NBA code suits Dockers

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The National Basketball Association's mandatory dress code is turning into a cottage industry for clothing retailers seeking exposure by having players suit up in their brands.

Levi Strauss & Co.'s Dockers brand has offered to outfit all 450 NBA players with business-casual clothing from pants to shirts to shoes to socks, at a cost of almost half a million dollars. J.A. Apparel Corp.'s Joseph Abboud, maker of high-end suits, has sent a letter to more than 100 first- and second-year NBA players-with the league's blessing-offering a clothing-for-advertising deal. Even Italian fashion house extraordinaire Valentino has contacted the league about an apparel deal, according to executives familiar with the matter.

The NBA has been tight-lipped about any arrangements. "The players and we agree that business requires a certain level of professionalism and certain minimum standards," said Mike Bass, VP-marketing communications, without elaborating further.

Looking good on the bench

But clearly the league is thrilled with the response to the month-old code, which bans everything from jeans and throw-back jerseys to sunglasses, caps and even the bling that accessorize many stars' outfits. Instead, the NBA-trying to buff its image a year after the infamous brawl in Detroit between players and fans-wants its players outfitted in business attire for league functions, including sitting on the bench and making appearances.

At one point after the dress code decision was announced, Denver Nuggets player Marcus Camby, who makes $8 million annually, said players should receive a clothing allowance. His comments were roundly criticized, but many players are now finding they can cut deals to receive free clothing in exchange for having their images used in ads.

In fact, long before the code existed, Joseph Abboud was supplying New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury with a free suit for all 82 regular-season games in exchange for appearing in print ads and at promotional events.

Knicks President Isiah Thomas "is a friend, and when he joined the Knicks he instituted a team dress code," said Marty Staff, president-CEO of Joseph Abboud. "That's how we hooked up with Steph. ... Many of these guys are cultural icons. If helps me if they become brand ambassadors."

Dockers' offer to the NBA was more tongue-in-cheek, said John Ordo¤a, director of nontraditional marketing. "We're a lighthearted brand," he said. "We really wanted to speak to our customers."

Mr. Ordo¤a said he has received several calls from agents and players about the offer-consisting of five pairs of pants ($275), 10 shirts ($350), two pairs of shoes ($130), a sports coat ($150), nine pairs of socks ($30) and a reversible belt ($25). Total: $960 a player, or $432,000 for the 450 players on NBA rosters.

But not all the players are looking for a freebie. Mike O'Brien, CEO of Elevee, an exclusive, appointment-only couturier in Van Nuys, Calif., said he's been inundated with requests from NBA players, thanks to a little word-of-mouth from one of its original customers-former Los Angeles Laker and now Miami Heat star Shaquille O'Neal. In Mr. O'Brien's 20,000-square-foot store, suits fetch as much as $15,000.

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