Russell Westbrook and the Changing NBA Dress Code

Jan. 15, 2016, 5:16 p.m.

Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has a history of flaunting unique game day outfits, as he did last Friday at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. A quick Google Images search should return enough examples of his forward-thinking style to expand any mind. The intrepid mathematicians over at USA Today’s “For The Win” calculated that it costs about $300,000 a season to dress up to Russ’s standards.

And the anticipated costs of Westbrook challenging society’s conventions regarding cutoff denim vests don’t only have to do with buying clothes. In 2005, then-NBA Commissioner and longtime Sith Lord David Stern instituted a mandatory player dress code requiring players wear “Business Casual attire whenever… engaged in team or league business” – namely, before and after games and during interviews and promotional appearances. The NBA drafted this policy in an attempt to rehabilitate its public image following the PR nightmare that was the Malice at the Palace. But some star players, such as Allen Iverson and Paul Pierce, protested the dress code, arguing that it amounted to a heavy-handed condemnation of hip-hop and rap culture.

One would certainly expect Westbrook to be fined for violating the dress code on a daily basis, seeing as it outlaws “T-shirts… [h]eadgear of any kind… [c]hains, pendants, or medallions… [s]unglasses while indoors… [h]eadphones” and many other staples of Westbrook’s wardrobe. NBA players have been fined for far less before. In the early days of the dress code, professional tough guy David West was fined for wearing sweatpants to games. “I like to be comfy,” West, a grown man, basically said.

But, thankfully for lovers of fashion around the world, the NBA has been relatively lenient in enforcing the dress code of late and has never made much of a fuss about Westbrook’s experimental taste in clothing. Nor has the NBA come down on Carmelo Anthony’s terrible hats, LeBron James’ British schoolboy sensibility (this outfit actually meets the dress code, but it’s just funny), or any number of other players’ new articles of self-expression.

By gently loosening the dress code, the NBA has mostly sidestepped the racial implications inherent in the letter of its policy. Happily, as players like Anthony, James, and Westbrook have embraced the world of fashion, fashion has embraced the NBA right back, and NBA players have been able to inject themselves back into what they wear – with chains and hats and shades and Slayer T-shirts.

At the same time, the NBA has accomplished what it intended with the dress code – it has spruced up its public image and thereby created new business opportunities for players and the league. MVP Stephen Curry is now a spokesmodel for Express. Express. Obviously, Steph could do so much better than Express, that bland, second-rate Gap. But ten years ago, a partnership between Express and any NBA player (other than Tony Parker) would have been completely out of the question. Most importantly, Curry looks happy in his boring Express jackets and scarves.

Westbrook has his own collection with Barneys New York, which is unsurprisingly off the chain. Maybe Russell Westbrook XO Barneys New York XO Slayer is next? Anything is possible in this brave new world of NBA high fashion.

Read the follow-up here.

Contact Alex Cheng at aexcheng ‘at’ 

Alex Cheng is a staff writer for the Arts & Life section of The Stanford Daily. He covers television, film, and live performance, with a focus on comedy. He regularly performs stand-up comedy and improv. Alex is a sophomore from Rochester, Minn. majoring in Political Science. To contact him, please email aexcheng “at”

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