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Dressed for Success

 

Slacks, sweaters, and vendettas

 

By Adam Hoff

 

I’m absolutely shocked that no one has churned out a story about this yet.  Seriously, blown away.  Last summer the NBA stared down the barrel of a lockout, David Stern bullied Billy Hunter around a little bit, and the sport emerged with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  The major issues focused on salary structures and the age limit.  The maximum length and amount of contracts was tweaked and no longer would a guy like LeBron James be allowed to come directly out of high school.  Those were the major stories.  At least, that is what we thought at the time.

 

It turns out Stern had another ace up his sleeve, and he played it in dramatic fashion garnering lead story attention on ESPN for approximately 17 straight nights.  Low and behold, the owners and the commish had emerged from the summer negotiations with new power and a new big idea: the NBA was going to clean up its thuggish image by implementing a dress code. 

 

The backlash was tremendous.  Columnists trashed about wildly like Sockeye salmon, throwing out terms like “racism” and “the freedom of expression” (okay, that is a phrase).  Pundits flipped back and forth on the issue.  Players appeared to be quite bitter.  Mark Cuban fired up the blog as per his usual.  It was everywhere.  I think my boy Tony Kornheiser actually managed to take both sides of the issue … twice … in the same week!

 

The only angle that nobody played was the “how will this effect the action on the court” story.  Maybe it was too unpredictable or unrelated or whatever, but it seems like somebody would have taken a shot to assess the actual basketball implications of all this.  Would guys “look good” and therefore “play good” as the old expression goes?  Would they be thrown off their routines?  Would they get less rest on the plane due to their more restrictive “business casual” attire?  (A fair question by the way; I mean, whenever I traveled on business I brought my suit with me and wore jeans and a t-shirt.  That part of the dress code seemed a little ridiculous.)  Or maybe, just maybe, a few guys would take this decree form on high and turn it into a personal challenge.  A lot of people take a perceived injustice or even a mere annoyance and turn it into fuel for their fire.  The same guys that play better to a chorus of boos on the road are the type of guys that might get a little fired up about being told to lose the throwbacks and adorn themselves in Chandler Bing’s personal wardrobe. 

 

I can think of two guys that might have responded this way.  One is Marcus Camby.  The other is Allen Iverson.

 

Think about it.  Camby is being mentioned as a legitimate MVP candidate.  No one can figure out how this is happening.  People are downright flummoxed.  For his part, Iverson has been incredible for years so his torrid play isn’t as big of a surprise.  But when you really look at what AI is doing, it blows your mind.  The man is springing for 40+ almost nightly and usually going for double-figures in assists in the process.  That is just sick.

 

Is it merely a coincidence that these two players were tabbed as the biggest opponents to the dress code?  Camby produced the famous sound bite that players should receive a “stipend” to pay for their new clothing.  His point, taken in a vacuum, seemed a little ridiculous.  After all, Goldman Sachs doesn’t equip you with new suits when you get hired as an investment banker.  Certain jobs require particular wardrobe expenditures; that is life.  It would one thing if they made him buy his own uniform.  Furthermore, when taken in the context of a quote by a multi-millionaire athlete, his point seemed more than a little ridiculous.  Classic stuff.  Iverson offered the unfairness angle, saying that it sends the wrong message to kids.  I love AI (this has been well documented), but I think the dress code probably does the opposite.  But whatever, that’s not why we are here.  The point is that these two players were the most outspoken critics of the new requirement – the fact that they offered up some of the most ludicrous quotes since Latrell Sprewell claimed that seven million dollars wouldn’t feed his children is just a side benefit.

 

Now they are the two players putting on the most ridiculous shows every night in the NBA.  Again, is this coincidence?  Camby is posting career highs in nearly every statistical category.  He leads the league in rebounding (13.8 per game), is second in blocks (3.3), and is scoring 17.2 points per game.  He’s also shooting 52% from the floor and a career high 78% from the line.  To put that in perspective, Camby has shot over 50% from the floor twice in his career, never crested the 72% mark from the line, and scored over 12.1 points a night only once in his nine previous NBA seasons (14.8 in his rookie campaign).  He’s taken the cap on his ability, ripped it down, and put in vaulted ceilings.  This is ridiculous.  If you don’t believe me, just note that the only players to go 52%, 17, 13, and 3 in the past 15 years are Shaq (twice: his monster 1999-2000 season and his rookie year of 1992-1993), and Hakeem Olajuwon (also in 1992-1993).  Duncan has never snared 13 boards in a season.  Garnett has never blocked anywhere near three shots per night.  Ben Wallace rarely scores 17 points in any game.  And so on.  If Camby keeps it up, his name goes right next to Shaq and The Dream.  Incredible.

 

As for Iverson, he’s up to his old tricks, just doing it better than ever before.  He’s leading the league in scoring (again) at an incredible 33.7 per, he’s averaging just about eight assists and two steals per contest (again) and ranks in the top five in the NBA in each category (that’s right, again).  Plus, he’s playing almost 45 minutes a game, which is crazy, even for him, and is shooting 45% from the floor, which is also crazy for him.  He had the best season of his career last year, but is on pace to blow that production out of the water.  Is Iverson like a fine wine getting better with age?  Is Mo Cheeks making that big of a difference?  Perhaps he really is playing with a chip on his shoulder over the baseball cap no longer perched on his head. 

 

I think if we start digging around, we will see a correlation between sudden improvement and dress code aversion.  I bet Elton Brand has a journal somewhere with words jotted down to tune of “I can’t believe we have to wear button-up shirts and slacks, this is an outrage.”  David West was probably overheard telling a friend, “I was planning on being mediocre as long as I could wear sweats on the team bus, but now I’m going to have to become a legit scorer.”  Ricky Davis was no doubt vehemently opposed to the concept.  Bonzi Wells has had an attitude problem for years, but that is all child’s play compared to how upset he was with “management, for turning us into Gordon Gecko clones.”  Darius Miles no doubt started out angry (and therefore played awesome), but then made the mistake of admitting he “actually liked the way he looked” in chords and a sweater, landing him on the IL.  Oh wait, there is no IL under the new CBA.  My bad. 

 

On and on it goes.  Rasheed Wallace, Smush Parker, Gerald Wallace, Jason Williams, Lamar Odom, and Sam Cassell were all content to play like they did last year (in most cases, not well) … until the dress code came along.  Now they are fired up.  Possessed.  Out for blood.  Think Denzel Washington in “Man on Fire.”  These guys want revenge.  The NBA dress code has inspired a legion of players to reach new heights as a result of their frustration.

 

Well, either that or another hidden gem from the new CBA is at work: random drug testing. 

 

You know what?  Let’s just stick with the first theory.

  

Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and can be reached at wis.insider@gmail.com.

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