NBA’s New Dress Code

NBA commissioner David Stern set forth the league’s new dress code for players today and implied that those who refused to comply would be suspended.

Stern certain of dress code compliance (ESPN)

NBA commissioner David Stern spoke out for the first time on the specifics of the league’s new off-the-court dress code on Tuesday. Despite objections from players like Allen Iverson, who said he will fight to wear clothes in which he is most comfortable, Stern said he was “certain that it will be complied with.” Although Stern wouldn’t say exactly how he would enforce the new regulations — which, among other things, require injured players seated on the bench to wear a sports jacket and outlaw chains, pendants or medallions over the player’s clothes while on team or league business — he did say that the league “will use a broad range of authority” to enforce compliance. “If they are really going to have a problem, they will have to make a decision about how they want to spend their adult life in terms of playing in the NBA or not,” Stern said.

Stern said he believed that much of the recent criticism over the league-imposed rules had to do with the fact that the players didn’t know the specifics, which were released in a memo to the teams on Monday. Calling the rules “quite liberal and easy going,” Stern even joked that the dress code is something that “even (Dallas Mavericks owner) Mark Cuban can comply with.” But Cuban, who often wears T-shirts and jeans to games — told that there was “no chance, no way” that he would comply with the league’s off-the-court dress code for its players. Sleeveless shirts are not allowed under the policy.

Iverson, whose do-rag will now be banned, recently told the Philadelphia Daily News that “just because you put a guy in a tuxedo, it doesn’t mean he’s a good guy.”

Stern said the clothing that is suggested is universally thought of as appropriate for someone while they are in the spotlight. “There are different uniforms for different occasions,” Stern said. “There’s the uniform you wear on the court, there’s the uniform you wear when you are on business, there’s the uniform you might wear on your casual downtime with your friends and there’s the uniform you might wear when you go back home. We’re just changing the definition of the uniform that you wear when you are on NBA business.”

Stern kidded that certain players might receive a special stipend to buy new clothes. “We don’t know where the cut-off is, maybe if you earn less than $8 million, you’ll get a scholarship from the commissioner,” Stern said. The joke was in reference to the comment made last week by Denver Nuggets center Marcus Camby, who reportedly told The Rocky Mountain News that he didn’t see players complying with the new rules unless every player received a clothing allowance. Camby is scheduled to make more than $7 million in salary this season.

In a related story, a collegiate athlete is being ordered to wear aidas shoes even though he fears they will cause him injury:

Arkansas St. player refuses to wear adidas (ESPN)

Arkansas State’s leading returning scorer is sitting out because he refuses to wear adidas shoes, which Indians players are obligated to wear because of a school contract. Jerry Nichols, a 6-6 outside shooter who averaged 9.6 points per game last year, has had two knee operations and said he was wearing adidas shoes when he first hurt the knee. The school says Nichols has to dress by its rules. “We have a contractual agreement with [adidas], and it’s not any different than any number of other contracts with other schools. There is not any stipulation or any research that shows any shoes are worse than any others,” Arkansas State athletic director Dean Lee told The Jonesboro Sun newspaper.

Nichols, who last year shot 41.8 percent from 3-point range, practiced over the weekend while wearing Nike shoes, placing tape to cover the brand’s insignia. Nichols met with Lee on Monday, and Nichols was told to wear adidas shoes or sit. Nichols sat.

“We’ve been producing outstanding quality equipment for years,” said Terrell Clark, an adidas spokesman. “We take this very seriously and we are looking to handle this in a positive manner.”

Nichols said he was wearing adidas shoes when he suffered a knee injury in 2001 while playing for Walters State Community College. “I tore my ACL in adidas in junior college back in 2001, and I’m not comfortable wearing adidas,” Nichols said.

In both cases, athletes are being ordered to comply with an arbitrary dress code because the sports authority over them has decided doing so will be profitable. I tend to side with management in most of these cases, on the principle that the ones taking the most risk should be able to decide how to run their businesses. In both of these instances, though, I side with the players.

