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Vince Thomas

From The Floor

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Days of Draft fashion no-no's a thing of the past

By Vince Thomas, for
Posted Jun 29 2009 7:48AM

Michael Jackson was in the studio recording Dangerous when Blake Griffin, James Harden, Tyreke Evans and most of the 2009 Draft class were first learning to walk. By that time, the King of Pop had switched up his fashion steez. He still rocked tight and too-short black pants that showed the white socks underneath, but he had ditched his iconic red and black Thriller leather for something that looked like a black jean jacket with a bunch of zippers on it. Mike was no longer in the fashion vanguard.

It was right around this time -- the dawn of the 90s -- when people started paying attention to what was worn at NBA drafts. If you paid attention last night (and for the past couple years, really), you've probably noticed that Draft Night fashion has gone from geechy to chic. Players don't come out looking like Bishop Don Magic Juan or their neighborhood pimp anymore, they're walking across the stage to shake David Stern's hand in euro-fitted, high fashion threads that Hollywood A-listers would be proud of. This a good thing. No, this is a great thing.

For the past 20 years, the NBA Draft has been synonymous with, well, egregious suit choices. The website is a site whose mission is to make you a, um, better guy. It tells you things like, "Buy one pair of shoetrees and put them in the shoes you wore that day." It also tries to help men with their suit decision-making, and they do this using the NBA as a "how-not-to" example. "Regardless of the button configuration," the Web site reads, "go with a two-button roll (the lapel rolls inward at the second button, counting from the bottom) for a less constrained look. You should only have two or three buttons on a single-breasted suit. Only NBA Draft picks wear multi-buttoned suits, and if you are one, would you give us a call?"

That's the rep that NBA jocks have had for about two decades: they've worn the worse suits on the planet -- particularly on Draft Night. The weird thing is that these dudes actually thought they looked good. Forget about the 80s, when cats like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone came out in their Burlington's Best. That's back when players didn't know any better and, even if they did, didn't really have the means to get fly, anyways. But by the time the 90s rolled around, most guys in the green room had taken out six to seven-figure insurance policies and/or signed endorsement deals that made them effectively rich before they ever signed their first NBA contract. They used the dough on some of the worst suits a seamstress ever sewed, a designer ever designed.

I say what I'm about to say with full knowledge, having grown up in the hood: a lot of black men think pimps are cool. It has less to do with the way pimps police and treat their prostitutes and more to do with pimp aura. Pimps exhibit the most concentrated and cartoonish aspects of black male masculinity. The walk (or should I say strut), the diction, the essence. And, yes, the dress. When you saw Jalen Rose rock the tomato-red pinstripe joint or Samaki Walker come through in an all-white get up with a derby-hat, they were dressing like their fashion heroes -- neighborhood pimps. We call that geechy. Technically, geechy (or geechee) refers to a person of "Gullah" descent, originally black folk from the South Carolina/Georgia region known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than most African American communities in the U.S. But today, if you call someone or something geechy, you're basically calling it "hood" or "country." White kids in the suburbs call geechy stuff "ghetto." Geechy/ghetto was Drew Gooden's 2002 farse, a beige get up with a button-less overcoat. Geechy/ghetto was Bobby Jackson's five-button, metallic blue piece in 1997 -- with his shirt cuffs pulled back over his suit-sleeves. Geechy/ghetto was Erick Dampier's hot-pink suit jacket and Maurice Taylor's teal green tragedy.

The wild thing is that this was not how most self-respecting black men dressed during this time. It's not like every man with a brown face walked in the department store or boutique and said "gimme a joint with 27 buttons and no lapel...and make sure it's fushia." Pimps and hustlers did that stuff...and athletes. There was no good reason on earth for Jalen to rock his infamous piece, other than that he saw Slick Willie bopping up some Detroit avenue in something similar. The other dudes that they got their fashion cues from -- rappers -- wouldn't be caught dead in a suit, so there was no suitable (pun intended) fashion model.

But something happened earlier this decade. Diddy, Jay-Z, Kanye, Pharell -- rappers started dressing in high-fashion threads. They threw away the throwback jerseys and T-shirts that went all they way down to their ankles and started rocking tailored suits and other mature threads. Now dudes had chic examples to imitate. It's like Kevin Willis, one of the all-time best-dressed athletes and a clothes designer for two decades, said: "When the young guys started seeing rappers with the suits, things evolved. It's like they said, 'OK, if Jay rocks it, it's on. If Diddy rocks it, it's on.'"

Thankfully, Jay and Diddy took their cues from high-fashion and not Ice Cold from the block.

Athletes, especially the younger ones, want to be like rappers. So they dress like them. Earlier this decade, that meant big jeans and a Jim Brown jersey. These days it means...well, just look at KG and LeBron and D-Wade and Chris Paul and Brandon Roy. Did you see the understated and sophisticated pieces that Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo wore at last year's draft? What about about Kevin Durant and Greg Oden in '07? You tuned in to laugh and mock, but there was no fodder. Last night was even better. Not a tragic suit in the green room. Blake Griffin took a risk with the purple shirt, but in 1999, he'd have rocked a purple SUIT. James Harden went all sophisticado with the bow-tie and it worked.

Bishop Don Magic Juan can keep carrying the geechy-torch with his 45-button, blood-orange suits, cane and pimp cup, if he wants to; but this generation's young athletes aren't having that. It's a new day. NBA Draft Suit Watch is officially dead. RIP.

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