TRYING TO DECIPHER THE NBA DRESS CODE

A thief can wear a suit, a gangster can wear a tie, and a sleazy politician can wear fancy shoes. So a dress code – as NBA commissioner David Stern is pondering – will not turn players into model citizens.

It will make them mad.

It already has. In fact, the only thing that could upset players more is if Stern made them listen to country western music.

“They’re trying to teach us how to dress, but we already know how to dress,” said Rip Hamilton, the Pistons guard who routinely leaves the arena in sports jerseys, jeans and bling. “I don’t think anybody on our team agrees with (it). We all feel you dress the way you want to dress. … It’s crazy.”

What’s making them crazier is the rumor without facts. They keep hearing that Stern wants sports coats and collared shorts and no jeans for all players, to and from the arena, and on road trips.

But there’s no hard copy.

“So you’ve not seen a plan?” I asked Rip.

“I’m as clueless as you are,” he said.

Hmm. I’m not sure how to take that.

The Answer has an answer

Anyhow, on Tuesday, I spoke with the league office, which confirmed that there will indeed be a dress code this year, that it will be instituted before the regular season starts, and that the union signed off on this in the last collective bargaining deal, so there are no votes, no negotiations, just pretty much whatever David Stern decides.

I flash back to images of Stern – at the NBA draft or handing out a championship trophy. I see blue suit, red tie. Or black suit, yellow tie. Or blue suit, red tie again.

I don’t see Allen Iverson going that route.

In fact, Iverson, whose fashion can best be described as “my big brother’s oversized sweat suit,” already has weighed in. He was quoted in the Philadelphia Daily News as saying, “It sends a bad message to kids. If you don’t have a suit on when you go to school, is the teacher going to think you’re a bad kid?”

Wait a minute, did Allen Iverson just use the words “it sends a bad message to kids”?

Hold on a sec Â…Mrrpghszzlp!

OK. I’m back.

A dress code may do several things. Sending a bad message to kids is not one of them. I’ve never heard of a kid going astray and years later, in a prison cell, moaning, “If only my sports heroes hadn’t worn those ties.”

Still, it’s hard to see how a jacket and slacks standard is anything but hypocritical in the NBA, considering how the league loves to scoop money from its hip-hop associations, how it loves to market itself to the backwards baseball cap crowd, and how some of its biggest advertisers earn billions through the marketing of ridiculously expensive sneakers.

Not dress shoes. Sneakers.

Don’t look to the movies

Now, it’s true, most workplaces have some sort of dress code. I couldn’t come to the newspaper wearing a throwback jersey, gold chains, floppy jeans and the latest Nike footwear. Well, I could, but everyone would wonder where I got the money.

Then again, most workplaces, you wear the same clothes all day. In the NBA, your “work” outfit is shorts and tank top. So why does coming and going have to be fancier?

I’ll tell you why. Because Stern is worried. He is worried about the image of his game. He thinks people see young, black men, dressed like rappers, covered in bling, and they think “trouble.” He thinks people see players caught with guns, or dope, or fathering children with different women, and they turn away from the NBA because it sends the wrong message.

He thinks this. And he is not wrong. People make these impressions. Some are correct, some aren’t. Stern wants fans to think of “a collar” as a fashion item, not a police reference.

But throwing a suit at a problem won’t make it go away. After all, a man can get high in an Armani three-piece. I know Stern is looking for that most overused adjective “class.” And I know some older fans think dressing these smack-mouthed young men like investment bankers will make this form of entertainment safer for their children.

But consider other forms of entertainment, such as movies. In “Wall Street,” the fancier Charlie Sheen dressed, the more of a creep he became. In “The Godfather,” the more Michael Corleone got into silk suits, the more people he knocked off.

Besides, will Stern force the players to remove those headphones that suggest they are tuning out the entire world? Will he still allow a 10-inch medallion over a shirt with buttons? Clothes may make the man, but when The Man makes you wear clothes, it’s a different story.

“You dress as you feel,” Hamilton said.

I agree. I feel like a turkey on rye with mustard. That explains the stain on my shirt.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.

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