The NBA’s much ballyhooed dress code has ushered in a new era of bland, as surveyed by the New York Times’ Alexandra Marshall (link swiped from True Hoop).
Fans of draft night know that newbie players haven’t pranced to the podium in, say, an all-white Nehru vest ensemble topped with a gleaming white derby since Samaki Walker in 1996 (above). No one could picture Charles Oakley’s creatively tailored, retina-searing suits on anyone anymore except maybe a criticproof caricature like Shaquille O’Neal. Dress code or no, with the exception of Wallace, Iverson and the flagrant fashion foul that is Tim Duncan, the league’s will to corporate homogeneity has been festering since Jordan’s foray into executive realness. “I don’t think too many people are taking the extra step,” says the dapper Philadelphia 76er Chris Webber, who recalls suffering a day of merciless teasing by his entire team simply for wearing a slightly-too-high-cut turtleneck. “We follow the national trend now: jeans and a shirt and blazer.”
The Knicks, the home team for the country’s fashion capital, are no exception. “You could say I’ve been housebroken,” says the Knicks’ clotheshorse president, Isiah Thomas, who, upon joining the organization in December 2003, instituted a more stringent dress code than the N.B.A.’s: no denim, ties required. (This from a man who cites Catholic school and his older brother, the neighborhood pimp, as his two strongest sartorial influences.) The Madison Square Garden locker room that once sheltered Anthony Mason’s black mink coat (emblazoned with his number) and the matching three-piece suits and fedoras of Walt (Clyde) Frazier could easily be mistaken for the locker room at the Equinox gym on Wall Street. A recent walk through the hapless Knicks’ formica warren of a changing room reveals a few flashes of flyness: LV’s and double-G’s on the shelves of the rookies David Lee and Channing Frye, Stephon Marbury’s colorful neckwear and the power forward Maurice Taylor’s canary diamond monogram cufflinks. But earth tones, rep ties and anonymous leather topcoats far outnumber Technicolor and fur in the cubbyholes. In a media-savvy response to the new code, this season Marbury, who is also the spokesmodel for the Joseph Abboud men’s-wear label, has given each member of the organization one custom Abboud suit, to be fitted by the company’s head tailor, Salvatore Mellace. It is up to each man to pick his cut and fabric. And so arises the perfect opportunity for a test case: have players truly lost the desire to match on-court skills with off-court flash? Left to his own devices, will the second-string center Jerome James ask for a five-button coat?