It's not just the spectacular dunks and sensational passes that make NBA basketball interesting to watch – it's the style and fashion sense of NBA players, from one's well-taped ankles to another's head-banded hair.
In the NBA, some players are known as much for their signature running shoes as they are for their basketball skills. All players on a team must wear the same colour shoes in any game. Most NBA players wear high-cut shoes for ankle support. Power players who play inside often wear very sturdy shoes because of the pounding their position takes. Perimeter players focus on shoes that may be lighter in order to move and cut. Some players, like former Dallas Mavericks forward Johnny Newman, wear low-cut shoes for increased lateral movement and mobility. Many high-profile players have their names or numbers stitched on their shoes, while others write messages on their shoes with markers. Mark Jackson, formerly of the Denver Nuggets, tied his wedding ring into the laces of his shoes to remind him of his wife and family.
A recent NBA fashion trend has been the return of high socks. Both of the league's "Dogs" (Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson of the Sixers and Jerome "Junkyard Dog" Williams of the Raptors) wear socks pulled up to their knees. This style may have been brought back by "The Wizard", former Mavs guard Walt Williams, who starred at the University of Maryland in the late 80s and early 90s.
Toronto's Junkyard Dog prefers to wear his socks pulled high. (Ron Turenne/NBAE/
All players on a team must wear the same style and colour of socks. At least one inch of a sock must be visible above a shoe at all times. A player's two socks must be worn at the same height. In college, Kerry Kittles (now of the New Jersey Nets) wore socks of different lengths.
Under their socks, players' feet often are heavily wrapped with athletic tape. Running and jumping through practices, 82 regular-season games plus playoffs puts tremendous pressure on a player's feet and legs. A team's athletic trainer must ensure each player is physically prepared for the rigours of NBA competition.
Though it appears shorts are getting longer and longer each year, they cannot be lower than one inch above the knee during an NBA game. Baggy shorts first were popularized by Michael Jordan, who liked to tug on his shorts while playing defence. Former University of Michigan teammates Jalen Rose and Chris Webber also preferred the relaxed fit of extra-large shorts. Prior to this, short shorts were the norm, with Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics and John Stockton of the Utah Jazz both choosing a tighter fit.
Though NBA players are not permitted to wear jewelry while playing, some have their fingers and wrists covered. For instance, the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett is known for wearing rubber wrist bands and finger bands with his initials, "KG". The Raptors' Vince Carter likes to sport arm bands on his elbow inscribed "VC 15".
Many players have copied the body art of former NBA forward Dennis Rodman, adorning their arms and legs with "tats" or "body stamps". Rasheed Wallace of the Portland Trail Blazers and Stephon Marbury of the Phoenix Suns have tattoos of family members' likenesses, while the Raptors' Morris Peterson and the Celtics' Mateen Cleaves have tattoos dedicated to their hometown of Flint, Michigan. The Atlanta Hawks' Jason Terry is so proud of his hometown (Seattle) that he has its area code (206) tattooed on his chest. The Portland Trail Blazers' Damon Stoudamire has a tattoo of his favourite childhood hero, Mighty Mouse.
Former L.A. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once said, "A coach's job is to have all the players playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back." This is because the team or city name is on the front, while the player's name is on back. The player's number is located on both the front and back. Each NBA home uniform must be predominantly white, except for that of the Los Angeles Lakers, which is subject to a "grandfather exception" and is gold. All jerseys must be tucked into a player's shorts, and t-shirts cannot be worn under a jersey.
Significance of Numbers
A player's number is a very important part of his identity and comfort level. In high school, Michael Jordan chose #23 because it was half of 45, which was the number of his older brother, Larry. Upon returning from his first retirement, Jordan chose to wear #45, but eventually switched back to #23.
Like Jordan, many players prefer to wear certain numbers. The Mavs' Antawn Jamison wore #7 in his rookie season, averaging 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. In his second season, he changed his number to 33, the number he wore in college. That year, he increased his scoring average by 10 points (19.6 points per game). Jamison joins a list of All-Star players who currently wear or have worn #33: Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Grant Hill, Scottie Pippen, Alonzo Mourning, Antonio Davis, Stephon Marbury and Patrick Ewing.
