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Why some NBA coaches love the new casual look — and some don’t

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When the Miami Heat promoted Erik Spoelstra out of the video room and into an assistant coaching position, there was one problem: Spoelstra owned no suits. The league’s dress code for coaches, codified in a memo sent before the season, mandates every coach wear a dress shirt (or “dress sweater”) and sport coat.

Pat Riley, Spoelstra’s boss and one of the all-time sports fashion plates, lent Spoelstra several of his Armani suits. Riley is taller than Spoelstra, with broader shoulders. “Pat’s suits were huge,” Spoelstra said. “It was almost like they had football pads in the shoulders. I looked like the dude from the Talking Heads video.”

Spoelstra has improved his style game over two decades on Miami’s bench, but he didn’t have to bring any suits to the NBA’s campus at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The National Basketball Coaches Association polled its members and found heavy support for a more casual look in Orlando: polo shirts, slacks, and sneakers. The association took its findings to the league office, which approved the casual style for the NBA’s restart, said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, president of the NBCA.

Spoelstra is almost afraid to say it out loud, but he prefers the polo look. “Pat would be shocked,” Spoelstra said. “There is so much less to think about. I feel more mobile. The thing I hate most about suits is wearing dress shoes.” Several head coaches echoed Spoelstra’s remark about how the casual look simplifies sartorial decision-making — and packing, a constant headache during normal times.

Spoelstra’s turn marks an important win for Team Casual, which feels it is gaining momentum in the bubble for more lasting change. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, the elder statesman among head coaches, has wondered aloud — including in his role as head coach of Team USA in international play, where the polo look rules — why coaches in sweaty gyms must wear suits. Some pro-suit coaches were wary of proclaiming their allegiance and standing against a beloved mentor to so many.

Frank Vogel, head coach of the Lakers, followed the same path out of the video room as Spoelstra. Before his first game as a graduate assistant under Rick Pitino at the University of Kentucky, Vogel was scribbling scouting tips on the white board when Pitino approached. “You’re not wearing that, are you?” Pitino asked him.

Vogel was wearing his only suit — a graduation gift from his parents. He told Pitino he was going to wear it for each game, and change out shirts and ties to avoid detection. Pitino would not have it. He invited Vogel to his house that night, and gave him 15 suits — Armanis and Brionis — plus the number for his tailor, Vogel recalled.

Vogel remains on Team Suit. “It’s the Pitino family tree,” he said. Vogel has joked that he wants to be “the Dan Reeves of the bubble,” a reference to the former head coach of the NFL’s Denver Broncos, New York Giants, and Atlanta Falcons — who often favored suits in a mostly non-suit sport..

The coaches’ association has taken periodic polls, most recently two seasons ago, and found “overwhelming support” for suits over polos, Carlisle said. Carlisle spent two years as an assistant with the New Jersey Nets under Chuck Daly, perhaps the most fashion-forward head coach in NBA history. Daly had a sponsorship deal with Hugo Boss. On one road trip, he invited Carlisle to a Hugo Boss outlet for a shopping spree. “It was the nicest stuff I had ever had to that point,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle has never even gone without a tie in an NBA (non-bubble version) game, he said: “If I ever did that, Chuck would roll over in his grave.” Carlisle is perhaps the most powerful voice on Team Suit. “The legacy of guys like Chuck Daly, Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens — that is a big part of this,” he said

Daly directed Alvin Gentry, now the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans, to his pet suit shop outside Detroit when Gentry became head coach of the Pistons in the late 1990s, Gentry said. “I thought I had really made it,” he said. But in the bubble, Gentry has shifted to Team Casual, he said.

The late Flip Saunders’ careful attention to sideline style rubbed off on his son, Ryan, now the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves. “I like my suits,” Saunders said. “I learned that from my dad. You feel good if you feel like you look good.”

But watching Orlando from afar, Saunders has felt the stirrings of rebellion. “After being in quarantine and not even putting on jeans for six months, I’m leaning toward basketball casual,” he said. “My dad would have a fit.”

Other notable backers of the polo look: Boston’s Brad Stevens, Denver’s Michael Malone, Orlando’s Steve Clifford, Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, Charlotte’s James Borrego, Sacramento’s Luke Walton, Golden State’s Steve Kerr, and Washington’s Scott Brooks. (Kerr was so passionate, he requested his name appear on this list in larger font — John Hancock-style.) “I was against [polos], but now that I’m down to my summer weight, I love them,” Brooks said. Most of the above coaches said they would support carrying over the look to the normal NBA environment.

“With the coaches all matching, I think we maintain the professional look,” Walton said.

