Image Credit: Ball is Life
Following NBA Commissioner David Stern’s dress code announcement, supporters claimed that the NBA’s desire to become more “professional” was a simple business decision, while critics claimed that the dress code was racist and targeted black players (Lorenz & Murray, 2012, p. 32). Glyn Hughes (2004) explains the root of this controversy in his research, writing that “the NBA is marketed and managed with a specific, if often tacit, goal of making Black men safe for (White) consumers in the interest of profit” (p. 164). What is considered “professional” according to the NBA is whiteness and anti-hip hop.
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Kobe Bryant, a professional athlete, seen wearing a Philadelphia Eagles football jersey while sitting on the bench during a Lakers game pre-dress code. The NBA Player Dress Code (2017) bans players from wearing jerseys or sports apparel, chains, and sneakers at any time while participating in league or team business. Players in attendance at games—on the bench or in the stands—but not in uniform are also required to elevate their attire beyond business casual with a sport coat and dress shoes or boots, and socks (NBA Player Dress Code, 2017).
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Allen Iverson was, and still is, a strong opponent of the NBA’s dress code. According to David Leonard (2012), Iverson believed that the dress code was racist because, “it reduces hip-hop to blackness, and hip-hop/blackness to criminality, danger, and undesirability. On the other hand, professionalism functions as a stand-in for whiteness, signifying goodness, respectability, and desirability” (p. 165). Dress codes change outward appearances but they do not change who the players are as people. Allen Iverson is still the same person beneath his varying outfits, whether in a suit and tie, team jersey and shorts, or jeans and hat.
Image Credit: Real Men Real Style
The dress code for “real men” is coded in a way that automatically associates specific items of clothing to certain behaviors. “Business casual” requires nice pants, dress shoes, tucked in shirt, and sport coat with crossed arms signaling slightly relaxed body language. The “casual” man still has tailored pants and a collared shirt while maintaining good posture. The “ultra casual” and “sloppy” looks are drastically different and associate hats, hoodies, baggy pants, and sneakers to dirty clothes, unkempt hair, slouching, and counter-culture with the “F.U.” t-shirt.
Image Credit: GQ
Under the NBA dress code, professionalism means wearing business casual upon arrival to every game. For Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook creator and billionaire, professionalism means wearing a grey t-shirt paired with a zip-up hoodie. Zuckerberg fits into the “ultra casual” category of dress in the workplace and his signature style has become expected and commonplace within the tech startup industry. Mark Zuckerberg’s casual style proves that the concept of “professional” clothing is socially constructed. Putting on a sport coat and dress shoes does not magically change a person’s character or improve their ability to do a job.
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LeBron James featured here on Vogue’s April 2008 cover with Supermodel Giselle Bundchen was extremely controversial. One ESPN.com critic said, “Vogue’s quest to highlight the differences between superstar athletes and supermodels only successfully reinforces the animalistic stereotypes frequently associated with black athletes” (Hill, 2008). James made history when he was the first African-American man to be featured on a Vogue cover, what followed was the NBA fashion movement. Designers became desperate to dress NBA athletes, and NBA athletes made it their mission to be the best dressed in the league.
Image Credit: Sports Illustrated
Twelve years after the NBA’s enactment of the “business casual” dress code, NBA athletes such as Steph Curry pictured above are some of the finest professionally dressed men in the world. The dress code changed the mindset of NBA athletes. In 2005, it was an attack on young African-American men, who they were, and what they represented. They were targeting the hip-hop generation. Yet today, NBA athletes embrace this dress code. “For years in the N.B.A., players have viewed being well dressed as a given, as much a part of modern basketball culture as layup lines and pregame stretches” (Keh, 2015).
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Despite initial pushback by some players, and some that still exists today, the dress code has turned the NBA into one of, if not the best, dressed sports leagues in the world. “Instead of following the country-club-friendly guidelines to the letter, players and their newly appointed stylists began treating it as a sartorial challenge” (Parrish, 2015). High end fashion has stepped into the world of professional sports and the walk between the bus and the locker room has become a runway for basketball’s most fashionable men. Since the dress code was enacted in 2005, ten NBA players have appeared on the cover of American GQ, far higher than any other sport (Parrish, 2015).
Hill, J. (2008, March 21). LeBron should be more careful with his image. ESPN. Retrieved May 19, 2017, Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/espn/page2/story?page=hill%2F080320
Hill, J. (2009, Nov. 18). The Brawl: Were Lessons Learned? ESPN. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/espn/commentary/news/story?page=hill/091118
Hughes, G. (2004). Managing Black guys: Representation, corporate culture, and the NBA.
Sociology of Sport Journal, 21, 163-184.
Keh, A. (2015, February 13). Posing for Fashion Houses, N.B.A. Stars Feel at Home. Retrieved May 19, 2017, Retrieved from
Leonard, D. J. (2012). After Artest : The NBA and the Assault on Blackness.
Lorenz, S. L., & Murray, R. (2014). Goodbye To The Gangstas: The NBA Dress Code, Ray Emery, And The Policing Of Blackness In Basketball And Hockey. Journal Of Sport & Social Issues, 38.1, 23-50.
National Basketball Association. (2017). NBA Player Dress Code. Retrieved from http://www.nba.com/news/player_dress_code_051017.html
Parrish, C. (2015, Apr. 15). How the NBA Became the World’s Most Stylish Sports League. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/fashion-and-style/11519569/How-the-NBA-became-the-worlds-most-stylish-sports-league.html