If there’s one thing NBA fans around the world can thank David Stern, who is participating in his last draft as the NBA commissioner Thursday night, it may be Dwyane Wade’s high water pants during the NBA playoffs.
The pants, which made a huge splash in the Heat’s series against Chicago, were part of a double-breasted suit with a polka dot pattern. They, of course, aren't high waters in the high fashion world -- they're "Thom Browne inspired pants."
But along with some other fashion choices, they were part of a fun side story throughout the Finals of "what in the world is D-Wade wearing?"
Wade's fashion choice was not completely out of the blue. After all, since 2005 when Stern, in an aim to change the league’s image instituted a dress code of no sleeveless shirts, certain types of jewelry, shorts, T-shirts and more, NBA players have gone from casually dressed to well-dressed to the age of insane clothing.
Though few have taken it as far as Wade, who embraced his fashion-forward controversy.
"Me and you got something in common; they like to talk about the way we dress," he told a plaid-suited sideline reporter Craig Sager after the game.
"You like it?" Sager responded.
"I love it."
Somewhere in Florida, his stylist, Caylann Barnett, smiled.
Eight years ago when Stern instituted a dress code that may define a small part of his legacy and have a lasting effect on the fashion world as a whole, few expected such a complete shift.
At the time, when the dress code came down, remembers Wally Szczerbiak, a former player who now works for the CBS Sports Network and MSG Network, the locker room was mixed between players annoyed by the ruling and those who were ready to embrace a more sophisticated look. For his part, he was forced to ditch his dressier game day jeans for slacks and have a few more suits incorporated into his wardrobe.
The change, he remembers, seemed to happen overnight thanks in large part to the younger guys.
“I remember a lot of the rookies coming in,” he said. “It seems like they all got hooked up with fashion guys and had to dress well from the start (instead of before) where the younger guys usually dressed like college kids from the beginning.”
Players were suddenly calling to have custom suits made (after all at the size of many NBA players, anything but custom isn't really an option). And perhaps equally as importantly, a wave of highly visible stylists from Rachel Johnson (who styles Amar’e Stoudemire among others) to Khalilah Beavers (formerly Williams-Webb) became as much of a part of NBA culture as large beers in the stands.
"That rule that they put in place for us it's been great," said Beavers, who styles Carmelo Anthony, Brandon Bass and J.R. Smith. “It was something that at the end of the day, the NBA is a career so I think it put things in perspective for them to say ‘let’s take things a little bit more seriously.'"
Beavers said Anthony alone has evolved in his style in the years he's been working with her, as he's grown from a player in Denver with braids who wore baggier clothes to a Knicks superstar. He now favors printed sweaters in bright colors, fitted hats and closer-cropped hair.
"I think it was a combination of things," she said of her client's change. "I think he was just ready it was a time in his life when it was time to grow and grow in a different direction, he was ready to embrace style he was ready to embrace a new look. I’m sure (his wife) LaLa had a big influence on him changing his style, I think the NBA mandate (factored in), I think it was a combination of things.”
For Beavers herself, her work with NBA players on their higher fashion look has propelled her own name into the spotlight, enough that she has opened her own boutique in Brooklyn, New York and is on speed dial for gossip columnists and fashion bloggers wanting to know exactly what her clients are wearing.
The new look of NBA players inspired by Stern’s dress code has also trickled down to high school players, says Stu Vetter, the former coach at Montrose Christian Academy, which has produced players like Greivis Vasquez and Kevin Durant. Vetter, who said he has always required his players to wear suits on game days, said after the mandate changed the way NBA players dressed, his players began to warm up to the idea.
"Suddenly they started asking for nice suits for Christmas," he said, laughing.
As for Wade’s evolving look, Beavers says she often calls Wade's stylist, to ask what exactly the two of them were thinking with whatever headline-making look Wade appeared in that day.
The two, after all, started their careers together, though their star clients have gone in seemingly different fashion directions.
“Once she explains it to me, I understand,” she says of Wade’s looks. "But they love it. They love what they come up with.”
While it may seem to be a trivial thing -- after all it didn't have the same immediate impact as a lockout or change in on-court rules -- as Beavers points out, it’s the only decision Stern has unilaterally made that keeps people talking every season.
“Athletes these days are just as big as any model any movie star as far as fashion is concerned now that's what everyone’s looking to,” she said. “All-star weekend, playoff weekend, that’s all anyone is looking at."