PHILADELPHIA -- Well, it wasn't a Brooks Brothers suit, but it wasn't an act of defiance either.
When Allen Iverson stepped out of his Rolls-Royce before the Philadelphia 76ers' opener last night, he wore a leather coat, subtly patterned tan slacks and light brown boots. No do-rag, no chain, no throwback jersey, nothing to indicate Iverson plans to violate the new NBA dress code, which he has criticized as "fake" and "unfair."
And so began a fashion detente.
No player's attire has received more scrutiny since the NBA announced its "business casual" dress code last month. Iverson and other stars bashed the policy at first, but at last night's opener, players said the dress controversy has ballooned out of proportion.
"It's my job," Iverson said after the overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. "They put in the dress code, and I just have to deal with it."
"More has been made out of it than it really is," Philadelphia forward Kyle Korver said. "It's not like you have to wear a suit and tie by any means."
Korver favors sweat clothes himself but said he has bought some formalwear to get him through the first week of the season.
"I'm waiting on another shipment," he said, nodding to a striped suit jacket hanging in his locker. "It just isn't my style at all, but I'll make due."
Pre-game talk focused more on whether Iverson and Chris Webber will be able to blend their playing styles and on Maurice Cheeks' debut as head coach.
The new dress code, which requires the players to wear "business casual" attire at team and league functions, went into effect yesterday. Though a player could get away with dress jeans and a collared shirt, Iverson's traditional outfit of baggy pants, throwback jerseys and thick chains falls entirely outside the policy's bounds.
League officials said they were introducing the code as part of a broader attempt to improve the NBA's image in the wake of last November's brawl between Indiana and Detroit.
"I think it's basically retarded," said Duncan, who favors jeans and flannel shirts when not playing.
Indiana guard Stephen Jackson called the policy's prohibition on chains racist, saying it targets a style favored by young, black players. Some observers said the league seemed to be turning on the very culture that helped make it so popular.
The furor around the policy has centered on Iverson, whose wardrobe seems the antithesis of the corporate image commissioner David Stern is seeking.
"Hip-hop doesn't mean sloppy," the commissioner told reporters on a recent conference call.
But Iverson has always taken pride in his appearance, saying he represents the hip-hop generation.
He once told Sports Illustrated: "I'm proud to represent them. They're down with me because I'm from where they're from. They can understand the way I dress, why I wear my hair the way I wear my hair. So they respect me and love me."
He's known for cornrows, do-rags, sparkling jewelry and clothes so baggy they could hold two of him. He wore a skullcap to pick up his Rookie of the Year trophy in 1997.
Iverson is no stranger to living at the center of a sociological debate.
He received a five-year sentence for his alleged involvement in a bowling alley brawl in 1993, an incident that carried racial overtones because all the men charged in the bi-racial fight were black. Iverson was released by then-Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder after four months, but the sentence aborted his high school career.
He later received negative attention for writing thuggish rap lyrics, practicing half-heartedly and allegedly threatening two men with a handgun in 2002.
But Iverson is also an admirable figure in many ways, a tender father and loving son who has the Chinese character for loyalty tattooed on his neck. On the court, he's a dervish who slices through defenses with the quickest moves of his generation and shows little fear slamming his lithe body against the oak trees of the NBA.
He's also among the league's best-paid endorsers. Reebok recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of its endorsement deal with Iverson, and officials say they couldn't be happier with their most visible athletic spokesman.
After Stern announced the dress code, Iverson reacted angrily but said he cares too much about his team to get suspended for fighting the policy.
"People think I have a problem with it. ... I don't have no problem with it," he said last night. "I'm gonna dress accordingly for the rest of the season."