The NBA Playoffs Don’t Feel Like the NBA Playoffs Without Coaches Wearing Suits

The NBA Playoffs Don’t Feel Like the NBA Playoffs Without Coaches Wearing Suits

March 11, 2020 is more or less burned into the history books. In pretty much every way, it was the official start of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump banned European travel into the United States that day, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive, Dr. Fauci testified that things were going to get worse, and the NBA shut down its season.

But that day, when an unusually large percentage of the country turned to the NBA to try and figure out what the hell was going on, was also a landmark for a completely different reason. We didn’t know it at the time, but March 11th would become the last time NBA coaches wore suits to work. 

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You see, coaches have not worn suits since then. Not one single time. This is in part due to a policy change: when the NBA restarted in the pandemic bubble in Florida, the league decreed that coaches would be permitted to wear athleisure. The decision made plenty of sense: in the same way that the league didn’t test for weed in the bubble, there was no need to bring the expensive tailored stuff into an environment that was more about warding off a deadly virus than it was looking suave. 

But when the next season began and teams were back in their natural habitats, the suits did not come back. The more laissez-faire restrictions decreed that coaches must be in business attire—“such as polo shirts, pants, socks and shoes,” specifically. A league that once had a strict dress code for its coaches (dress shirts and sport coats required!) quite literally loosened its collar. The coaches voted to stick with the polos that they wore in the bubble—which certainly made them more comfortable, but also made the games feel…less serious.

That feeling has persisted. Arenas have been back at full capacity for quite some time now, and earlier this month the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus is no longer a public health emergency. Things are basically back to normal, in other words. So why haven’t coaches reached for the suit and tie again? From a viewership standpoint, watching dudes coach playoff games in long sleeve T-shirts doesn’t feel quite right. Seeing a guy wearing a Dri-Fit quarter zip with the team’s logo on it barking out play calls doesn’t exactly scream NBA playoffs. It’s giving AAU tournament, and while we’re all for these fellas wearing whatever makes them feel good—shout out to the Sacramento Kings coaching staff, who aren’t afraid to wear Vans and show a little ankle—it’s kind of a shame that the era of Armani and Hugo Boss is dead and buried. 

And think about what we’re missing! Dr. Jack Ramsay’s aquamarine jackets and funky collars. Lenny Wilkens lording over important games while looking extremely dapper. Even a modern coach, the maniacal but well-dressed Quin Snyder, was turning heads as recently as a few years ago.

Unfortunately for those of us at the intersection of basketball and menswear, it seems like the team-issued swag is here forever. But! There’s no rule that says coaches have to keep schlubbing it! How great would it be if the two coaches that meet in the Finals (we feel safe assuming it will be Denver’s Michael Malone and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra) secretly agreed to show up for Game 1 dressed to the nines? It’d also be a great prank on their assistant coaches, since they always wear the exact same thing, making them look like some sort of cult that worships at the altar of help defense. 

Especially with Pat Riley—the NBA’s unquestioned god of serving looks—verging on 30 years with the Heat, the time feels ripe for Spoelstra to give a tribute to his boss by getting all done up for old time’s sake. Hilariously, when Spoelstra first elevated from his role in the Heat’s video room to assistant coach, he was borrowing Riley’s suits, which made the shorter and svelter Spoelstra look like “the dude from the Talking Heads video.” The good news is that Spoelstra has been making head coach money for 15 years now. Surely he can find something fitting to wear. 

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