Union files grievance over fines for long shorts

Updated: December 8, 2005, 2:53 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN Insider

Have the NBA's fashion police gone too far?

The players' union thinks so, and it wants an arbitrator to decide whether it was fair to fine 13 players $10,000 apiece for wearing their shorts too long.

Jermaine O'Neal
David Sherman/Getty ImagesThe injury bug hit Jermaine O'Neal and the Pacers hard.

The union filed a grievance Wednesday over the league's renewed infatuation with fabric lengths, asking the new arbitrator -- Calvin Sharpe of Case Western Reserve University -- to hear his first case.

"We think they're being too puritanical about the whole issue," union director Billy Hunter told ESPN.com. "The fines and their whole attitude appear insidious and draconian."

The league has been on the lookout for violations of the rule that states a player's shorts cannot extend below 0.1 inch above the knee. To date, $10,000 fines have been handed out to New York's Nate Robinson and Stephon Marbury; Philadelphia's John Salmons, Kyle Korver, Allen Iverson and Kevin Ollie; Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley; Jeff McInnis of New Jersey; and Voshon Lenard, DerMarr Johnson and Andre Miller of Denver.

On top of the player fines, the teams were fined $50,000 for each violation.

The league acknowledged receipt of the union's grievance and said it had cited more than twice as many violators as it did a year ago.

"There are rules, just as there are rules with other parts of our game," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik told ESPN.com's Darren Rovell. "It just seems like this year, there has been laxity on the part of some of the teams."

In its grievance, the union argued that the players were being unfairly penalized for wearing uniforms manufactured by Reebok, the league's official uniform provider, and issued by the teams.

When a team is deemed to be in violation, it first gets a warning. If the NBA deems the effort to shorten the shorts to be insufficient, only the team gets fined first. Then, after a third violation, the team and player get fined.

Many teams have privately complained that the league gave no warning in the offseason -- or even the preseason -- that it would be scrutinizing the length of shorts so closely. Violation notifications began when the regular season started.

Nate Robinson
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesThese shorts might as well be too long on the Knicks' 5-9 Nate Robinson.
And because standard procedure requires teams to make their uniform orders more than six months before the following season, acquiring shorter shorts apparently isn't as simple as calling in a rush order. While waiting for new shorts to arrive, several teams have been forced to send out the shorts they have for tailoring.

Some clubs have complained, furthermore, that the league could have made things easier by giving Reebok guidelines to help make sure all players were in compliance. A common protest from veteran players is that they're simply wearing the shorts they get from the teams -- and the same-size shorts they've been wearing for years.

"They need to back off," Hunter said. "To penalize a guy $10,000 when the uniforms are manufactured by someone else. Maybe we should bring a suit against the manufacturers and seek some kind of relief from them."

The league has observers at every NBA arena, and staff members logging game videotapes at NBA Entertainment headquarters can keep an eye out for uniform violations if they're asked to do so by the league office in New York. It was unclear exactly who or what was driving the league's latest crackdown on long shorts, but many -- including O'Neal -- were quick to accuse the league of trying to sanitize and/or eliminate hip-hop style.

"I understand the need to appeal to a fan base who buys tickets, but sometimes I think it's like throwing the baby out with the bath water," Hunter said. "Too much scrutiny is going on, and what's it's doing is interfering with the play."

The union filed a similar grievance three years ago after several players were fined for wearing their shorts too low, but a settlement was reached and the case never made it before an arbitrator.

ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein contributed to this report.