by Jill Martin
Rules are meant to be broken, as long as you do it with style. In 2005, when the new NBA dress code was enacted, the players were asked to change their look from hoodies to haute couture. Since then, the tunnel from the locker room to the court has turned into a veritable runway. Cameras are rolling, Twitter pics are taken and fashion magazines are fighting for NBA players to grace their covers. Celebrities have even been replaced by NBA stars in the front row at Fashion Week, while Vogue editor Anna Wintour (below) hosts the league’s biggest names while she sits courtside during NBA games.
Prior to 2005, players were able to (pretty much) wear what they wanted. Sports jerseys were prevalent, jeans were worn low, and “regular” sneakers could be seen in the tunnels and at the podium. But in the eight years since Commissioner Stern put the dress code in place, the NBA’s fashion landscape has changed dramatically. Many players took the new rule very seriously and at least initially chose to err on the conservative side, while others have used it as a way to bolster their names in the fashion world—and in turn gain high-end endorsements. For example, in 2011 Steve Nash launched a line of designer suits with a Vancouver-based apparel brand Indochino, a far cry from the look he donned on Draft Day…
NBA charity events are even turning into fashion galas. Heat star Dwyane Wade recently held his first “Night on the Runwade” to benefit his “Wade’s World Foundation.” The entire production was centered around a runway, with involvement from fashion designers and auction items. I had the honor of hosting the event (we both wore Louboutins.)
Here are some details of the dress code that you probably don’t know about:
• General policy is business casual-attire, which means a long or short-sleeve collared (or turtleneck) shirt and/or a dress sweater. LeBron James recently wore an interesting holiday-like top during a press conference—so is that cause for a fine? Well, only by the fashion police!
• On the other hand, Russell Westbrook wore a sleeveless top during Round 1 (pre-injury). I assume he knew he would likely have to pay up for that “Mr. T” look, but sometimes a fashion statement is worth the investment. At least Russ seems to think so.
• As far as shoes go? The 2005 dress code calls for “appropriate shoes and socks (dress shoes or boots) or other presentable shoes. This does not include sneakers, sandals, flip-flops or work boots.”
How this has evolved? Designer sneakers have now become acceptable. Because these high-end brands are now making sneaks that look like they can be worn to a black-tie affair, the players have made this part of their look and the league has not complained. As fashion evolves on the runway, it seems the league is rolling with the changes. By not fining players for these designer duds, the League is acknowledging the difference between a casual sneaker and a designer pair, as Matt Barnes models below.
• And it seems diamonds are no longer just a girl’s best friend—accessories have become just as important as a player’s outfit. Jewels, designer hats and flashy pieces have become part of the post-game uniform.
A few other interesting notes when checking out the NBA fashion show:
— When a player is sitting on the bench, a jacket is required, as are dress shoes and socks.
— Team issued warm-up suits are also acceptable coming in and out of the arena.
— In addition, a team can enforce its own rules as long as the minimum dress code is adhered to.
So the next time you see a pair of luxe loafers or Louboutins step off the bus, remember that it’s important to many of your favorite players to get off on the right foot.
Jill Martin is the MSG New York Knicks Reporter and Today Show Style Correspondent.