Bro Jackson editor and contributor Jon Ridewood attended the “NBA All Star Style” event during All Star Weekend. Here are his reflections on this new (and also maybe never-to-be-seen-again) fashion show.
In his classic essay, “The Heresy of Zone Defense,” art critic Dave Hickey argues that “every style change that basketball has undergone in this century has been motivated by a desire to make the game more joyful, various, and articulate.” When the old rules “cease to liberate and begin to govern,” the NBA shakes things up to make the game new and fair. This explains why the league created the 24-second clock, outlawed handchecking, has teams inbound the balls on the sidelines after timeouts, and endlessly tweaks the salary cap, structuring, and gameplay each and every offseason.
One of the more unexpected examples of Hickey’s arguments came before the 2005-2006 season when commissioner David Stern implemented the first dress code in major American professional sports. The change came after the infamous “Malice at the Palace” incident, and Stern’s efforts during his time as commissioner to market a sport played by young, African-American men to a mostly white audience. At the time, Allen Iverson, a player who had the sartorial style and public profile that Stern was trying to combat, argued that “the dress code is not who I am and doesn’t allow me to express myself.”
But the rule did the opposite.
The dress code liberated players to explore their own personal styles and peacock in attire not suited for athletic purposes.
- Russell Westbrook became famous for colorful, superfluous glasses without prescription lenses.
- Kevin Durant donned backpacks to press conferences.
- Amar’e Stoudamire sat front row next to Anna Wintour and Hamish Bowles at a Tommy Hilfiger fashion show.
- GQ started to follow NBA fashion closely and published articles with headlines like, “The NBA’s Best and Worst Dressed Coaches.”
It wasn’t that NBA players hadn’t set trends before–see Air Jordans, baggy shorts and cornrows–but it was the first time the fashion world took notice of the league’s personal styles. Trendsetting became something to strive for. John Wall told the Washington Post two years ago that his career goals were to “win a championship, and be an NBA All-Star; work on movies; be an NBA fashion icon.” Stern had inadvertently created a new era (pun intended?)
Now I’m wondering if the dress code has, to use Hickey’s words, stopped liberating and begun governing, or at least that’s the conclusion I came to sitting in a half-empty New York ballroom midway through the taping of “NBA All-Star All-Style presented by Samsung Galaxy.” The event was the kind of cross-promoted, synergistic catastrophe an executive comes up with in the boardroom at the end of the meeting when their backs are to the wall and more money must be squeezed out of All-Star weekend. I suspect someone, and it’s unclear whether this someone is a TNT exec, an NBA exec, Rich Paul, a Samsung exec, a GQ editor, or lord knows whom, but that someone must have noticed that New York fashion week(s) overlapped with All-Star weekend and couldn’t help themselves.
Even if the whole thing was a LeBron James ego trip, cool. I get it. LeBron is a human brand who goes around comparing himself to a startup company, and I guess human brands named The Most Stylish Man in Sports need to do things like host fashion competitions (yes, it was a competition). If that’s the price I have to pay to watch one of the greatest players ever, then sign me up.
But if by some chance this wasn’t just LeBron greenlighting an event to increase his Q rating, then it was entirely unclear as to whom this pseudo-event was for … other then the cynical marketers televising the thing.
Attending the show in person, I found myself in one of those situations that’s so self-conscious, so American, so internet age-y, so … 2015. The fashion bloggers down the row, the friendly Grantland staffers next to me, and I myself spent our time waiting for the event to start by scanning the room for celebrities to justify our presence there and give fodder for our twitter streams.
Oh, is that person famous? No, they’re just dressed well.
There were some nominal celebrities attending the event, Cam Newton, Victor Cruz, 2 Chainz, and Rick Kamla (KAMLA! is high atop the list of people I would want in my utopian fantasy league along with Stephen Malkmus and Billy King … so I could rip him off.) to name a few, but I suspect they were supremely disappointed to be there. I feel certain Cam texted his publicist during the taping, angry that he was told Rihanna was going to be there, and where the hell was RiRi? I felt a special kinship for the five tweens sitting in the back who looked like they stumbled in from a bar-mitzvah. They at least are used to that state of self-consciousness and awkwardness since they’re living it. What was my excuse, NBA?
I suppose there were a few moments of pleasure. Charles Barkley judged the event and proved to know about as much about fashion as he does about analytics. He was predictably hilarious, offensive, and hilariously offensive. He and everyone else in the event subjected the poor host, Carrie Keagan, to a litany of sexist banter. I took a certain joy in LeBron reading a teleprompter and performing a comedy routine with four-time celebrity game MVP Kevin Hart.
I was in the same room as Shaq for the first time since I was at eight, when he high-fived me walking onto the court at a Spurs game. I’ll also never forget seeing J.R. Smith canoodle with a Victoria’s Secret model (resumably, he asked her if she wanted the pipe), my fashion industry friend who got me into the taping correcting Kenny Smith when he called Chandler Parsons’ trench coat a pea coat, and noticing that the fashion editor for GQ was taller than Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley, which retroactively makes Chuck’s career that much more unlikely and amazing.
So where does this leave NBA style? If players can continue to be “fashion forward” (one of the buzzwords thrown around during the competition), then maybe we won’t look back at the early part of the decade as the period when the NBA and the fashion world came together for something new and exciting. Or maybe we’ve reached the point where NBA fashion is about brand building and the bottom line, and the players are all Boogie Cousins walking down a runway in cargo shorts: out of place and out of fashion.