HoopsHype.com Columns

NBA gangs must fight dress code
by Dennis Hans / November 12, 2005

The only way to overturn Commissioner David Stern’s repressive and ridiculous dress code is for the NBA’s rival fashion gangs, the Blings and the Slobs, to quit fighting each other and start fighting the power.

The leader of the Slobs, Tim Duncan, took the worst possible approach when a reporter asked his opinion of the dress code.

"I think it's a load of crap," he said. "I understand what they're trying to do with the hats and do-rags and jerseys and stuff. That's fine. But I don't understand why they would take it to this level. I think it's basically retarded.”

Get it? The Brother from Another Planet is fine with The Man cracking down on fashion accessories of the Blings – hats, do-rags, throwback jerseys and “stuff” (i.e., jingle-jangle jewelry) – but it’s a “load of crap” when he outlaws Duncan’s blandly casual attire.

Then LeBron James, a stylish Bling who’s just as likely to wear a little gold over a sleek suit as as over a vintage jersey, offered this thinly veiled blast at the Slobs: "It's a job and we should look like we're going to work."

We get it, LeBron. Some Slobs might look like they’re going to the couch to watch TV (Duncan, Luke Ridnour, Andre Iguodala), going hunting (Brad Miller), or going for a workout at a grimy, local gym (Kyle Korver). But they certainly don’t look like they’re going to their job at the accounting firm or the NBA’s marketing department.


If we assume that a recent dream I had after watching the Sharks and the Jets square off in “West Side Story” accurately reflected NBA reality, this sniping has gone on since at least the summer:

It was a hot August night. Six Slobs were strolling down the Strip in Vegas when a band of Blings walked out of the Palms. One Slob, Luke Ridnour, got up in Jason Richardson’s grill and launched into the Slobs’ anthem (which sounded suspiciously like “When You’re a Jet”):

When you’re a Slob
You don’t care what you wear
Just show up at your job
In some sweats and bad hair

When you’re a Slob
You don’t put on no suit
You got no need to rob
You make plenty of loot

You’re shufflin’ around
No need to tie your laces
But when you’re uptown
You get in the best places
You’re drawin’ aces!

Oh, it was on. Richardson hit back hard.

When you’re a Bling
Got the biggest gold chain
From your neck dang-ga-ling
Whether sunshine or rain

When you’re a Bling
Wear your do-rag with pride
Bein’ real is your thing
You got NUTHIN’ to hide

You know you look fly
Espeshlee in a throwback
The ladies all sigh
Because you’re lookin’ so Mack
Them Slobs are so whack!

That last line didn’t sit well with Brad Miller. The Sacramento Slob cold-cocked J-Rich with his Pocket Fisherman. Then Darius Miles used his do-rag to choke the life out of Pretty Boy Korver while Duncan
smothered Allen Iverson with what looked like a sleeping bag but was actually Untiny Tim’s nondescript, oversized shirt. The rumble was on! Alas, seconds later Officer Krupke turned up to cool things down.

Before I could learn who got booked at the station, my alarm clock blasted me awake.


This isn’t the first time NBA players have been divided into conflicting fashion camps. It happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the forerunners of the Slobs and Blings roamed the league. But take note,
youngbloods: the oldsters competed without being at each other’s throats. By keeping things civil, they presented a united front that made a dress code unthinkable, and that civility morphed into unity when
they laced up their sneakers.

Walt “Clyde” Frazier of the New York Knicks was a gaudy fashion plate well before the word “bling” had been coined. He drew inspiration from 1930s gangster fashions popularized in the 1967 movie “Bonnie and Clyde”
(hence the nickname) and the anti-heroes of the Blaxploitation films.

Slob culture in the NBA can be traced to two of Clyde’s teammates: hippie Phil Jackson and rumpled-scholar Bill Bradley. Jackson was in tune with the times, dressing in the counterculture manner you’d expect
of a young man with a war to stop and acid to drop.

Bradley, on the other hand, was a short-haired, establishment brainiac. He wasn’t quite ready to take on The System, though he did reject the materialism of his parents’ generation by wearing the same threadbare,
dullsville outfit every day – despite having a load of cash courtesy of his ridiculous “Great White Hope” contract. Like a latter-day nerd, Bradley didn’t want to waste one second of his valuable thinking time wondering what to wear.

All three had cool heads. The stylish stud and his two fashion-disaster teammates respected each other’s sartorial choices off the court and bonded on. That unity spurred the Knicks to NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.


One of the sad spectacles of the dress-code debate is the death of Jackson’s inner hippie. He long ago abandoned the Slob look for the hand-sown suits of the corporate class, whose values now seem to be his
own. Listen to him lash out at the Blings in language far cruder than even Stern would employ:

"The players have been dressing in prison garb for the last five or six years," said the Laker coach. "All the stuff that goes on, it's like gangsta, thuggery stuff. It's time. It's a good time to do that [impose a dress code].”

The young Phil Jackson, were he around today, would confine his prison references to denunciations of our draconian and race-biased drug laws that have put so many African American young men – the primary
demographic of NBA players – behind bars. He wouldn’t be whining about the prisoners’ alleged fashion influence on the Blings. Jackson, alas, has gained a soul patch but lost his soul.


If there’s one man who can forge the unity the Slobs and Blings desperately need, it’s Allen “The Answer” Iverson. He has two Slob teammates in Iguodala and Korver, and no other Bling is more in tune with the Slobs’ commitment to what's comfy. Underneath his medallions and pendants, Iverson says he himself dresses for comfort. He gets that from his throwbacks, baggy jeans, shorts and sneakers, while other aspects of his look – the do-rag, ball cap, tattoos and inscripted bling – tell his peeps he remembers where he comes from and will always have their back.

It’s this blend of character, guts and style that leads kids of all colors and social strata to idolize and emulate The Answer. And not just here. “I just came from Japan,” Iverson said recently, “where I saw thousands of kids; all of them dressed like me, from the biggest guy to the smallest.”

Iverson has the stature to get Duncan, LeBron and all the other haters to quit sniping at each other and instead direct their rage at the crotchety control-freak who has the audacity to tell them how to dress.

Together, the Blings and the Slobs can defeat the code and take back the players union from its spineless, fuddy-duddy leaders, Billy Hunter and Antonio Davis. Once they run the union, the Blings and the Slobs can
demand Stern’s head and usher in a new NBA era where style and lack of style, not image, is everything.

Blings and the Slobs
What a powerful force
We’ll drive Stern from his job
And show nada remorse

Slobs and the Blings
An unbeatable pair
Watch us put on our wings
Watch us fly through the air

The kids know we’re right
They got our backs forever
Let’s put up a fight
We’re true and just and clever
Surrender NEVER!

Dennis Hans’s essays on basketball – including the styles, rhythms and fundamentals of free-throw shooting – have appeared online at the Sporting News and Slate. His writings on other topics have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post and Miami Herald, among other outlets.