Playing With Attire

By Matt Lardner

The Artist Formerly Known as Ron Artest resides transiently between the worlds of NBA and American hip-hop (he should have kept his birth name and changed his record label’s name, Tru Warier, to something- anything– spelled properly. It’s the mark of a true warrior to know how to spar instead of spell. A forgivable mistake, though, as Artest was hooked on Henny instead of Phonics.) His 2006 CD, My World, sold almost 350 copies the week it was released, falling only 6000 sales behind celebrated musical savant Kevin Federline’s effort that dropped the same month. Clearly, consumers wanted both albums, but made the tough decision to side with the worst-rated album in Metacritic history over Artest’s output. With lines like “I’m coming out like Janet’s titty at the Super Bowl,” it’s easy to see why K-Fed was worth splashing the cash on. I played the album, called Playing With Fire, while writing this, so any especially jaw-dropping lines can be attributed to Federline’s lyrical guidance.

But the cultural overlap between the NBA and rap music doesn’t stop with World Peace. Ever since marginally-famous former Chicago Bulls guard/minor-league baseball player Michael Jordan made a bit of pocket change from his line of sneakers, a staple of streetwear, fashion trends between the NBA and hood culture have correlated. Elite players are now making just as much in advertising and shoe deals as they make on the court. Roughly 80% of players in the NBA are African-American, making it the most homogeneously-composed major sports league in America. Basketball video games are lush with hip-hop tracks. Media romanticizes the dilapidated court with the rusty chain net; unlike football, baseball, and especially hockey, basketball doesn’t require expensive equipment. And without the equipment, an extra layer insulating the public from personality in other sports, NBA players attain an individuality absent in other major leagues.  One day, when the MLS is a global juggernaut, that last sentence will be untrue and I’ll be happier about it then, Adam Peterson.

Like the little guy in the video, I also love basketball. I’m breaking no ground in the preceding paragraph, just highlighting the undeniable relationship between ballers and fans. After the infamous brouhaha between the Pistons and Pacers at Auburn Hills, in which players brawled with fans and amongst themselves, the NBA had an image problem on their hands. Conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh and media member Michael Wilbon lambasted the NBA’s hood culture. Time for Extreme Makeover: Stern Edition.

The NBA took the best off of the streets and put them in the spotlight. And it was cool. But the rich guys in the suits didn’t embrace the image of the rich guys in shorts, hoodies, sweats, and chains. Something something lipstick pig, boomed the collective voice of basketball power. So in 2005, Commissioner David Stern taught a couple hundred grown men how to dress themselves.

These high-income African Americans who were anomalies on the correlation curve between money and fashion began dressing to fit it. Garish glitz, gold and grills now gone. G’s governed to be glamorous gentlemen, well-groomed and stylish. And why not institute a dress code? Almost every job tells you how to dress, and NBA players are being paid more for redoing their wardrobe in public then the guy at McDonalds who can’t wear his 3XL G-Unit oversized polo.

Fashion? We talkin’ about fashion?!?

Sure, there’s some fashion faux pas (Raymond Felton should probably incinerate this suit), but for the most part, NBA players look pretty good. When LeBron said that he was taking his talents to South Beach, I don’t think he meant his talents on the court, but rather his sartorial talents. He looks awesome in this outfit for GQ, even though hats are notoriously challenging to pull off successfully. Unsurprisingly, LeBron chose to go with the ¾ sleeve look, a naked metaphor for his inability to finish in the fourth quarter of games.

Now, when players sit out of games, they look like the kind of people who can afford the front-row seats they encumber. At press conferences and in public, NBA players look good. All-Star weekend is practically a fashion show for the megastars watching from the stands Thursday to Saturday. And the more the world sees them looking nice, the more people buy in.

And rappers picked up on the changes. Kanye is trendsetting in lavish suits and big glasses, Jay-Z is performing in Carnegie Hall, usually reserved for orchestras and known for its refined sound aesthetics and lack of bass (Got 99 problems and his pitch ain’t one). This is the classiest era of rap in my lifetime.

Even outside of high-fashion, the outfits are drastically different. Clothes fit how they were intended; thankfully, the only place I see JNCOs is at Goodwill. Lil Wayne brought a skater vibe to fashion, which eschews the baggy cuts for form-fitting styles (I selfishly hope that he popularizes headshots of adolescents next so that I can bring my Aaron Carter garb out of the attic). Presumably, rappers were going with baggy looks to conceal the most weapons on their bodies as possible. Now, most of the stab wounds they pick up are from needles drawing the elaborate ink that many artists sport.

So let’s track this. The NBA is synonymous with hood culture. Ron Artest beats up a fan, and the league’s image hits rock bottom. League rebrands itself, gets classier. Hip-Hop fashion then gets classier. We should be thanking someone- and that person, clearly, is Ron Artest (Metta World Peace now, a calmer name to show solidarity with today’s more peaceful rap culture). Maybe go out and buy his album (My World), as a token of appreciation for him shaping the modern world (our world). Based on the sales figures, I bet it’s still even on shelves.

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