Swag Defined

by Chance Team

In October 2005, Commissioner Stern released a memo calling for a new NBA dress code. At the time, the new rules seemed ludicrous and the players made sure that their opinions known. The jist of the new dress code was:

  • No Chains, Pendants, or Medallions worn over clothes
  • No Sunglasses in the Building
  • No Headgear of Any Kind
  • No Jerseys Unless Approved by the Team
  • No Headphones

Icons like AI, The Truth and J Rich were some of the first players to publicly speak out about the new rules. They felt the league was taking a personal shot at what they saw as a “dangerous” culture movement that was heavily influenced by hip-hop and gangster rap.

You’re expressing yourself, expressing your identity. It’s taking away our self-expression. I like to dress and change it up.” - Jason Richardson.

They don’t want your chains to be out, all gaudy and shiny. But that’s the point of them, I love wearing my jewelry. But I love my job. I love playing basketball more than I love getting fined and getting suspended.” – Paul Pierce




But can you blame these guys? They were self-made stars that made it to the top by staying true to who they were as people and as cultural symbols. They also justly felt that they were losing the right to express themselves as individuals; not to mention the rules undoubtedly seemed targeted toward a specific look and lifestyle.  So why was the change made in the first place?

First off, Stern was under serious fire for the “Malace in the Palace”; the infamous fight that saw a total of nine players get suspended for an un-precedented total of 146 games. The fact that the fight had spilled into the stands and involved fans was a bad look for the NBA to say the least.

Viewership figures were down nationwide during the 2004 playoffs and were capped off with a 29% decline in viewership during the 2004 Finals between the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs. It was clear to the league office at the end of the season that something needed to be done to rehab the image of the league, literally.

Fast forward to October of 2005 and the NBA season got under way with the new dress code in place. You can probably guess what happened next… quite a few fines were given out and some rebellious actions were taken by the players at the start of the season…

But as the league settled into the new code of behavior an interesting trend started to develop players began to use the change in dress code to express themselves and try out new looks that we hadn’t previously seen before. The typical outfits that had previously been defined by oversized white tees, du-rags and huge chains were replaced with designer suits and custom accessories/shoes.

These new trends and looks established the stars of the game as not only cultural icons, but fashion icons as well. "Over the years, NBA players accepted, then embraced and eventually began to have fun with the new dress code, changing men's fashion in the process." (Zack Graham, Rolling Stone.)

Thanks to superstars like LBJ, D Wade and “Brodie”; these stars are re-defining swag and leading the way in the fashion world. Players now have endorsement deals from some of the most well-known fashion brands.  Die-hard fans can now cop the same gear as their idols… not to mention being positively influenced to cultivate and develop their own unique sense of style.



At the end of the day, fashion is all about self-expression and confidence. That’s what sports are about and at the most basic level, what life is about. Fortune favors the bold and it is those who are willing to take chances that will push boundaries and drive change. 


Information from the following outlets were used in this report:

  1. Rolling Stone (https://www.rollingstone.com/sports/features/david-sterns-nba-dress-code-legacy-w448591)
  2. Ball is Life (http://ballislife.com/remembering-when-the-nba-created-a-dress-code-in-2005-was-it-racist/)

Images from the following outlets were used in this report:

  1. https://www.vladtv.com/article/48851/allen-iverson-covers-slam-magazine
  2. http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/13985097/10-years-later
  3. https://www.thedailybeast.com/dwyane-wades-wild-nba-playoffs-style-photos
  4. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/2016/09/25/nbas-king-of-fashion-westbrook-talks-style/91074376/