November 8, 2005

Stern's Dress Code The Right Move

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David Stern – for requiring your athletes to dress like businessmen, I applaud you.

The NBA’s commissioner has taken some heat for ruling on a racially sensitive topic with his new dress code, but you have to give the man credit for taking the business aspect of basketball by the horns – he’s sly, he’s smart, and he’s done more for a game that is getting way out of control than any other commissioner has done for their sport in the last few years.

Allen Iverson called it “fake.” Tim Duncan said it was “basically retarded.” It is so ridiculous that even athletes from other sports have taken shots at the NBA’s new dress code – Michael Vick recently called the hysteria surrounding the new rule a “crazy situation.”

Everyone knows that the new code has racist connotations. The targeting of African-Americans in the NBA is so blatant that arguably the whitest coach in the NBA, the Miami Heat’s Stan Van Gundy, comically stated, “I thought it was funny they can’t wear any of the jewelry and stuff like that.”

Because of the race-related rule, everyone takes their shots. Stephen Jackson, who nobody remembers got suspended for his friendly actions involving some fans at the Palace in Detroit last year, even went to great lengths to publicly call out Stern by calling his policy “racist and one targeting young black males.” And while Jackson is one of many players who criticizes Stern, what he doesn’t realize is that he’s attacking the wrong man. While everybody wants to hang Stern, no one wants to hang the average fan.

Stern is kind of nerdy. He’s short, wears thin rimmed glasses, and has a cheek-to-cheek smile similar to that of a 12 year old. If you saw him for the first time you’d probably think he was a push over. In other words, he doesn’t exactly look like an angry pit-bull-like commissioner that Bud Selig does in baseball.

But it is all a facade. As far as leaders go, Stern is probably the toughest of them all. He speaks loudly, suspends heavily, and the man loves to deliver nice little swift kicks to the junk – just like the one he delivered right between the legs of Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and some other players who represented the NBA and the United States on a visit to Serbia before the Olympic games last year. While at a dinner in their honor at one of Belgrade’s finest restaurants, Iverson et. al. showed up wearing sweatshirts, oversized jeans, and enough ice to make an Eskimo jealous. This is, of course, while the Serbian national team all wore matching sport coats.

Stern isn’t racist. He loves the fact that the NBA has the tough, rap-oriented, inner-city, scrappy image. It is a part of his game – hip-hop icons Jay-Z, Nelly, and Usher are minority owners of NBA teams. Stern has even gone to great lengths to preserve that image on the court as he once blew up at a basketball magazine for airbrushing several of Allen Iverson’s tattoos out for a photo-shoot. And all of that is without mentioning that the NBA’s bad-boy image earns the league a load of money from merchandise sales – $430 million annually to be exact.

The only problem is that merchandise means little to an owner. Owners and the league alike bank big on television revenue ($900 million annually), sponsorships ($9.3 billion spent by six major companies in 2003), and season ticket sales (varies for each team) – and all have been on the decline during the last decade.

They’ve all been on decline because of the league’s image problem. In a way, the NBA has become sport’s example of a reality television show over the last 10 years, with Latrell Sprewell choking coach P.J. Carlesimo and Kobe being accused of rape, just to name a few examples. It’s like an ongoing saga where you wonder what is going to happen in the next episode.

Stern had to do something to restore credibility. The first thing he did was add seven new sponsors during the 2002-03 season, including Verizon, which joined the normal cast of characters like Gatorade and Coca-Cola. After that was solved, Stern had to do something to secure better TV ratings and find some way to spark new interest in basketball among the nation’s elite.

By making the athletes dress better, you in fact make them more appealing to look at. Everyone sees it, including the rich, white, upper elite who, in majority, are buying the NBA season tickets.

Not only that, but you force the players to look nice on television and everywhere in public as long as they are associated with a team function. This can instantly restore credibility to the sport around the world – think Yao Ming in a tailor made suit (you can’t get jackets that size at a Men’s Warehouse).

And the last thing he did was make the announcement about the dress code right in the middle of the World Series, making everyone around the country think about basketball instead of America’s pastime.

Nice marketing, Dave. What’s not to love?

Tim Kuhls is a Sun Staff Writer. That’s Kuhls, Baby will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Tim Kuhls