by Adam Sweeney

Andre Agassi once said image is everything. He proved that notion by going as far as wearing a mulleted toupee. We’ve never been subjected to an atrocity on fashion like that in the NBA, though Kurt Rambis did his best. Half of the appeal of basketball, whether it’s at the pro or street level, is style. The Fab Five of the University of Michigan knew it, Michael Jordan revolutionized the game through it and if you think looks don’t matter, go to a pick-up game in your neighborhood and choose teams. I can almost guarantee you the cat wearing the latest Js will get chosen before the kid wearing blue jeans and Chuck Taylors.

This decade didn’t bring us a sneaker messiah but it did offer up some entertaining new looks on the court. When deciding what accessory prevailed over the rest of the group, a few factors were considered. Did the look inspire other players to adopt it? How long will the style last in the hoop world? Based on that question, we had to eliminate Dwyane Wade’s shout out to Nelly. Rip Hamilton’s Hannibal Lecter facemask got some love, considering he will likely wear it for the rest of his career, but we don’t see many people at Fonde Park in Houston rocking it. Sorry, Rip.

Big Ben Wallace brought a fro and headband that Detroit embraced but neither look was popularized by him. If you think that’s the case, Dr. J. has an afro pick and a couple of words to say to you.

We also couldn’t give the nod to Kobe Bryant for his Peter Pan leggings, though I’m sure he could care less. Winning four rings will tend to soften the need for love from the fashion critics. He does get points for rocking the signature headphones at press conferences in last year’s playoffs, even if it did get him fined.

Allen Iverson brought both controversy and compression to the game with his trademark shooter’s sleeve. Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony took up the look and it seemed to work out pretty well for them. Of course, that may have to do with some God given talent. Some pundits claimed it was Iverson’s attempt to cover up gang tattoos. Those are the people who might also think that the game was better when Rick Barry was dropping granny shots into the basket from the free throw line. Some things are cool because they’re not cool.

Tracy McGrady has taken the leg sleeve to a new level, some now sayingSLAM 82 Shaq that he only does it for the look alone, but we can’t give the best accessory to a guy who has been wearing an Armani suit more than a jersey lately. Kidding, T-Mac. We hope you get back on the court soon.

Ultimately, we were looking for a signature look that will last. In that respect, nothing trumps the tattoo. There isn’t an aesthetic accessory that has shaped the look of the game this decade like it. It has added a level of individual expression that sets each player apart. It has also caused many curmudgeons to roll their eyes and rip the NBA for becoming a thug’s game, as if there weren’t thugs before players started getting ink. Bill Laimbeer, anybody? If you want to blame anything, rip players for having no mid-range game. Don’t fault a player because he gets lips tattooed to his neck. OK, in that case, you can blame Kenyon Martin.

The ink on our favorite NBA player’s skin tells a story that the game can’t. Think Shaquille O’Neal. Look at the sleeves of Chris Andersen. Try to forget Cherokee Parks. You can’t. Yes, Kevin Garnett’s finger sleeve is memorable. Amar’e Stoudemire’s doing his best to make the goggled look work. But in the end it’s the tattoo that changed the way we look at the players and the game itself this decade. Like the love of basketball, the ink is in their blood.

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