On the heels of my colleague Josh’s tremendous piece on the unappreciated hero that is Allen Iverson, I got to thinking about the overall impact AI had on the league. As Josh alluded to, Iverson took the NBA by storm using his brash, “me against the world” mentality to create one of the most polarizing figures in NBA history. Iverson delivered each and every night on the court, with a swagger all his own, endearing him to inner city kids everywhere; who wanted nothing more than to be the next Allen Iverson. AI also took this same approach off the court. He would show up to games rocking his best Mitchell and Ness throwback jersey over a tall white tee, a pair a jeans that were a good 2 sizes too big, his signature Reebok sneakers and a du-rag draped over his patented corn rows. He would conduct interviews this way, he would attend charity events this way, this was him, this was the culture. On October 17th, 2005 with a swift and abrupt ruling, this all changed.
The NBA was reeling. Just months prior the league suffered it’s biggest black eye to date with “the malice in the palace”. The all out brawl in Detroit, that pitted fans against players, is one of the craziest and raucous scenes ever witnessed. This coupled with the fact that the leagues leading man was the gritty, tattoo ridden, uncensored Iverson, did not sit well with commissioner David Stern and he felt a big change was needed.
It is no secret that sports and music are synonymous. Often times those that become musicians had childhood dreams of being the next Michael Jordan or Barry Sanders, while sports stars dreamt of selling out MSG, as a musician, or shooting music videos while being surrounded by beautiful women. The off the court culture in the NBA was almost solely influenced by he hip hop culture, and it’s a no brainer as to why. The league is dominated by African American men, many of whom come from poverty stricken childhoods, with dreams of one day being able to drive the fancy cars and wear the flyest clothes. Many of the hip hop artists’ grew up in the same neighborhoods and shared the same hopes and dreams.
In the early 2000’s hip hop artists could be spotted wearing throwback jersey’s, baggy jeans, flashy sneakers, tons of gaudy jewelry, all types of head-wear, that was the trend and it was prevalent in every video and at every award show. It didn’t take long for the ballers to follow suit and bring that culture to the NBA locker rooms and benches. The players became so entrenched with the culture, that they took the time to step away from the court and actually record music. Ron Artest, Chris Webber, Shaq, Allen Iverson, and Kobe Bryant are just a few of the NBA stars that have stepped away from the court, and into the recording studio. By the mid 2000’s the hip hop culture was fully infused into the NBA and everyone seemed to be enjoying and embracing it, accept for the one man that had the power to put a end to it.
It is no secret that David Stern has a track record that reflects him getting his own way. He’s far from a player friendly commish, and often makes the move that will benefit the NBA from a financial standpoint. You can’t necessarily fault Stern for this line of thinking, as many commissioners have acted the same way, and ultimately the league’s best interest is atop the totem pole. The NBA brass was not on board with the direction the league was headed in, and felt a change was needed. That change came in the form of a league wide dress code. Some NBA teams implemented their own dress code for the players, both on the bench and off the court, but overall the players seemed to police themselves in terms of their attire. Players traveled, did media sessions, and sat on the bench in nearly anything they wanted and the big wigs of he NBA felt it was dealing a huge blow to the leagues image, and ultimately the money the league was grossing.
Stern put the dress code in place November 1st, 2005 and it was greeted by many players with anger and even notions of racism. Led by Allen Iverson, the NBA players voiced their displeasure with both Stern and the dress code, stating that he was trying to isolate the black players, and take away their individuality. At the time, those with tunnel vision felt this was what Stern was doing and ran with the racism angle. Looking back at it players such as Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tim Duncan dressed in jeans and t-shirts while on the bench or at the podium. While they may not have had the jewelry or chinchilla’s like Iverson or Sheed, it was still not the ideal look Stern and his colleagues envisioned for their stars.
What went unnoticed by many was the amount of players unfazed by the dress code. Guys such as Grant Hill, Chauncey Billups, and Shawn Marion already donned the attire that the league wanted and felt as professionals they needed to dress accordingly, at all times. Coach Nate McMillan mandated a dress code for his own players long before the league put their foot down, and many fellow coaches and organizations already had these rules and regulations in place.
As time passed, the dress code became less and less of an issue. The players began to conform to the dress code and even embrace it. In the end, was the dress code a good thing for the NBA? Absolutely, without question. While commissioner Stern has made some head scratching decisions in the past, him implementing the dress code should be applauded. The NBA is a global product, and a business opposed to a basketball league. While the fans watch the NBA for the excitement, superior athleticism and ability, and mainly for the fact that it’s the best product on the planet, don’t ever forget that this is a business, and every major decision will come down to money and image. In recent years, the dress code has eased up a bit; the league and the players have seemed to find a good balance (Russell Westbrook aside). While both NBA and the hip hop cultures has changed in the past 8 years, there is no doubt that they are still synonymous, just in a different way.
The hip hop culture is now more entrenched in the business end of the league, and even throughout all professional sports (NFL, MLB, etc). Rappers, execs, and companies as a whole are now teaming up with teams and the NBA executives to reap the ultimate reward of, creating revenue and maximizing profit. These things, along with an unbelievably talented crop of young stars have put the NBA in the best place it’s been since his airness stepped away from the game. On February 1st, 2014 David Stern will step down after 3o years of service, and deputy commissioner Adam Silver will grasp the reigns of the NBA. Silver, a Duke grad is a tremendous business man, and seems to be a bit more player friendly. Let’s just hope Stern can keep things status quo until then, though I wouldn’t count on it.