Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dress Code

NBA commissioner David Stern considers the league under his direction to be a class organization, and he wants to be certain that we all agree with him.  He realizes that a growing majority of professional basketball players are from America’s hip hop generation, yet this does not mean he intends to market the league predominantly to this particular fan base.  After all, luxury boxes and court side seats are still mostly purchased by those who belong to a more affluent demographic.  Those corporate types surely must not be neglected. 

If a Wall Street executive comes to Madison Square Garden for a rap concert, he knows he’ll look out of place if he doesn’t change out of his Brooks Brothers suit and into something considerably more casual before heading to the show.  If he comes to MSG for a New York Knicks game, that’s another matter entirely.  The fashion standard will vary widely, from fellow suits to those in loose jeans and bling bling to spare and every look in between.  It used to be that NBA players off the court but still on the clock could also choose to dress in whatever style most appealed to them.  Per David Stern’s latest edict, those days are now in the past.  A dress code has been instituted for pro ballers, and unless they don’t mind being fined on a regular basis, they have no choice but to adhere to it. 

This is not to say that the new dress code is particularly strict.  Most people in the workplace would consider the guidelines defining “business casual” in the National Basketball Association to be quite reasonable.   The league has banned sleeveless shirts, shorts, chains worn over clothing, sunglasses while indoors, and headphones during team or league business such as flights, public appearances and post game interviews, as well as sitting on the bench when not suited up to play.  Now required are collared dress shirts or turtlenecks; dress slacks, khaki pants or dress jeans; and dress shoes or boots or "other presentable shoes" with socks, and no sneakers, sandals, flip-flops or work boots.  In other words, the standard casual Friday look as you and I know it is acceptable to David Stern, but dressing like you’re onstage to accept a Source Award for best gangsta rap CD is not.  The arena of fashion is not the only one being policed by the commissioner in his effort to reform the somewhat thuggish image of the NBA post “Ron Artest Gone Wild”.  He also announced the inception of N.B.A. Cares.  With this vast public-service initiative, Stern vowed that the league, its players and its teams would raise $100 million for charity, serve more than one million volunteer hours and build more than 100 youth centers over the next five years.  As lofty an ambition as this may be, it is the new dress code that is garnering most of the publicity and stirring up controversy.

Many NBA players have no problem with the attire directives.  These are the players who already dressed accordingly and therefore won’t have to go on shopping sprees for more suitable wardrobes.  But since there are two sides to every coin, of course there are those who see the matter differently.  Among them is Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson, who told ESPN that the league ban on chains worn over clothing is "a racist statement" from the league.  “I just think that's attacking young, black males," he proclaimed.  Does he have a valid point to make as he pulls the proverbial race card?  Not in my opinion.  A man’s blackness or lack thereof is not defined by how he dresses, so judging a person’s wardrobe is not one and the same as judging his race.  The hip hop generation consists of plenty of young white men who David Stern would be equally offended by.  Baggy jeans, tattoos, thick chains with large medallions, skullcaps, and whatever other pieces of apparel are currently fashionable in the hip hop world transcend race, color and creed.  What they do not transcend are rules that any private organization in this country has a right to make.  There are various jobs a person can hold that would allow him to dress as he pleases during work hours.  Bike messenger is one that leaps to mind.  Stephen Jackson is free to change vocations if the limitations of the NBA’s new dress code offends his delicate sensibilities, but he should keep in mind that opting to haul packages while riding a bicycle bumper to bumper with midtown traffic will come with a considerable reduction in salary.  The other way to go would be for him to become the owner of a business and set his own standard of appearance.  He could then choose to mirror the laissez faire frat guy look exhibited by Mark Cuban, or perhaps the inexplicable head of hair look perfected by Donald Trump.

It shouldn’t be necessary to state this, but wearing a shirt with sleeves and a collar will not automatically designate Stephen Fetchit/Lil’ Sambo status upon a young man.  There is a time and place to dress like a homey, and a time and place to dress like someone with a respectable job.  A tie is not a noose.  An NBA player doesn’t need to have gold and diamonds gleaming from every few square inches when conducting postgame interviews to convince us that he is obscenely wealthy.  We already know what these guys make, already consider them to be among the luckiest people in the world. 

So I’m afraid I just can’t feel the pain of Stephen Jackson and Allen Iverson on this one.  David Stern’s class war is not being waged against young men simply because they are black, but rather, against black men mostly because they are young and therefore instinctively rebellious against authority, even when the figures of that authority have nothing but their best interests in mind.  The NBA commissioner may have ruffled a few feathers with his new fashion rules, but he knows better than to bite off the hand that feeds him.  Hip Hop flava won’t be drained from pro basketball anytime soon.  Some minor image shaping won’t doom the league.  Contrary to what certain people might believe, demonstrating a little professionalism has never hurt anybody, and it has never subtracted the slightest bit of melanin from one’s skin or soul from one’s character. 

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