it’s going to work,” Clipper center Chris Kaman said Tuesday. “You have guys wearing do-rags and chains and stuff like that, which was probably a little too much.”
But shifts in American culture have played into concerns about a growing disconnect between the NBA and a portion of its audience. In recent years, players have begun to sport diamonds, gold, tattoos and street-inspired fashion such as vintage jerseys, while arenas have played beat-heavy rap music at games.
Robert Hutcherson, the head of a grass-roots fan group, told the Los Angeles Times last year that in the minds of some middle-aged ticket buyers, the music had helped perpetuate the notion of a “thug league.”
The NBA’s image took its worst hit Nov. 19, when players charged into the stands and attacked fans, some of whom had pelted them with drinks and other objects, during a game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons.
The incident, replayed frequently for days on national television, resulted in suspensions and misdemeanor charges against several players.
ESPN personality and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Stephen A. Smith, who is African American, wrote recently in support of the dress code, while suggesting that it was in part racially motivated.
“When you are selling a sport overwhelmingly populated by young black males to an older white audience, the reality is that impressions, first or otherwise, often determine your product’s success,” Smith wrote.
“ . . . Indeed, there’s a racial element here. But since there are 60-year-old black parents and grandparents just as appalled by some players’ attire, there is a generational element too,” he added.