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So What About Those Droopy Shorts, Mr. Commissioner?
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Oh, such a fuss there's been over the National Basketball Association imposing an off-court dress code on the league's lamentably slovenly players.

As you've undoubtedly heard, NBA Commissioner David Stern has decreed that players traveling to and from games, on the bench but not in uniform during games and otherwise on league or team business must don "business casual attire."

The image-sensitive Mr. Stern, you'll recall, ruled that from now on it must be sportcoats, slacks, shirts with collars, and proper dress shoes. No more of the ludicrously oversized sleeveless throwback jerseys or T-shirts favored by so many off-duty players. No more sideways-cocked caps, do-rags, sneakers, sandals or shorts. No more dangling chains, medallions, pendants or dark glasses worn indoors.

Good ideas, I guess. But Stern is neglecting the far greater need to change the manner in which players dress for play - a desperate need, I'd say.

Basketball at the NBA level is a game of extraordinarily graceful, ballet-like movement. That should be one of its chief attractions. But who can possibly look graceful racing up and down the court in flapping, comically baggy knee-length shorts?

And since they are paid an average of more than $5 million a year each to play their games, do the players really need to make even more by wearing the clearly labeled sneakers they are paid to wear on court in hopes that will get the suckers to buy those particular brands?

Basketball is hardly the only sport with sartorial issues. The National Football League fines players for wearing socks the league deems to be of the wrong shade during games, for instance, and NFL coaches are outfitted head to foot in garments carrying quite purposely visible brand names and logos. Even more enterprising, of course, are NASCAR drivers, those human billboards who plaster their jump suits and racing cars with product advertising.

It's astonishing the NBA hasn't followed suit. Basketball teams in other countries do it, as do soccer and rugby teams elsewhere, even referees and umpires. Imagine how many ads could be profitably displayed on those droopy shorts.

Why not? Most NBA uniforms already carry brand logos, and certainly fans aren't likely to complain - if they even notice - given their penchant for running shoes, warmup suits, T-shirts and jackets and scarves and neckties and handbags and other apparel clearly labeled on the outside with the manufacturer's name.

It's probably best not to get excited, anyway, about the costumes worn by athletes participating in second-tier sports. Baseball, that's the sport whose habiliments should prompt us to demand reform. It is, after all, the National Pastime, with traditions and standards to which attention must be paid.

Logos on uniforms and bats, balls, gloves and other equipment we'll probably have to live with, for they've been around a long, long time. There's been talk of putting ads on the uniforms as well, but for now at least, our focus should be on other serious violations of the tried and the true.

For starters, lose the long pants, those knickers worn at the ankles, with little -- if any -- stocking in view. Long pants are for those who play that foreign game of cricket and for slow-pitch softball players. As those who truly respect tradition are aware, and as baseball's official rule book once decreed, players' knickers should be "anchored just below the knee." That, said the rule makers, would preserve the "honor" of the uniform.

Sadly, the rule generally has gone unheeded, and year by year pants legs have crept ever lower, defying not only tradition but also denying fans what writer Veronica Geng hailed as "one of the uniform's glories - that arc of color molding a noble calf."

There's not even a rule against the sleeveless, jumper-like suits worn by a few stylistically clueless teams, or against the blouses - "softball-looking things," Hall of Famer Willie McCovey calls them - worn by some squads in place of proper baseball shirts that button right up the front, some of them red or other garish colors rather than the proper baseball shades of white or gray. Some teams even prance about in red playing shoes.

Former star Will Clark recalls that the first time he put on red shoes, "I felt like clicking my heels and yelling, 'We're going back to Kansas!'"

The Oakland Athletics have gone even further, donning white playing shoes - white! - to go with their garish, impossibly tacky 1970s green and gold outfits. Ironically, a former A's manager, Billy Martin, was one of the few to impose a dress code on players. That was in the 1980s, when Martin ordered the A's to wear identical green blazers and blending neckties when on the road with the team.

Martin hoped such conformity would heighten team feeling, increase personal and community pride and lead to more wins.

It didn't. But maybe David Stern will have better luck.

Copyright (c) Dick Meister