Dwane Casey, head coach of the Pistons, likes both looks and would prefer coaches get to choose each game. Brett Brown, head coach of the Sixers, leans Team Casual but is open to a middle ground. The Sixers have ordered custom dress shirts — non-polos — for the playoffs in Orlando, he said. “I’m a Jeep-and-dog guy from Maine,” Brown said. “When I was young, I cared more. Now whatever suit is closest to my hands, I just throw in the suitcase. There is a real disdain for packing.” (Brown has also served as head coach of Australia’s national team, so he is comfortable in the polo look, he said.)

“I told my kids I’d be a better coach in polos,” Borrego said. “There are so many fewer decisions to make.” (Sam Hinkie, the former president of basketball operations of the Sixers, famously bought a huge supply of blue blazers to combat “decision fatigue.”)

J.B. Bickerstaff, whose father, Bernie, coached in the NBA for 40 years, is a traditionalist. “The history of the suit means something,” he said. Others on Team Suit include Toronto’s Nick Nurse; Atlanta’s Lloyd Pierce; and Chicago’s Jim Boylen.

Quin Snyder, head coach of the Utah Jazz, pitched the notion of intra-staff suit uniformity, which is not uncommon in European leagues. When Snyder was an assistant at the powerhouse CSKA Moscow earlier this decade, Ettore Messina, then CSKA’s head coach, outfitted the entire coaching staff in the same suit and tie for each game. “And Ettore has great taste,” Snyder said. (Messina confirmed, via text, that he indeed has great taste.)

“What we did at CSKA provides an element of professionalism and also captures the pragmatic component of not having to overthink,” Snyder said.

That system would prevent each individual coach from showing off his or her style. (In a memo sent to teams in October, the league for the first time detailed a dress code for female coaches — though it is very brief. “Each female coach must wear business attire,” it reads. “Athletic shoes, sandals, flip-flops, and work boots are prohibited.”)

One of Saunders’ assistants — Saunders won’t name him — has already expressed concern about potentially losing stylistic independence, Saunders said. Mike Brown, Kerr’s lead assistant and the former head coach of the Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers, picks every element of his outfit for every game and tracks his choices so he doesn’t wear the same outfit twice against the same opponent, he said.

“I have a whole process,” Brown said. “I like guys being able to show their personalities with their suit games.”

But like Vogel and Spoelstra, Brown remembers being a young assistant short on cash. In the 1990s, he hunted deals at K&G Fashion Superstore, which sometimes offered specials that included a suit, shirt, and tie for $99, Brown said.

Starting in 2008, the coaches association struck a deal with Men’s Wearhouse to outfit head coaches in Joseph Abboud suits. The full deal did not apply to assistants, though they received a discount — plus shoes and belts as part of smaller deals, per previous reports. (The Men’s Wearhouse deal expired after last season, sources said.)

Uniformity across teams matters, too. Even several pro-polo coaches conceded it might look awkward for a suit staff to face a polo staff. “There is a visual extreme,” Carlisle said. “One staff looks like they are at a wedding, and the other looks like they are about to tee off.”

A few polo backers worried short-sleeved versions would leave them shivering in the league’s chillier arenas. They wondered about the possibility of long-sleeved polos.

There is almost unanimous agreement the polo look makes sense for the less formal environment in Orlando, which many compared to the NBA’s Summer League — another polo event. Some on Team Casual might get cold feet about transferring the look to normal games. Others aren’t passionate enough to repel an offensive from Team Suit.

But the Orlando bubble has emboldened Team Casual.

“Maybe this experience will give it some momentum,” Malone said.

MORE: Zach’s picks for MVP, ROY and the major NBA awards



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Vanessa Bryant sues Los Angeles County sheriff over photos of crash that killed Kobe Bryant

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LOS ANGELES — Vanessa Bryant, the widow of basketball star Kobe Bryant, has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff claiming deputies shared unauthorized photos of the crash that killed her husband, their 13-year-old daughter and seven other people.

After the Jan. 26 crash, reports surfaced that graphic photos of the victims were being shared. Vanessa Bryant was devastated by the reports, her lawyer said.

The suit seeks damages for negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva previously told news media that eight deputies took or shared graphic photos of the scene and he ordered the images deleted. The sheriff said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime-scene photos, but it does not apply to accident scenes.

The sheriff’s department did not immediately have a comment Tuesday.

Vanessa Bryant previously filed a claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The suit was filed Thursday.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not yet signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime. The legislation was prompted by the crash photos.

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Best guess is next season won’t start until 2021

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver says his “best guess” is that the league will not begin its next season until 2021, emphasizing that “the goal is to play a standard season.”

