Sunday, December 13th, 2009 at 8:00 am  |  35 responses

Decade’s Best: Aesthetic Accessory

They left their mark with their look.

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.


For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.

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  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Imagine: Robert Swift, Chris Anderson, Allen Iverson, and two others (needing a SG and SF) as the all tat team.
    LeBron? DeShawn Stevenson?

  • underdog

    LeBron and DeShawn Stevenson won’t work, not even in a theoretical team.

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    nah this is just the “most tats at respective position” team. (Current players)
    C – Swift
    PF – Anderson
    SF – #
    SG – #
    PG – Iverson

  • http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3445/3357407353_c868c2d95c.jpg larrylegend

    JR Smith is the SG, hursty.

  • http://www.slamonline.com oliver

    Kevin Garnett’s finger sleeve is memorable,

    bought finger sleeves at nike becaus of him rocking it,kinda cool kg after a dunk getting it back

    miss the kg of old,the kid at heart,when kg smile’s he brings out the kid in me,,just like the nestle crunch commercial i think,godbless kg

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Got an alternative for you: protective undergear primarily the McDavid Hexpads (and their Nike/Adidas variants). When Flash started wearing em, while weaving, crossing over & crashing his way to nba fame, the look caught on quickly. Very quickly. Shaq followed suit, then practically every player in the league, especially guards. Can’t look at a photo of plaxers anymore w/o seeing the thud compression shorts peeking out. And i see em on the outdoor courts a lot too.

  • http://nicekicks.com MeloMan2.0

    definetly Jr

  • http://www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Oh and for a longtime compression short wearer like myself, hexpad shorts are a godsend. Can’t count how many times i’ve shrugged off knees to my thigh area over the years while driving to the hoop.

  • Young C

    Should have stuck with the iverson arm sleeve. People still rock it to this day. Even scrubs and role players like Matt Carroll.

  • tom

    yeah just go ahead and give shooting guard to J.R. Smith, remember when iverson played for Denver he said Melo and Smith both have alot more tattoos than him

  • http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3445/3357407353_c868c2d95c.jpg larrylegend

    thx tom, melo at sf!

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Deshawn Stevenson got a picture of Abraham Lincoln tattooed on his throat. Right on the Adam’s Apple… Ouch.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Iverson armsleeve or the headband are two accessories that definitely deserve mention.
    The T-Mac leg sleeve too, to an extent.
    Also, the classic elbow band definitely is one of the best accessories ever, but that was already made popular by Jordan in the nineties.

  • Michael Scorn

    What about Tina Thompson’s lipstick?

  • don

    no mention of the baller ID? those things at the wrists? i don’t even see the need for them, not to mention dangerous. i see opponents breaking a finger if the finger slips onto the baller id accidentally.

  • ab_40

    darksaber… shaq started the whole under armour thing he had troubles with his back and he got something for it out of american football. next thing you know other players start wearing pads. a superstar does it and gets a sponsor deal(dwayne wade) and in 2009 aididas and nike aka the sports big brothers have made their own versions. I htink the most underrated accesory is the ankle brace which I rarely see. oh and maybe players need a piece of paper that tells them to tie their shoes a little tighter then their walking shoes. or else somone will start throwing shoes (artest with ariza his shoe haha)

  • http://www.hibachi20.blogspot.com Hursty

    Arite, so:
    JR Smith
    Carmelo Anthony

  • http://www.slamonline.com Pardeep


  • Michael Scorn

    As far as I’m concerned, the best aesthetic accessory are championship rings.
    PG- Parker
    SG- Ginobli
    SF- Kobe
    PF- Duncan
    C- Shaq
    18 Rings Total

    PG- Iverson
    SG- T-Mac
    SF- Vince
    PF- Dirk
    C- Yao
    0 Rings Total and don’t tell me they haven’t been in the NBA long enough.

  • I am the walrus

    @Michael Scorn: Parker, Ginobli, Kobe,Duncan and Shaq have 20 rings total not 18…

  • Michael Scorn

    @ I am the walrus
    Parker- 03, 05, 07
    Ginobli- 03, 05, 07
    Kobe- 00, 01, 02, 09
    Duncan- 99, 03, 05, 07
    Shaq- 00, 01, 02, 06

    Parker & Ginobli were not in the NBA in 1999. That is why I do not count them as part of the 1999 Championship Spurs. This is why the count is at 18 and not 20.

  • J

    so who’s got the best ink? just a snap.. lebron’s chose 1 and witness.. shaq’s diesel.. a.i. and chandler’s only the strong survive.. young money’s well young money..

  • J


  • http://slamonline.com tealish

    @Michael — Why would you include Dirk @PF and Yao @C? How do they fit in with the point you’re trying to make? What styles are those two dudes bringing?

  • http://www.triplejunearthed.com/dacre Dacre

    I thought the one big point that missed out here was…..the SHOES! This decade we had shoes no one ever saw – ie, LeBrons, Wades…and the same low cut Hibachi designs in the 6,234 different colourways?!

  • Jeronimo

    The other day I was re-reading SLAM no. 16, you know, the one with Dennis Rodman on the cover, and I was surprised by the **little** amount of tattoos he had. I mean, when he was playing, he was arguably the player with the most tattoos in the NBA, and you seeing him now I was like, “He doesn’t have that many”. It’s felt weird.

  • howard

    shouldn’t this be retitled “WORST”? Tattoos can look good must most of these NBA players get wack generic tats involving 70% of the time, a basketball, a played-out phrase/verse, guns, etc..

  • http://myspace.com/rsaenz24 rog23

    defineatley go with the headband rather than the tattoos. headbands werent all that in the 90s until ai. but i guess u cant rock a headband without a tattoo. (i see u dirk)

  • Orlando Green

    Reggie Miller had the finger sleeve way before KG was wearing them.

  • http://www.realcavsfans.com Anton

    Boozer’s arm tat looks like a black vagina

  • http://slamonline.com tealish

    @rog23 — the way he playing, Dirk can wear whatever the hell wants sans tattoo and all. IMO, he should be a top 2 MVP candidate at this point.

  • http://Www.lkz.ch Darksaber

    Word, tealish.

  • Jamal

    Monta Ellis jumped on the tattoo badwagon too

  • Yesse


  • http://www.buyelectricguitar.co.uk/brochures.htm Joe @ Electric guitar Brochures PDF

    Hi great article thanks for sharing. Past or Present, who was the best Slam Dunker of all time in the NBA?