- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The so-called image problem of the NBA does not emanate from the informal wardrobe of the players, which neutralizes the make-over attempt of commissioner David Stern.

His institution of a dress code is not persuasive.

The players of the NBA are mostly clean-cut, well-built, purposeful men whose solid character is overshadowed by the actions of a few.

When Gilbert Arenas descended on the D.C. Armory to hand out $18,000 worth of clothing and toiletries to the victims of Hurricane Katrina last month, the act of charity hardly rated a mention in the breathless 24/7 news cycle, forever seeking the next conflict.

But if Arenas had been pulled over by police and charged with a DUI, the news would have been treated to front-page headlines, with subsequent follow-ups, commentary and chatter galore.

The NBA is stuffed with all kinds of good guys, no different perhaps from the guys who make up your slow-pitch softball team, except for the extra commas on their income-tax returns.

This is not to suggest they are impervious to social blunders. They make mistakes like anyone else, only their mistakes are discussed and written about incessantly, as if the world as we know it is coming to an end.

Which event transcended the NBA last season, an event that was viewed by those who had no great interest in the sport?

It was the implosion of Ron Artest that initiated the ugly brawl among the Pacers, Pistons and fans in Auburn Hills, Mich.

In a way, unfair as it was, Artest, who is a nut job, became the leading ambassador of the NBA. He was the one player who spoke to millions with his crazy actions and stoked the stereotype that the league is filled with thugs.

That is just not the way it is.

Are there some bad guys in the NBA, just as there are bad guys in any profession? Of course. But look around the NBA, and most of the leading players are solid citizens who stay out of trouble and connect with the communities they represent.

Check the following: Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Ray Allen, Grant Hill, Peja Stojakovic, Shawn Marion and LeBron James.

You have to nitpick to find fault with those All-Stars.

The worst that can be said of Shaq is that he thinks he is Jay Leno, which sometimes results in a bad joke and an apology, not unlike the time he offended half the female celebrities in Los Angeles with his half-baked jest of intimacy with them.

If there is a problem with the NBA, it is the inability of players to keep their pants on as often as they should around groupies, which has led to an unacceptable number of out-of-wedlock offspring.

Alas, that is not an easily resolvable dynamic, no matter how many wise men are brought to the rookie orientations to warn of the pitfalls of easy sex.

It is this problematic: You are a twentysomething athlete, with unimaginable wealth, and women are constantly throwing themselves at you. Right. You never would succumb to temptation, although the whole essence of the nightclub industry is predicated on males looking to get lucky.

NBA players do not have to be lucky. They just have to snap their fingers.

And no dress code addresses that issue, as if anything could.

ABC-TV showed Duncan and Tony Parker standing on the sidelines of the Rams-Colts game Monday night. Both were dressed in casual attire, hardly an embarrassment to the NBA.

When the tattoo-adorned Larry Hughes was injured last season and dressing down on the bench, he did not fit the image of the responsible family man who is married with three children, as is the case.

Nor would you necessarily know that Hughes started a foundation designed to educate the public on organ donation because of a younger brother whose life was saved by a heart transplant.

Apparently, in Stern’s view, you would be unable to see beyond the tattoos and potato sack-like pants, as if that style has any edge left to it at all now.

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