NBA Dress Code: Can Players Wear Jewelry During Games?

The NBA has always had a lot of fashion-forward players who love to express themselves through clothes and accessories. Yet, starting in 2005, the league imposed strict rules on what players could wear when coming and going from games. Those rules also govern what inactive players could wear while sitting on the bench.

Among other things, the 2005 NBA dress code involved a jewelry ban — a move many players felt was unfair and even racist. This dress code still exists today, although few players protest it any more. Let’s look at the rules governing what players can and cannot wear.

The 2005 NBA dress code

The 2005 dress code was implemented by then-commissioner David Stern. Following the Malice at the Palace brawl of 2004, Stern was concerned that the league was trending in the wrong direction. He felt a dress code would encourage more professional conduct from players.

Some believe he was secretly worried that the NBA would alienate itself from mainstream white viewers. The dress code requires players to wear “business casual attire.” The items no longer allowed include:

  • Shorts
  • Baggy pants
  • Sleeveless shirts
  • T-shirts or jerseys
  • Sunglasses
  • Headphones
  • Chains, pendants, and other forms of jewelry worn above the clothes

Furthermore, the NBA dress code required players tp wear sports coats and dress shoes. These rules applied to arrivals, departures, sitting on the bench, and all other official NBA business, like press conferences, charity events, and other team or league functions.

NBA players’ responses to the dress code

Stern’s dress code provoked ire and even protests from many NBA players. Then-Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson took special offense to the ban on chains, publicly calling the dress code a racist statement aimed primarily at African-American style. To protest, he wore his entire chain collection to a game, reports ESPN.

Then-Golden State Warriors shooting guard Jason Richardson seconded Jackson’s comments. Richardson astutely pointed out that the clothes one wore had little bearing on character, noting that even somebody wearing a suit could still be a crook.

Even mild-mannered San Antonio Spurs superstar Tim Duncan criticized the policy. His protest involved wearing baggy jeans and an untucked shirt during one game he spent on the bench.

The dress code in recent history

In the early years of the dress code, the NBA took enforcement seriously. According to former player David West, there were even fashion police at the games, documenting player’s outfits and reporting to the league office. Citations, usually accompanied by fines, were commonplace.

Even as recently as 2013, players have been slapped on the wrist for failing to comply with the dress code. That year, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was famously escorted from the bench for wearing a sweater, according to Yahoo Sports. For the most part, however, dress code violations are a thing of the past.

Instead, players have learned to express themselves within the parameters of the code. Pre-game outfits even generate a fashion show-like atmosphere, with players like Russell Westbrook routinely arriving in designer gear. Players are even signing endorsement deals with high-end fashion companies like Express and Barneys New York.

During the 2015 All-Star Weekend, TNT even aired an NBA fashion show produced by LeBron James‘ Springhill Productions. Superstars like James Harden, Klay Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins walked the runway, while Shaq, Charles Barkley, and others provided commentary. The event successfully highlighted the creativity of NBA players in circumventing the dress code.

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