Other interesting number facts:
•Greg Ostertag of the Utah Jazz now may wear #00, his number at the University of Kansas. He couldn't wear this number in 2000-01 because teammate Olden Polynice wore #0.
•Tracy McGrady grew up in central Florida idolizing former Magic guard Penny Hardaway. T-Mac now wears the same #1 uniform that Penny once wore for the Magic.
•In the 1991 NBA Draft, the University of Nevada Las Vegas was represented by three first-round picks: Larry Johnson (1st pick), Stacey Augmon (9th pick) and Greg Anthony (12th pick). Each of these players chose to wear #2 in their rookie season to honour their college coach Jerry Tarkanian, who once wore #2.
•Numbers 1 through 9 must be a single digit. For example, "07" is not a permissible number.
•The NBA has to approve any uniform number greater than 55.
•Charles Barkley (then with the Philadelphia 76ers) changed his number from 34 to 32 due to the early retirement of Magic Johnson.
•Shawn Bradley of the Dallas Mavericks wore #76 (for his height, 7'6'') during his rookie season in Philadelphia. Similarly, former NBA player Gheorge Muresan wore #77 for his height (7'7'').
•Dennis Rodman wore #91 in Chicago (his previous number, 10, had been retired for Bulls great Bob Love) because 9 + 1 = 10. Rodman remarked this also is the first two numbers to dial in an emergency (9-1-1).
It's hard to determine which player first popularized wearing headbands during games, a style reserved at one time for tennis. Former Seattle SuperSonics guard Slick Watts and Lakers great Wilt Chamberlain both wore headbands throughout their careers. The headband became as much a part of their uniforms and identities as their sneakers. The Hornets' Baron Davis used his trademark headband as a prop to cover his eyes during the NBA.com Slam Dunk contest. In 2001, both the Hornets and Raptors wore headbands as a symbol of team unity throughout the playoffs. These teams' fans got caught up in the trend, wearing headbands at home playoff games. In previous postseason series, players for the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks have shaved their heads as a sign of unity.
Although he wore a small Afro during the 2000 Olympics, Vince Carter once again dons a saved head. (Brian Bahr/NBAE/
No beauty salon could keep up with the changing hairstyles in the NBA. There are two extremes, with players such as the Heat's Brian Grant wearing long dreadlocked hair, while other players, such as the Wolves' Kevin Garnett, shave their heads bald. Vince Carter flirted with a small Afro during the 2000 Olympics, but shaved his head prior to the start of the next NBA season.
Fans would agree, the styles (Dr. J's Afro, Allen Iverson's cornrows, Dennis Rodman's technicolours, Latrell Sprewell's braids, Anthony Mason's shaved messages) and colours (the Nets' Jason Kidd and the Pistons' Bob Sura both dyed their hair blond in 2001) of NBA players' hair are quite diverse.
Each NBA head coach and assistant coach must wear a sport or suit coat, slacks, and a sport shirt or dress shirt with a tie or turtleneck sweater. Most coaches are fashionably dressed, often sporting expensive designer suits, such as those of Heat coach Pat Riley. Former Raptors coach Lenny Wilkens is known for his mock turtlenecks, whereas the Celtics' Red Auerbach was known for his accessory cigar, which he would customarily light at the end of a game the Celtics won. Unlike college basketball, or professional baseball or football, NBA coaches are not permitted to wear a team logo on their clothing.
During the period beginning an hour and a half before a game and ending 20 minutes before a game (when players are warming up on the floor or going to and from the locker room), they must wear a combination of the following team-issued garments:
On top, a game jersey, shooting shirt(s), warm-up top, practicewear t, reversible tank, sleeveless t or long sleeve t.
On the bottom, game shorts, warm-up pants, practicewear shorts or practicewear fleece pants.
A player's jersey and shorts must be properly worn at all times during a game. Only the shooting shirt and game warm-up may be worn over a uniform when a player is on the bench.
After a game, some teams enforce a dress code for team flights and public appearances.