Fashion on NBA draft night is subdued

Originally Published: June 24, 2010
By Vincent Thomas | Special to Page 2

There are people in this country -- a lot of people -- that watch the NBA draft and don't care a lick about the potential of the players or whether the squads are drafting for need versus talent.

They watch for the fashion spectacle. It's sort of an NBA tradition -- watching the draft to catch a glimpse of a bunch of clown suits parading across the stage to shake David Stern's hand and then heckling the outfits.

Problem is, if that's your deal, the past few draft nights probably haven't been much fun. The geechy, 28-button, barely-a-lapel pimp suits have given way to much chicer and, at times, even understated attire.

When and why? Well, before we get to that, let's take a moment to consider how the NBA draft became a fashion (or lack thereof) event in the first place.

The NBA draft became a popular event in the early 1990s, coinciding with the increasing popularity of the league itself. By the time we hit 1992 -- when huge collegiate stars Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Christian Laettner were all drafted -- there wasn't just a big national audience for the draft; players were also signing lucrative endorsement deals and taking out expensive pre-draft insurance policies that effectively made them rich before they were even drafted. So the J.C. Penney specials that Karl Malone or Charles Barkley rocked on their draft nights in the '80s gave way to expensive, tailored threads. Soon, this gave way to dressing like, well, Bishop Magic Don Juan or Steve Harvey.

This was perfect for Generation X (of which I am at the tail end). I'm not saying we invented sarcasm or smarm, but as a disaffected generation, Gen X loved (and still loves) to ridicule and mock the absurd. And NBA draft night suits were typically absurd. We probably don't even need to remind you about Erick Dampier or Drew Gooden, but, just in case, see below.

Something happened in the mid-2000s, though. Jay-Z, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Kanye, Pharrell and other rappers started dressing in high-fashion threads. They stopped rocking only throwback jerseys and ¾-length white T-shirts down to their ankles and started throwing on suits every now and then. Athletes, like a lot of American youths for the past 30 years, have taken most of their fashion cues from hip-hop and they now had chic examples to imitate when it came to dress-wear, not just pimps, hustlers or countrified comedians.

Check the images from the past, say, three drafts. You'll see more dudes dressed like Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo or Greg Oden and Kevin Durant than Maurice Taylor. Last year, James Harden got extra sophisticado and rocked a bow-tie … and it worked.

I know this recent trade has made draft night less comical, but, come on, this is a good thing. Let's leave the geechy pimp suits to Cedric the Entertainer and Sterling and Shannon Sharpe.

Five Worst Suits in NBA History

(Note: We're giving Larry Johnson and Jalen Rose a pass. LJ doesn't qualify because he didn't even wear a suit, just white jeans and a tragic, silk-looking, short-sleeve shirt. And, although everyone always cites Rose's red pinstripes as the most egregious draft night suit of all time, he gets a pass from me because he's from Detroit, a 143 square-mile vortex of geechiness.

5. Bobby Jackson: It's not just that his suit had "Avatar"-blue pinstripes, it's that he wrapped his shirt cuffs around the suit sleeves. Bobby is from East Spencer, N.C. -- he probably went to his deacon's tailor.

4. Tim Thomas: Unless you have a really fly idea, you should just stay away from white suits. But, more importantly, why did the suit jacket fit like a trench coat? If we regular folks wear ill-fitting suits, we give each other passes. But Tim had 20 grand to drop on a proper fitting suit. No excuse.

3. Erick Dampier: This one made me mad when I first saw it back in '96. Stern was probably mad, too. Two-tone Zota shoes, gray wide-leg slacks and a hot pink suit jacket? Craig Sager was proud, I'm sure.

2. Samaki Walker: All-cream suit. Not cool. Matching cream derby. A profound travesty.

1. Drew Gooden: I'm just trying to figure out what self-respecting tailor would agree to sew this number. A suit with no lapel and a flap that covers the buttons. If you look at the pic, you can see Stern staring in wonderment, bemusement and irritation at Gooden's lack of lapel.

Vincent Thomas is an and SLAM magazine columnist and a frequent commentator on NBA TV and ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter @vincecathomas or e-mail him at