I understand Stern’s desire to shed the NBA’s image as a thug league and can see how he thinks having his players dress in a manner similar to professionals in other arenas is a reasonable part of that. Further, I’ve long been a suit-and-tie guy, even in work environments where I could wear what I wanted and being so attired put me in a minority among my peers. Still, the NBA operates under a collective bargaining agreement and I see no reason why management should be able to unilaterally make such a major change in working conditions outside the collective bargaining process. If Stern wants his employees to dress in a corporate manner 24/7, then he should negotiate for that concession.

Furthermore, the modern professional athlete is a brand name unto himself. While I have a strong distate for the way Iverson and others costume themselves off the court, it clearly seems to work for the marketing demographic they’re seeking to reach. To the extent the NBA brand and the individual player “brands” are at odds, again, this should be the object of negotiation rather than dictate.

I’m even more sympathetic to Nichols than to his NBA counterparts, since they’re at least getting rich. It would be one thing if he insisted on wearing blue shoes when the rest of the team was wearing white. The team has a reasonable interest in promoting uniformity. That’s not what this rule is about, though. They’re forcing the players to be human billboards in an ostensibly amateur endeavor in order to line the pockets of everyone but the players. While I’m sure there’s nothing inherent in the design of aididas shoes that contributed to Nichols’ injury–I’ve worn their shoes off and on since 7th grade–the association is clearly there in his mind and may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy on the court if he’s worried about his footwear.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Russ says:

    I think the “while on team or league business” clause pretty much says it all. If you’re an employee, you follow the dress code, period, regardless of how big your paycheck (or ego) is.

    I’m guessing that in a collective bargaining setting, a relaxation of the dress code is something the players would have to ask and bargain for, rather than management having to ask and bargain for the right to enforce. Dress codes are a standard business practice – the “default behavior,” even.

    But then, IANAL, so what do I know?

  2. ICallMasICM says:

    I’ve got to sympathize with the college player. When I played in HS and college we could wear the shoes that the school provided or supply our own and there were certain types that we couldn’t wear. This being the olden days some guys wanted to buy top of the line shoes or different brands because they felt more comfortable or had felt they needed better support. The college had a contract with Converse and almost everyone wanted to wear Nike.

  3. Mark says:

    I remember when the “Dream Team” started competing in the Olympics (the original Jordan/Magic/Bird group), I think Reebok was the supplier of the gear, but of course Jordan was the face of Nike. They made an arrangement where whenever MJ was wearing Reebok they covered the logo up so as to not upset Nike. I think they can do the same with the college kid – allow him to wear Nike while covering up the logo.

  4. Jan says:

    This dress code is NONSENSE! I am middle aged, white and I work in the film industry. A big part of the NBA is fashion, Nike & Reebok seem to think so! Fans enjoy getting a peek at how their favorite players dress and what watch or jewelry they have on, just as we enjoy checking out the Oscars to see what evening clothes and Winston jewels our favorite actors are wearing.This shows their personality, individuality, and their fun side. We are talking about an ARENA not a corporate office! There are times when I wear a business suit to work and there are times when I wear jeans, IT DEPENDS ON THE LOCATION! People attending a Basketball game, players or fans should be in casual and comfortable wear.Furthermore, these players donate money to charity all the time, now alot of their money will go towards expensive suits,custom made, new ones every nite.And what is the NBA image? NFL players dress the same way!I’ve seen Tom Brady in du rags!As far as Allen Iverson goes, I always thought it was admirable that he remained himself and did’nt dress to the nines just because he can afford it!I saw him on a mag cover in a suit looking incredibly handsome so he can certainly dress that way, but to sit on a bench? His sweat suits are expensive, neat and he always looks very clean.We already do not see enough interviews,now we won’t see any if they have to deck out for one, there is no time after a game to dress and make it to an interview. This dress code is going to be a DISADVANTAGE for a sport which has just begun to gain more popularity!

