Why Do NBA Coaches Wear Suits?

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A lot is going on in an NBA game, but if you have a keen eye, you’ll also notice an assortment of things happening on the sidelines. Teams’ towel boys doing their thing, camera operators, table officials, celebrity fans, coaches, and the list goes on. Speaking of coaches, it may have caught your attention that they are wearing suits to games, especially before the pandemic. Why do NBA coaches wear suits before, and why did the league allow more casual attire lately? 

The Tradition of NBA Coaches Wearing SuitsThe Tradition of NBA Coaches Wearing Suits

Since the days of Red Auerbach, NBA coaches are always seen wearing suits. You have Pat Riley looking like “the Godfather,” Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown, Don Nelson, and many more wearing suits while patrolling the sidelines. In all fairness, Riley was always considered one of the best dressed NBA coaches ever!

The truth is, the National Basketball Coaches Association does not explicitly require its members to don suits. The guideline was for a coach to be well-groomed and have the proper attire as he does his job. That allows for a broad interpretation, but NBA coaches have an unwritten tradition about wearing suits. When someone mentions the name of any coaching greats, it’s hard not to picture them in a suit.

It was believed that basketball’s inventor himself, Dr. James A. Naismith, started practice, and everyone else followed. The wearing of suits has become common for college coaches in the 1920s. The habit grew as a culture; by the 1940s, every college wore suits to games. The NBA (called the BAA back then) adapted the culture and moved it forward. The suit represents professionalism and power, accentuating the coaches’ authority over the players.

Do NBA Coaches Still Wear Suits and TiesDo NBA Coaches Still Wear Suits and Ties?

If not for the CoVid-19 pandemic, NBA coaches would still wear suits and ties to ball games. The league announced before the 2021-22 season that coaches are no longer required to dress formally during games. Casual attire such as polo shirts and quarter zips are now the norm. 

As of this writing, the NBA has not intended to mandate coaches to wear suits and ties. In fact, they are going in an entirely different direction. The wearing of suits and ties could be back soon, perhaps when the pandemic is completely behind us. 

Is There a Dress Code for NBA Basketball CoachesIs There a Dress Code for NBA Basketball Coaches?

Then-commissioner David Stern created the dress code mandate in 2005. The rule was set in place for players to follow, but Stern took a page out of the NBA’s requirement to have coaches wear suits and ties.

An ESPN news story summarized it this way: If a player is not dressed to play, he must wear attire like the coach, who is required by the league to wear a suit or a sports coat and a tie.

As previously mentioned, no previous written mandate required coaches to wear suits and ties. The NBCA only specified ‘proper attire’ and appearing ‘well-groomed.’ However, since basketball coaches have always been seen wearing coats and ties, no one has bucked the trend. 

The fact that basketball coaches wear suits, particularly in the NBA, is puzzling for most people. After all, baseball managers wear baseball attires like their players, and the NFL is more relaxed about dress codes, too. Former Mavericks head coach and current Indiana Pacers bench tactician Rick Carlisle summed it up best: “Nobody thinks about wearing sweats or any of that kind of stuff. That’s just not how we do it.”

What Do NBA Coaches Typically Wear During a GameWhat Do NBA Coaches Typically Wear During a Game?

Thanks to CoVid, fans have not seen NBA coaches’ tailored luxury suits. The basketball sneakers, polo shirts, and quarter-zips are here to stay, at least until the end of the season

Carlisle, the current president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, said the majority of coaches and assistants voted for the casual team-issued Nike attire to stay. The NBCA took the poll results to the NBA, who later approved it.

“We take a poll in our Coaches Association, but we also have to work with the league on this,” Carlisle said in an interview before the opening night. “It’s not just because we take a vote, we do what we want to do. We have to work with them to come up with the right thing. Our discussions with the league about this over the last three years have been very constructive, and everybody’s heart is in the right place.

“It’s been good for our coaches, especially our assistant coaches who don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of suits. It’s great for our partnership with Nike. We’re wearing another Nike (logo) out in front of the camera.”

Wearing team-issued casual gear also has practical uses, especially on road trips. The coaches no longer have to pack multiple pairs of suits and ties. Instead, they could grab the different sponsored tops and head on their way to the airport. 

Another advantage of this look is that it’s uniform. Nobody is wearing a black suit, another gray, blue, brown, and so on. This brings a sense of togetherness and unity to the team. Only time will tell if the polos and quarter-zips will continue beyond this season, but the word is that at least four of five NBA coaches prefer this look over the suits and ties.

Wrapping Things Up: Why Do NBA Coaches Wear Suits?

Since time immemorial, basketball coaches of high-level college leagues have already worn suits. Dr. James Naismith, the sport’s inventor, was hired to coach the University of Kansas and was said to have worn suits and ties to game days.

The practice was adopted by all the coaches that followed him. Red Auerbach, the great Celtics head coach in the 50s and 60s, has always worn suits. His contemporaries have done the same. Roll the timeline into the 1980s, and you’ll have Pat Riley and his contemporaries continuing the trend. Fans have always seen NBA coaches in suits.

So, to answer the question, “Why do NBA coaches wear suits?” the practice was rooted very early in basketball’s history, and no one dared to buck the trend. The suits and ties had a good look and symbolized professionalism, power, and authority.

That said, when did coaches stop wearing suits? The NBA allowed the coaches to wear casual, team-issued attire after the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The coaches association then voted for the look to stay in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. No one knows if that will be the new normal, but an overwhelming majority of NBA coaches reportedly voted for casual attire to remain, mainly for practical purposes.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

Hoops Addict
Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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