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Dress code wears thin with Pierce

Call it a quick change, but Paul Pierce has joined the list of prominent NBA players opposed to the league's new dress code.

Initially, the Celtics' four-time All-Star supported the call for ''business casual." But he spoke before he read the actual guidelines. Before last night's exhibition game between the Celtics and Bulls at the TD Banknorth Garden, Pierce issued a more informed and less agreeable opinion.

''We're not businessmen," said Pierce. ''We don't have to go to work early in the morning. I think you look at us as entertainers. People buy tickets to be entertained. This is a form of entertainment. You should be able to dress how you feel. That's the beauty of us, that we have that kind of creativity to express ourselves. I don't agree with it.

''Every player should have a feel of how they market their own selves. If you don't feel like you have to wear a coat and tie, you shouldn't have to. Every player is different in their own way, just like they are on the court. You look at these artists, these actors, these movie stars, they're entertainers and they have their own sense of style. It's the same with what we do. We're an industry. We should be able to dress the way we feel. This is more a freestyle, freelance business, just like acting. If you want to market yourself a certain way by the way you dress, I feel you should be allowed to."

Pierce felt like dressing in an olive brown dress casual suit with a window pane print last night. In general, his attire ranges from suits to sweaters and jeans. But he also likes throwback jerseys, bejeweled chains, and sunglasses, all forbidden under the new code.

The NBA has defined ''business casual" as long- or short-sleeved dress shirts (collared or turtleneck) and/or sweaters, slacks, khaki pants, and dress jeans, and appropriate shoes and socks. The long list of prohibited items includes T-shirts, any type of headgear, chains, pendants or medallions, sunglasses while indoors, and headphones outside the locker room, team bus or plane. Indiana's Stephen Jackson called the policy ''racist." Many young, black players have objected to the ban on ''bling." But while many Celtics players and coach Doc Rivers have accepted the dress code, Pierce believes Jackson has a legitimate point.

''In a way, I think [the code] kind of is [racist]," Pierce said. ''When I saw the rule that you can't wear chains [I thought it was]. That's just part of our culture, when we wear the chains and the hip-hop gear and the throwback jerseys. I don't know if it's racist, how he feels it is. But it's definitely something that's part of the league."

He feels that the dress code is an attempt by commissioner David Stern to placate corporate America and curb concerns about the league's image.

''I guess the league is trying to clean up the image," said Pierce. ''They've done surveys . . . and they say that we're behind baseball and football and the rest of the sports. But also we're one of the most visible sports in all of sports, so we get more notoriety. Our faces are shown. . . . We're just in tank tops and shorts. We're more visible. That's probably why we get that type of [negative] perception."

Although the players' union and the coaches were kept apprised of the move toward a stricter dress code, Pierce wishes more players had known more about what would be prohibited. Pierce plans to continue dressing however he feels. Some days he will be in compliance; others he will not. Once the dress code goes into effect Nov. 1, he expects to incur some fines.

''There should have been a vote on it. I just think they went about it the wrong way," said Pierce. ''If you look at the league's stars, the players that are marketed by this league, the Allen Iversons, the Tracy McGradys, the LeBron Jameses, they pretty much dress how they feel."

Then, Pierce tried to construct the flip-side of the argument, in an attempt to claim that clothes do not make the man. ''I don't think you should be perceived [a certain way] based on the way you dress," he said. ''I could be the most ruthless person in the world in a coat and tie. As a matter of fact, white-collar crime is the worst crime there is."

But that is a topic for another day. Right now, the NBA has its deep pockets and Prada man purses full with the dress code debate.

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