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Suiting up

NBA dress code draws criticism from many corners

Posted: Wednesday October 26, 2005 4:24PM; Updated: Wednesday October 26, 2005 4:24PM
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Marcus Camby
Despite making more than $8 million this season, Marcus Camby wants a stipend to pay for the NBA's new dress code.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Oh, heavens to Betsy, what a furor, what a to-do, what a downright brouhaha. My, there doesn't seem to have been a controversy so passionate in sports since Gene Tunney benefitted from the long count against Jack Dempsey in 1927. Why, if Harriet Miers would only explain her opinion on the matter, straightforwardly, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, it would not only reveal her attitude about privacy as a constitutional right, it would surely propel her onto the Supreme Court on a voice vote.

I can hear Senator Arlen Specter now: "Ms. Miers, do you believe Commissioner David Stern had the right to force NBA players to obey a new travel dress code?"

A breathless nation awaits her answer ...

Since Commissioner Stern came out with his edict last week, the reponses have been more numerous than hurricanes. The real firebrands have tagged Stern as racist. Something like 80 percent of NBA players are African-American, and since Stern is ordering them to wear sports jackets, with collared shirts and dress pants and shoes with toes -- no less than bankers or the New York Yankees -- he is suddenly Simon Legree.

For the record, the put-upon NBA players average about $5 million a year, and the league office's minority employment is by far the highest in any professional sport.

Never mind. Other critics call the NBA hypocritical, for playing up the hip-hop, gangsta image when it helped bring in a young audience, but now selling out to older, richer conservative sponsors as television ratings keep going south. Still others argue that the young black players are being cruelly stripped of their individuality. And some have even advanced an economic argument. Marcus Camby of the Denver Nuggets, who is making do on a new $50-million contract, argues that to alleviate the indignity and sacrifice of this unjust stricture, players should receive a new clothing allowance.

Actually, travel dress codes are hardly that uncommon in professional sport. For example, the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks -- both, incidentally, run by former black players ... Billy Knight and Isiah Thomas -- have more demanding dress standards than the new NBA mandate. Of course, clothes don't necessarily make the player. Both the Hawks and Knicks are losers. So too did the Minnesota Vikings institute a dress code not long ago, and yet the Vikes remain as behavorially incorrect as they may be sartorially correct.

But surely, leagues have the right to demand a level of presentable appearance from the young personages who represent them, and let's be honest, in a very short period of time, the snapshot of an NBA player off the court has gone from the impeccable and classy Michael Jordan to what Phil Mushnick of the New York Post calls "looking like recruitment officers for the Bloods and Crips." Even Charles Barkley, famously on record for telling children not to look up to NBA players as role models, says the new code is "fantastic," for it shows young African-American males how best to dress in the wider world.

And now, the ranking Judiciary member, Senator Patrick Leahy, has a question. "Ms. Miers, next, on the subject of ostentatious jewelry, do you believe the NBA commissioner has a constitutional right to tell players to hide their bling when in public?"