After instituting a "business casual" dress code and cracking down on the length of uniform shorts, the NBA has identified its next fashion crusade.
League and team sources have told ESPN.com that the NBA, starting next season, intends to ban the tights sported at various points this season by several players, including three MVP candidates: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Although NBA officials are not publicly commenting on the issue, sources say that the league simply does not like the look of players wearing visible hose. It's believed that the league office, which already has regulations in place to curtail short lengths, can unilaterally outlaw tights by simply amending its uniform code before the 2006-07 season.
Sources say that the NBA informed its 30 teams at last month's competition committee meeting in Houston that tights would be banned immediately after All-Star Weekend. But the league wound up holding off on that ban, perhaps to avoid a new controversy after the initial furor sparked by the off-court dress code faded quickly and quietly.
Players who wish to wear tights are required to send the league a written request from a team doctor detailing a "medical need" for the leggings. That's because the league, according to sources, believes that some players are merely wearing them because they like the look.
Yet there are numerous players who insist that wearing full-length spandex under their uniform shorts keeps limbs warmer and looser than anything seen previously in the NBA. Dallas Mavericks swingman Jerry Stackhouse is widely seen as the pioneer of this practice, relying on a pair of runners' tights throughout last season's playoffs to combat a longstanding groin injury.
"I'm a 100-percent advocate," Stackhouse said.
That's why the 11-year veteran felt compelled to call NBA vice president Stu Jackson directly after learning of the forthcoming ban upon returning from the All-Star break. Stackhouse bristles at the notion that he's merely trying to be fashionable, pointing out that he has worn tights to every behind-closed-doors practice and shootaround until expectedly shedding them in Dallas' past three games.
"I've had a couple groin injuries and they help me get comfortable," Stackhouse said. "I wear thigh sleeves, too, and the tights also help keep them from sliding down my legs. They just hold everything together.
"When I talked to Stu, he was sympathetic. They don't want to be the ones causing guys to get hurt. But I don't know what the end result is going to be. I get the feeling they think it's some fashion statement or culture statement. It's really not. I'm just trying to take every preventative measure that I can."
Said Mavericks team physician T.O Souryal: "The tights provide compression. Compressed muscles fire efficiently, especially if injured. Players with muscle strains benefit from the improved circulation and support."
The sight of tights on an NBA player has inevitably been mocked by some -- Denver's Marcus Camby chastised peers for wearing "pantyhose" -- but became more commonplace this season after Bryant unveiled his leggings in November. James wore them briefly as well in January after injuring his knee, but the Cleveland star hasn't been seen in spandex for more than 25 games ... in part because he grew weary of answering so many questions about them. Bryant has since decided to play tights-free in the Los Angeles Lakers' past five games.
But Wade still wears them in Miami and so does New Jersey's Vince Carter. The team most devoted to the concept is Milwaukee, with five everyday tights-wearers after Joe Smith tried them first: Andrew Bogut, Toni Kukoc, Michael Redd and Maurice Williams in addition to Smith.
Bogut recently told the Associated Press: "I don't like how it looks, but I don't play basketball for looks."
Smith told the AP: "It's something to keep you warm. It keeps my knee from swelling up, keeps some tightness around it so it won't blow up on me when I'm out there. It's meant a lot to me."
More than five percent of the league's players have worn tights at some stage during the season, including five of its top 10 leading scorers. At least eight players that have worn tights this year -- including Bryant, James, Redd and Carter -- are Nike-sponsored athletes, and the shoe giant now sells a "pro basic" pair of tights for $35 and a "pro thermal" pair for $50.
Stackhouse, though, supplies his own tights and has been since he came up with the idea almost a year ago.
"If they ban 'em," Stackhouse said, "I'll find something else."
Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com and Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.