The line out of the Brooklyn Nets’ training camp making news today is Kevin Durant’s dismissal of James Harden: “I don’t think about James Harden at all. He’s not on our team.” While Durant was providing column fodder, new head coach Steve Nash choosing sides in a war that’s been brewing since the bubble kicked off in Orlando this summer. The declaration of battle? Nash said he plans on wearing polos this upcoming season. “The league is going casual, and [I] expect to go with the flow,” he said, according to reporter Alex Schiffer. Nash is representative of a swelling trend among NBA coaches—culminating in a vote Tuesday to change the guidelines so coaches would be free to shed the suit for the upcoming season.
The vote to relax wardrobe guidelines flies in the face of a contingent of NBA coaches who argue in favor of preserving the suit and the tradition that comes with it. Those coaches have always worn suits, often in the name of former NBA clotheshorses like Pat Riley, Chuck Daly, and Flip Saunders. “If I ever [wore a polo outside the Orlando environment], Chuck would roll over in his grave,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “The legacy of guys like Chuck Daly, Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens—that is a big part of this.” Other members of Team Suit include the Raptors’ Nick Nurse, the Lakers’ Frank Vogel, and the Hawks’ Lloyd Pierce.
Up until the NBA constructed a bubble in Orlando to finish out the 2019-2020 season, all the momentum was with Team Suit. Orlando was supposed to be an anomaly: wardrobe guidelines were relaxed to accommodate an environment that would make packing more difficult and a Florida summer inhospitable to layering. However, coaches who got a taste of the polo lifestyle are reticent to return to the old “normal.” (Whom among us, really?) ESPN reported that the most recent poll among coaches, conducted about two years ago, found that they were heavily in favor of keeping the suited look. Opinions shifted following several months spent in the bubble that helped many coaches see the virtues of a more comfortable wardrobe. The pandemic is thought to be changing how we dress for at least the foreseeable future, with much of the population ditching their suits and jeans for sweats. That same attitude change is taking hold among NBA coaches, and Team Casual has picked up important converts over the last couple of months. “After being in quarantine and not even putting on jeans for six months, I’m leaning toward basketball casual,” Ryan Saunders, Minnesota Timberwolves coach and son of the fashionable Flip, told ESPN. “My dad would have a fit.”