Silver discussed the NBA’s plans for the 2020-21 season amid the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday as part of a wide-ranging interview with CNN.

The NBA announced earlier this year that the tentative start date for the 2020-21 season was Dec. 1, but Silver acknowledged last month that the date was “feeling a little bit early to me.”

Silver said Tuesday that the NBA had hoped as recently as a week ago that “the earliest we would start is Christmas of this year,” but then said that as more virus-related information becomes available, he believes that the league will “be better off getting into January.”

Silver clarified that a “standard season” would include an 82-game regular season and full postseason and noted that “the goal would be to play games in home arenas in front of fans.”

“But there’s still a lot that we need to learn in terms of rapid testing, for example,” Silver said. “Would that be a means of getting fans into our buildings? Will there be other protections?”

Silver said the NBA is “clearly learning a lot from other sports,” citing COVID-19 protocols being used by Major League Baseball, the NFL and major college sports programs.

“There’s lots of new information out there in the marketplace that we’re looking to absorb,” he said.

The NBA already has delayed the date of the 2020 draft to Nov. 18, which allows the league and players’ union to negotiate amendments to the collective bargaining agreement and agree on 2020-21 salary cap and luxury tax thresholds.

Silver has previously said roughly 40% of the league’s once-projected $8 billion in revenue is tied to having fans in arenas.

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Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin to field NASCAR Cup car with Bubba Wallace driving

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Denny Hamlin has joined Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan to form a NASCAR team with Bubba Wallace as the driver, marking a high-profile pairing of a Black majority team owner and the only Black driver at NASCAR’s top level.

The partnership was announced Monday night in coordinated social media posts by Jordan and Hamlin, with Wallace adding his own comment. The posts showed a picture of Jordan alongside a firesuit-clad Hamlin in a motor home at a racetrack.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity, and there have been few Black owners,” Jordan said in his statement. “The timing seemed perfect, as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”

Jordan becomes the first Black principal owner of a full-time Cup team since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott drove his own race car in 495 races from 1961 to 1973. Scott’s 1964 victory at the Jacksonville 200 is the only win by a Black driver in Cup history.

The NBA great, who earlier this year pledged $100 million over 10 years for initiatives combating systemic racism, said the move into NASCAR is another step toward racial equality.

“I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing,” Jordan said.

Jordan joins former NBA player Brad Daugherty, a partner at JTG Daugherty Racing, as the only Black owners at NASCAR’s elite Cup level.

“Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport but also well beyond it,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner and a top contender for this year’s Cup title, will be part of a single-car Toyota entry aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin has raced his entire career for Gibbs, a Hall of Fame NFL coach.

“Eleven years ago, I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game, and we became fast friends,” Hamlin wrote. “Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years, and now we are ready to take it to the next level.

“Deciding on the driver was easy — it had to be Bubba Wallace.”

Wallace is the only Black driver in the Cup Series, and this season he has used his platform to push for racial equality. The 27-year-old successfully urged NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag at its events.

Wallace is winless in 105 Cup starts over four seasons, but he has six career victories in the Truck series. He has been hampered by midlevel equipment while driving the No. 43 for Hall of Famer Richard Petty, and until this summer, the team struggled to land sponsorship.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series, and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin wrote. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins, and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that.

“Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

There has been speculation for months that Hamlin was organizing some sort of ownership group, as he expects NASCAR’s business model to become more favorable for team owners when the “Next Gen” car is released in 2022. NASCAR rules prohibit a current driver from owning a team and driving for another, but Hamlin can work around that policy with Jordan as the principal owner.

“Starting a race team has been something that Michael and I have talked about while playing golf together over the years, but the timing or circumstances were never really right,” Hamlin said. “It just makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I’m done driving and also help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level.”

In a statement, NASCAR welcomed Jordan to the series.

“His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport,” NASCAR said.

Jordan became a partial owner of the Bobcats in 2006 and bought the team outright in 2010, restoring the franchise to its original Hornets name. Hamlin has been a longtime season-ticket holder, with courtside seats along the visitors’ bench.

Jordan dabbled in racing with Michael Jordan Motorsports. He owned an AMA Superbike team and had one win in 10 years. Jordan has twice traveled to the NASCAR season finale to watch Hamlin race for the championship. Hamlin, who is 39, is still seeking his first title.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan wrote. “The opportunity to own my own race team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us is very exciting for me.”

Wallace, who has cobbled together about $18 million in sponsorship deals since he made racial equality his platform, had already announced that he was parting with Petty.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace wrote. “I am grateful and humbled that they believe in me, and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

Jordan and Hamlin purchased a charter for their team from Germain Racing that guarantees Wallace a spot in the 40-car field every week.



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