You might have noticed lately that NBA stars have been appearing in fashion magazines, both as a peripheral model and the subject around which a cover feature revolved. That’s because NBA athletes have become, at least according to current fashion trends, some of the best-dressed male celebrities in the world.
Need examples? Fine. GQ had three NBA players — Chris Paul, Jeremy Lin, Derrick Rose — grace its cover in the past 12 months, and publications ranging from Wall Street Journal to Esquire to New York Magazine to, um, GQ, have written features on the eye-catching outfits on NBA stars.
While there have been well-dressed NBA players before — Walt Frazier and Dr J in the 70s respectively exuded Shaft-like swag and NYC funk; Michael Jordan in the 90s was known for his silky smooth suits (though his fashion sense hasn’t aged well, as evident by this hilarious tumblr WTF IS MIKE WEARING?) — an NBA player’s fashion style has never been a mainstream topic on which fashion features focused.
This fashion-savvy crew in the NBA have also become semi-regulars in the world of high fashion, with dudes like Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, and Dwyane Wade sitting front row at New York Fashion Week, next to some of the world’s top designers, many of whom I wouldn’t be able to name, but I’m sure my gay flatmate could.
In Bill Simmons’ most recent Grantland mailbag, a reader named Mike attributed the NBA’s recent wardrobe improvement, and the whole nerd-look of black celebrities, to NBA commissioner David Stern:
“Q: I can’t believe you haven’t commented/noticed this before. David Stern completely changed fashion for today’s youth. After the dress code was put in place players started dressing up, loved it so much that they totally embraced it! Now most players go all out. It even spawned the hip nerd look. Which spilled over to rap and now everyone! David Stern will live on forever!”
Of course, being a huge fan of both the NBA and The Strokes — who, with their skinny jeans, slick suits and Lower East Side braggadocio, are widely considered by music press as trendsetters of “hipster fashion” (which, in my opinion, eventually became mainstream fashion — check how skinny the pants are in men’s fashion mags or on JGL/Gosling) — I had long noticed this trend of NBA guys dressing hipster. And yes, Mike is right, it’s spilled over to hip hop, with the Kid Cudis and even veterans like Jay-Z’s wearing slim pants. Again, like Mike, I credit most of this movement to David Stern.
I mentioned this briefly in an op-ed I wrote for SLAM two years ago, but for the sake of padding this blog post I’ll explain again here:
In the early 2000s, thanks in part to Allen Iverson and a slew of rappers for bringing the gangster look to mainstream America, NBA players were showing up to arenas before games in classic late 90s/early 2000 hip hop wear: do-rags, baggy jeans, gold chains, etc.
Stern, whether rightly or wrongly, didn’t think that particular look was “presentable.” So in 2005, he implemented a dress code that forced NBA guys to stop wearing, well, whatever it was they were wearing.
That Stern, a white man, essentially told his mostly-black employees to dress differently for the sake of appealing to a mostly white America, led to obvious backlash.
Players, journalists, and talking heads on television condemned Stern for setting a rule that banned, almost exclusively, “black fashion.”
Whether or not that argument had merit could be debated for hours — though I’ve always dismissed accusations of Stern being a racist, I find it hard to believe “appealing to rich white folks” didn’t play a major role in his decision — but that dress code has resulted in NBA players stepping up their fashion game.
Alright, I don’t know if I can ever accept LeBron’s tiny murse, but the rest of that outfit? Fly.
It’s safe to assume that, even if the dress code is lifted now, the biggest stars in sports — the Kobes and the Brons — won’t be going back to tilted baseball caps and saggy jeans. At least not on national game day, when their strut from the team bus to the arena are documented like Bill Goldeberg in his hey.
And so, I say David Stern’s decision to implement to dress code was a good one. But don’t take my word for it, here’s Nas, in Hip Hop is Dead:
So you can’t blame jazz musicians or David Stern with his NBA fashion issues, oh I think they like me, in my white tee, you can’t ice me we here for life b, on my second marriage hip hop my first wifey, and for that we not taking it lightly. If hip hop should die, we die together, bodies in the morgue lie together. All together now.