- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

You can’t say that National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern does not enjoy a challenge. Players will have to observe a dress code beginning this season, he has announced. The idea is going over big with the players — like flood insurance in the Sahara.

The code, delivered in a short memo last week, boils down to this: No bling.

“Bling,” for those of you who are not fortunate enough to have a teenager in your home, is short for “bling bling,” a hip-hop term for gaudy jewelry and other forms of showy, ostentatious style.

In 2002, “bling bling” joined “jiggy,” “dope” and “phat” in the Oxford English Dictionary as synonyms for what my generation called hip, a milestone that pretty much declares each of these terms to be unhip now.

Now, bling is officially unhip in Mr. Stern’s NBA. Unless approved by one’s team, players must dress in “business casual when attending to league business or traveling as a team,” Mr. Stern declared. That means collared shirts, turtlenecks, sweaters, dress slacks, khakis or “dress jeans” are OK. Shorts, T-shirts, sleeveless shirts, sneakers, flip-flops, work boots and gaudy jewelry are not.

A dress code? In the NBA? Like a tough daddy, Mr. Stern is laying down the law, and like spoiled, pampered children, some of his players are whining, protesting and coming up with all manner of excuses.

Marcus Camby of the Denver Nuggets and Brevin Knight of the Charlotte Bobcats actually had the cheek to moan that the NBA should give players stipends or vouchers to offset the cost of new clothes. I guess a player just can’t make ends meet on the measly $5.3 million that was the average annual NBA salary this past season.

Even more interesting is the allegation that the dress code is racist. Mr. Stern is dissing black style, said Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson, who protested by wearing four chains to an exhibition game against San Antonio.

Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce agreed, saying, “When I saw the part about chains, hip-hop and throwback jerseys, I think that’s part of our culture. The NBA is young black males.”

Relax, fellows. Having been black all of my life, I assure you that there are many ways to be black. Some of them have better payoffs than others do, depending on the kind of payoff for which you are looking.

But I don’t blame today’s young players for being confused. Bad-Boy images often pay off in bigger dollars than the Good-Scout image.

The bad-boy image that Allen Iverson, an all-star point guard and shooting guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, has carried since his high school days has been hard for him to shake, especially with his elaborate tattoos, raunchy rap CDs and occasional run-ins with police. Yet, the bad-boy image probably has helped stimulate even bigger sales for his shoes and other products branded with his name.

By contrast, Tim Duncan, a power forward for the San Antonio Spurs, is an honors graduate in psychology from Wake Forest University in a field known for stars and would-be stars who famously have attended college without ever graduating.

But, while Tim’s calm refusal to lose his temper, say, with referees over bad calls, has won him great respect from players and fans, it has limited his marketability, which many analysts say is not as big as it should be for a man of his accomplishments.

That’s the NBA paradox. From a marketing standpoint, basketball fans can be like teenage girls who just can’t get enough of the bad boys.

Mr. Stern’s problem is that much of the public, including many of us in the black public, have had about enough of the bling and the ka-ching-ching (big money) and the head wraps, throwback jerseys, baggy pants, medallions the size of hubcaps and all of the other gangsta fashion that the NBA’s young stars have brought in from the street.

Oh, how we parents of teenagers long for those golden days of Michael Jordan, who had no problem at all filling the seats of arenas across the country until his final playing day without ever going gangsta. “Be like Mike” did not mean do-rags and gold chains.

So I don’t have a problem with the NBA’s dress code. It’s not going to perform any miracles, fellas, but it’s not gonna kill you, either.

In the long run, it might even enable you to live well and prosper and afford even more bling. Just don’t wear it courtside.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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