Before the NBA became the most fashion-forward sports league in America, it wasn’t too long ago when the Association was marred in a clothing crusade and a cultural controversy, when then commissioner David Stern instituted a league-wide dress code, inviting criticism and scorn from some of the NBA’s biggest names.
In October 2005, nearly a year removed from the ugly “Malice at the Palace”, the NBA’s Dress Code was officially introduced. Following the events in Auburn Hills, the league faced a self-imposed image issue, and with visions of its players fist-fighting unruly fans still fresh in league executives’ minds, the commissioner decided he needed to take necessary steps to repair the PR damage.
At a time when most players wore some combination of baggy sweats, an assortment of throwback jerseys, Timberlands and other fashion staples of the early-’00s, Stern’s dress code banned nearly everything players were commonly wearing. In addition, T-shirts, jeans, jewelry and do-rags were also forbidden. All players had to dress in conservative or business attire when traveling to games, while sitting on the bench injured or when conducting any type of league business—like a press conference or charity event.
Most players balked at the rule, none more so than Allen Iverson, who some believed to be the true inspiration for the rule. Few were more closely associated with hip-hop culture during that era than Iverson, who fronted Reebok commercials with Jadakiss and even attempted a rap career of his own. He wasn’t alone in his opposition. Paul Pierce, Stephen Jackson, David West (who incurred fines for not complying with the dress code) were vocal in their displeasure. Even young players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony—now some of the league’s most fashion conscious individuals—stood alongside their NBA brethren.
The dress code was perceived at the time as a knee-jerk reaction to bad publicity, as well as a deliberate attempt to distance the league from the hip-hop culture that was woven into the fabric of its players.
“They’re targeting my generation, the hip-hop generation,” Iverson once proclaimed on a TV interview. Jason Richardson called the dress code “kind of racist” and said that it “targeted blacks” in an interview with the Associated Press.
Nowadays, with NBA players in the front rows of fashion shows around the world and eyes on NBA fashion like never before, it’s hard to fathom a time not-too-long ago when the two worlds couldn’t have been further apart.