Fans of unrestrained self-expression, exhale and rejoice: your favorite NBA players (and your least favorite, too) will be allowed to more fully communicate their feelings, hopes and dreams through the sneakers they wear on the court this season.
After decades of restricting to various degrees the colors of kicks that players could wear during games, the NBA has apparently decided to tear that particular page out of the rulebook and let players inject a little more color into our nightly lives, according to a report by ESPN’s Nick DePaula:
For the first time in league history, the NBA will allow players to wear sneakers of any color at any point during the upcoming season, league sources confirmed. […]
The only ongoing restrictions will regard third-party logos, which still will have to be preapproved by the league office before making their way to the court. Custom hand-painted sneakers, often made just days before being worn, surged in popularity last season. The league will continue to look closely at any third-party logos, as last season saw everything from nonapproved movie cover artwork to podcast logos to charity organization icons sneak onto the hardwood.
And there still are restrictions against any “sharp protruding objects or reflective elements,” such [as] gleaming chrome.
Well, there goes the Miami Heat’s plan to fully weaponize James Johnson’s famed kickboxing skills by adding mirrorball-covered poison-tipped daggers to his Nikes. Better go back to the drawing board, Spo.
The shoe shift represents a continued move by the NBA — and brand partner Nike, which joined up as the league’s official apparel provider last season and promptly did away with “home” and “away” jerseys while introducing multiple alternate uniform designs — to shake up the look and feel of players’ in-game duds. (And, by extension, to sell a whole bunch of new official product to the fans in the stands and at home.)
After decades of requiring players to wear shoes that were “at least 51 percent” black or white, the league began relaxing its rules last decade, allowing players to rock footwear that conformed to their team colors. The restrictions waned a bit more through the addition of certain “theme nights” on the NBA calendar — Christmas, Black History Month, Martin Luther King Jr. Day — on which players could color outside the lines to wear designs intended to “tell a story.” (One of the first ones I remember: the Grinch-styled Christmas edition of the Nike Zoom Kobe VI that Kobe Bryant wore to play against the Miami Heat in 2010.)
The expressions of individuality reached a fever pitch last season, as a number of players began sporting custom-painted pairs emblazoned with all sorts of eye-catching design elements: Karl-Anthony Towns’ “Friday the 13th”-themed sneakers for Halloween and Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired kicks on MLK Day; James Harden’s sneakers advocating for the release of imprisoned rapper Meek Mill; multiple members of the Minnesota Timberwolves paying tribute to the late, great Flip Saunders; Montrezl Harrell bringing Homer Simpson and Duffman with him onto the court for the Los Angeles Clippers; and plenty of others.
With players heading in the direction of customization on the court, and having long since moved toward increasingly bright and bold fashion choices off it, it stands to reason that the league would steer into the skid and let guys add a little spice to their uniforms. Granting players the freedom to explore that space a bit, rather than following in the footsteps of the NFL and MLB by hewing to footwear policies that don’t really seem like they’re particularly worth fighting for, seems like a win for all parties involved.
Players who want to showcase the extent of their fashion sense, sneaker collection and creativity get a brand new canvas on which to paint; one wonders what brand-bankrolled, individuality-focused signature stars like Russell Westbrook and James Harden might come up with, and what bona fide sneakerheads like P.J. Tucker and J.R. Smith might wind up rocking. And, perhaps just as importantly, players who think they’ve got something truly special in the chamber, but who in actuality might be doing Way Too Much by wearing, I don’t know, bromo purple Jordan 4s with tangerine tongues, flamingo laces and a beef-and-broccoli-Timbs-inspired upper will also get the opportunity to chase their bliss. There will probably be a lot of shoe roasts, is what I’m saying, which if nothing else ought to make Jon Hendren and Stephen Curry feel a little less lonely.
Fans who like connecting with players’ personalities, getting more insight into who they are and what they’re like off the floor, and seeing some cool stuff they might not have seen before, get to do a bit more of that. Sneaker companies and designers get to strut their stuff and showcase their wares more widely and openly. And the NBA gets to market all of that, all over broadcast and social media, while patting itself on the back for being a bit less stuck in the mud than the other major American pro sports (while still retaining the right to review and reject any third-party logo that doesn’t pass muster with one league partnership or another).
Just how far the envelope gets pushed remains to be seen. (I know what I’ve got my fingers crossed for.) But this seems, at base, a pretty reasonable choice in which all concerned get well, and an already colorful league gets a bit (or a lot) more vibrant.
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