  5. Neledi says:

    It is a shame to think that grown a** men would rather pay fines (that could feed hungry people) than put on a suit for a couple of hours of the day.

    Newsflash: you are not rappers and it is embarrassing that you can’t switch up your game.

    Like Mike Wilbon wrote, the legends of the game: Jordan, Majic etc, made the covers of GQ magazine during their heydays.

    Get it together brothers and stop making young black males think that they can go to work wearing anything!
    (where ya’ll mamas @)

  6. tony says:

    i wonder if Neledi ever asked the child molesting priest “where ya’ll mamas”. probably not but racist like Neledi never ask the same questions of whites as they do of blacks……….hhhhmmmmmmmmm……things that make you say hhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmm

  7. Michael White says:

    David Stern…Who is he?? Certainly not Howard Sterns relative. The mann’s a jerk!! David Stern plays dictator in the NBA!! I can’t believe the NBA actually allows this man to remain commissioner. He’s no American! What does he know about American values?? American is about freedom, about freedom of expression, freedom of speech. This man has tried to restrict them all. When’s the bumm going to realize that Saddam Hussein has already been deposed and dictatorships have gone out of style?? Oh, that’s right!! His buddy President Bush is in office right now. The first democratic dictator this country has ever seen. What can I say!

  8. Jessica says:

    I am a HUGE San Antonio Spurs fan and I love the game of basketball. I don’t agree with the dress code. Tim Duncan is the best role model any child could have and I know how he dresses. He is from the island and he was presented with his MVP trophy wearing a Nike shirt, khaki shorts, and a pair of flip flops. Why is that wrong? Just like Jason Richardson said you could be a crook wearing anything. What is the purpose of this dress code? Do you think that it is going to change someone because they wear a suit and tie to work? Do you think that this is truly making a statement to young people? I agree with Tim Duncan when he said the dress code is “a load of crap.” Just like Stephen A. Smith said “If you have a guy like Tim Duncan talking out loud about the dress code, I think you need to look at what your doing because Tim Duncan is a quiet guy and never gets in trouble, don’t blame A.I. this time.” Tim Duncan’s daily wardrobe consists of a button down shirt, jeans, and some sneakers and this is the fanciest you will see him dress. This takes me back to the Detroit/Indiana game when fans and players got into a big fight on the court. Yes the players are role models but they are also people and let’s be honest here, if someone threw a bear cup at your head would you keep walking to the locker room just because your a role model? I am not saying it was right, BUT people are people whether you are the poorest or the richest person on earth, you have a right to defend yourself just like you have a right to dress how you feel is comfortable. First of all, these are grown men. Yes they make millions of dollars, but does someone taking your freedom of choice away from you the right thing to do? Second of all, everyone seems to forget that there daily job consists of a jersey, shorts, and sneakers…that is their job. When did making someone wear a suit become their job. Thirdly, is it right to judge people by their bookcover? It’s like people looking down on you because you don’t have as much money as someone else. It’s not right to judge people by what they wear, the color of their skin, or how they choose to live their life. Next, what really is the purpose? Is their a purpose? Is their a reason? Come on now, it’s your actions not your words. Tim Duncan does a whole lot for the city of San Antonio and My Spurs are the classiest team in the league (not just saying that because I am a fan). I would love when I have children for them to look at the Spurs and say I want to be like Tim Duncan. He is a classy dude to the T. I can’t think of a Spur that wear suits on the bench. Does that make them a bad person? NEVER. Let’s be real now, we are living in the hip hop culture and it is about throw back jerseys, Uptown sneakers, and “bling.” Is it right to make someone feel uncomfortable in their own skin? Just thought I would input on this one because basketball is a major part of my life. I love the game, but I don’t agree with this dress code, it actually upsets me and I am not even a player.

  9. christopher c. thomas jr. says:

    I think Mr. Sterm is right about players new dress code, because they are not thug’s. Because they make millions of dollars and the NBA pay their salary’s. Where else could some one make the money they make playing ball. If a player don’t wear a suit he should be suspended