• The Man Who Changed NBA Fashion Forever
  • Jahmal Landers
The Man Who Changed NBA Fashion Forever

The man who, arguably, brought on the current high fashion trend in the NBA. (David Stern below)

By Jahmal Landers


David Stern officially stepped down earlier this month after 30 years as NBA commissioner. He is a somewhat polarizing figure who often credits his business acumen as the reason for the meteoric rise of the NBA in the 80’s and 90’s. Though that is quite debatable, one thing is clear: Stern has left an indelible mark on the game.During Stern’s career, dramas, scandals and controversies were well documented. He had been taken to task, especially in twilight of his tenure. Sports writers and fans alike cringed at his recent mishandling of the referee scandal and league trade vetoes. Stern’s criticism was deserved on most occasions but there was one move that would prove to be his most deft.

His most polemic decision, the instatement of the mandatory NBA dress code, may have been a great one for society as well as the game.


Allen Iverson (above)

In 2005, the NBA image was covered in tattoos, wrapped in du-rags and draped in over-sized velour suits. The typical platinum and diamond encrusted NBA superstar took casual attire to the next level on their way to and from the stadium. There were not too many of us who could get away with dressing like this at our place of employment, let alone make millions doing it. The NBA was trying to find its identity in the “after Jordan” era. Talented, young millionaires took the chance to make a statement “Money won’t change me.”


David Stern was not appreciative of how his product was packaged and sold. The NBA was getting married to hip-hop and thugs and Stern felt that it was bad for business. After all, hip-hop and rap culture were still reeling from losing two of their biggest stars to a petty, yet violent East-West rivalry. Then there was the infamous Pacer-Piston brawl in 2004. Stern was under scrutiny and wanted the public to know that he still had control of the league. Most of America tuned in, but for some, it was difficult to identify with many of the “new school” athletes who were playing Dr. Naismith’s game. Stern felt he had to make the NBA more palatable.


The NBA was the first major North American sports league to enforce a dress code. The stage was set for two influential personalities in the NBA to loft arguments and accusations of racism and unprofessionalism back and forth.


Allen Iverson was the people’s champ because of tremendous heart and undeniable talent, despite his lack of size. Iverson was one of the more outspoken challengers of the dress code. He vehemently opposed the rule because he felt that there was a racial undertone to it. Many claim that the rule was made to limit hip-hop's influence in the NBA, one that was perceived as attached to black athletes. In regard to the dress code, Iverson was quoted saying, “They’re targeting my generation -- the hip-hop generation," in a television interview. He went on to say “You can put a murderer in a suit and he's still a murderer… Just because you put a guy in a tuxedo, it doesn't mean he's a good guy,”


Jermery Lin accepting an Espy in 2012


Allen Iverson, being the favorite player of so many young people in the A.J. (After Jordan) NBA, found himself at the forefront of a culture clash with players like Paul Pierce and Stephen Jackson echoing his claims of racial insensitivity against the NBA brass.


Iverson’s argument that “The dress code is not who I am and doesn’t allow me to express myself.” Was met with the counter argument that professional athletes are still professionals. Stern wanted to separate his NBA from so many of the negative stereotypes that started to hashtag it.


Since Iverson left the NBA in 2010, it has been completely rebranded. Once Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony embraced an opportunity to dabble in tailored suits (while having no lack of funds to hire some great stylists), they raised their celebrity to new heights. Worldwide, fashion aficionados have taken note of the arrival of the NBA sartorialist at high profile events like New York Fashion Week. These tastemakers are now influencing Americans to dress smart and fix up.


Amare Stoudemire (above)

Children and young adults look up to the likes of Kobe, James and Stoudemire. They are creating a sartorial culture among young Americans. Dressing better than any NBAers in recent memory and arguably some of the best-dressed athletes in the world; they have reinvented what an athlete is supposed to look like.


Dwayne Wade for GQ

Even though David Stern isn’t the most fashionable guy, he has made an impact on American fashion via its most accessible and visible athletes. On his way out, we can all thank him for at least one thing. His decision has had far reaching impacts and benefits that he may not have even foreseen. Instating the NBA dress code, while controversial at the time, has been great for the league and legions of young, impressionable NBA fans that idolize these players. 

  • Jahmal Landers