Most all of us who work a 40-hour week for a paycheck that comes every two weeks have to deal with the reality that there are rules we have to conform to. Depending on what line of work you happen to engage in, those rules may even include a dress code. Whether it’s a suit and tie, a uniform, or the ever-popular “business casual”, most of us have to dress within a certain set of guidelines. If your job involves dealing directly with customers on a face-to-face basis, your employer probably expects you to present a professional appearance to your customers. I have to deal with it, as do millions of other working stiffs. It’s the nature of the beast.
Of course, few of us have been blessed enough to “work” in the NBA, where the fortunate few earn a gazillion dollars a year AND dress as you see fit. Well, at least that was true until NBA Fuhrer David Stern decided that it was time to introduce something resembling order to the chaos. The league’s new dress code- the ubiquitous “business casual”- is, to Stern’s way of thinking, a way to present a more professional face to the public who pays the freight. The fact that the NBA fan base and the corporations who pay the freight are largely White is merely coincidence. Yeah, right….
Not surprisingly, a goodly portion of the fabulously wealthy and talented young African-American males who make up the majority of the NBA’s players are less than thrilled with the new dress code. It’s certainly not that the young multimillionaires can’t afford to “upgrade” their wardrobe (Though one player did, in all seriousness, express the expectation that a clothing allowance be given to the players…WTF??? Now they’re pleading poverty??). No, to these players, the new rule smacks of racism, and I can’t say that I disagree.
At one of Belgrade’s finest restaurants last year, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and many of their youthful U.S. Olympic basketball teammates attended a dinner in their honor. The guests included members of the Serbian national team, all of whom wore matching sport coats.
Iverson and some of his fellow National Basketball Association professionals arrived wearing an assortment of sweat suits, oversize jeans, shimmering diamond earrings and platinum chains, according to NBA officials who were at the dinner.
Larry Brown, the Hall of Fame coach of the U.S. team, was appalled and embarrassed. He later remarked to one official that he had thought about sending some of the worst-dressed players back to the team hotel.
Word of the fashion faux pas eventually made its way to the office of NBA Commissioner David Stern in New York, where concern was already on the rise about how some players were dressing and, more broadly, how the game’s appeal was slipping. The NBA had tried mightily to fuse its product with hip-hop culture, viewing its young players and their street fashion sense as a way to connect with a new generation of fans in the post-Michael Jordan era. But that wasn’t happening. Indeed, Stern and some of his closest advisers concluded, they might be driving fans away from the sport.
With the new season set to begin Nov. 1, Stern announced a dress code earlier this month that requires players to wear “business casual” attire whenever they are engaged in team or league business. It specifically bans shorts, T-shirts, jerseys, sneakers, flip-flops, headgear such as ‘do-rags, and chains, pendants and medallions worn outside clothing.
I’m about as White as they come, and I must confess that I just do not “get” Hip-Hop culture- not the music, not the clothes, not the do-rags, not the chains. Then again, there’s no reason I should. It’s merely a different culture, which I have no problem with. David Stern, however, is apparently afraid that the Hip-Hoprization of the NBA is something that will scare off not only Madison Avenue and it’s overwhelmingly White power structure (and the large amounts of dollars that accompany it), but those fans who buy tickets to NBA games, most of whom are also White.
Stern’s expectation that players wear what he defines as “professional” attire can, and probably should, be taken by the league’s young African-American males as a statement that they are expected to dress and act more “White”. No, it’s not right, and yes, it smacks of racism, but let’s considers the realities here. As much as NBA players might be loathe to admit this, playing in the league is NOT their birthright. Just as any employee of any business is faced with expectations and guidelines, there is no reason NBA players should be any different. Recognize the fact that you have a fan base that you have to keep happy, and deal with it. Being accepting of all races and cultures should not by definition mean playing to the lowest common denominator.
Could David Stern have handled this issue in a less ham-handed manner, one that might have resulted in fewer accusations of racism being flung in his direction? Of course, he could have. This could have, and no doubt SHOULD have been, handled as an internal matter, working with the players to convince them of their responsibilities in this matter. By handling it the public manner that he chose to, Stern displayed a stunning lack of cultural sensitivity. He also created a situation in which the league’s players are justified in taking his edict as a slap in the face.
The NBA is not like every other business, and expecting the players/employees to act as if it is is simply unrealistic. For the most part, you’re talking about a group of young black males who have not had to work within or adjust a largely White corporate power structure. Now David Stern changes the rules and requires players to conform to rules set by The Man. No, this matter was handled about as poorly as it could have been, which I find surprising, because David Stern is one of the smartest businessman out there. Unfortunately, sometimes intelligence does not prevent someone from doing the right thing in the wrong way.
It’s not that I have any particular sympathy for the players. It’s hard to feel sorry for players who make more money in a season than I will in my lifetime. Nonetheless, they are human beings, and they deserve to be treated with respect. David Stern may have had the right idea, but he is managing to do it in a manner that leaves players feeling as if they’re being treated like recalcitrant children. Because of this, players can justifiably point to racism as being at the root of Stern’s edict. I don’t necessarily know that this is true, but perception is often reality, and if players perceive the new dress code as racism, then David Stern has his work cut out for him.
How long will it be before the NBA’s new dress code begins to be referred to as “The Allen Iverson Rule”??