The National Basketball Association recently announced a new dress code for the league's 375 ballplayers. The dress code prohibits "sneakers, sandals, flip-flops or work boots. . . . Sleeveless shirts, shorts, T-shirts, jerseys. . . . Headgear of any kind. . . . Chains, pendants, or medallions worn over the player's clothes; sunglasses while indoors; headphones (other than on the team bus or plane, or in the team locker room)." The dress code applies only to team and league activities, and does not require suits and ties. During the off-season, of course, a player gets to wear as much ice as he chooses.
Reasonable? But with a league that consists of three-quarters black players, can a cry of racism be far behind?
About the new dress code, Indian Pacers' Stephen Jackson said, "I think it's a racist statement because a lot of the guys who are wearing chains are my age and are black." Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson also disagreed with the dress code, "Basically, you're saying, 'Don't dress hip hop.' What does a chain have to do with your outfit? A lot of guys wear chains for personal reasons. I have a chain with my mom's name on it, my kids' names on it, a chain with my man that passed away on it. I don't think that's right for people to say that I can't wear that and I can't express it. It's just not right. I think they went way overboard with it."
But the cake goes to the Denver Nuggets' Marcus Camby, "I don't see it happening unless every NBA player is given a stipend to buy clothes. Guys who haven't been wearing suits and don't own suits, it will be really hard to get them in time for the season (needing to be specially made for tall players)."
Stipend? Care to guess the average NBA salary? How about four-and-a-half million dollars per year, with a league minimum of $385,000.
Never mind that the disgruntled Iverson, while playing in college for Georgetown under no-nonsense coach John Thompson, wore a jacket and tie. Said Thompson, "Allen wore a coat and tie, and didn't rebel against wearing it."
Former NBA player Charles Barkley supports the code, explaining, "Young black kids dress like NBA players. Unfortunately, they don't get paid like NBA players. So when they go out in the real world, what they wear is held against them." Barkley points out that, sure, when one makes $10 to $15 million a year, he can wear what he chooses and still navigate successfully through society. But for the rest of us in the real world, people make judgments on how one looks: "If a well-dressed white kid and a black kid wearing a do-rag and throwback jersey came to me in a job interview, I'd hire the white kid," said Barkley. "That's reality. That's the No. 1 reason I support the dress code."
Most businesses expect employees to dress a certain way, to project a certain kind of image. Detroit's black mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, for example, recently stopped wearing his trademark diamond earring. "That little insignificant thing in my ear gave off a bad spirit of rebellion," said Kilpatrick. "And it overshadowed the fact that I have a law degree, that I was leader of the House, that I've written policy, that I'm great at appropriations and grant programs, that I'm able to do things like put together the best emergency operations plan in the country."
Does the NBA suffer from image problems? Well, according to "Out of Bounds" author Jeff Benedict, 40 percent of NBA players' criminal records involve serious crimes, including sexual assault. And Sports Illustrated quoted one of the NBA's top sports agents, who said, "I'd say that there might be more kids out of wedlock than there are players in the NBA." And Len Elmore, an ESPN broadcaster and former NBA player said, "For numbers, I would guess that one [out of wedlock child] for every player is a good ballpark figure. For every player with none, there's a guy with two or three." And who can forget that brawl in Auburn Hills between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, in which players actually went into the stands to fight?
The new dress code stands to benefit the players economically. The NBA players now receive 58 percent of basketball revenue. Assuming an NBA "bad-boy image" turns off sponsors and some fans, a spruced-up image may increase the economic pie for everybody -- including the now non-bling-wearing players.
As one of my friends put it, "If I made $4.5 million a year, my employer could demand that I wear a tutu. My only response would be, 'What color shoes?'"