The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat are in the midst of a nail-biting best-of-seven NBA championship series that is all tied up at a game a piece. But the near-superhuman acrobatics on the court aren't dominating all the headlines. Indeed, stars from both basketball teams are attracting nearly as much attention for the sartorial flair they've exhibited at post-game news conferences. By far the most conspicuous accessories — worn by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade of the Heat, as well as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant of the Thunder — are thick-rimmed, oversized glasses that would make the cast of The Revenge of the Nerds blush. Prescriptions, and even lenses, are optional ("I see better without them," Westbrook admitted), confirming that the glasses are part of a geek-chic trend that has seen NBA players wearing schoolboy backpacks, cardigans, and plaid socks. Here, a guide to the NBA's new obsession with nerdy glasses:
Who started this bizarre trend?
That's a matter of heated dispute. Westbrook, whose flamboyant fashion sense puts him in a class of his own (his frames are fire-engine red), claims that he started the trend upon entering the league in 2008. "Everybody else just started wearing them now," he said. James retorted, "No, that's not right… He definitely didn't start it." Offering a deeper historical perspective, Larry Leight, an eyewear designer, tells The Wall Street Journal that the craze for lensless glasses was likely started by Japanese teenage girls.
Why do players wear them?
There are several theories. The players themselves insist "they were not trying to make a cultural statement," says Tom Spousta at The New York Times. Nick Collison, a forward for the Thunder, speculates that players think it makes them look smarter. Leight says the glasses could help them cope with the press's scrutiny. "You do kind of feel like you're shielded," he tells The Journal. James Harden, a Thunder guard famous for his King Tut-like beard, has a much simpler theory: "It's their swag."
What are other examples of geek chic?
Durant is known to appear at news conferences with a schoolboy backpack tightly strapped to his shoulders. On Thursday night, Durant, Wade, and James all spoke to the press wearing pocket handkerchiefs that matched their outfits. Amar'e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks was featured in a Foot Locker commercial wearing quintessential geek-chic attire: A cardigan, a thin tie, and oversized glasses.
Why is geek chic so popular in the NBA?
It's likely an outgrowth of, and a response to, a 2005 dress code implemented by NBA Commissioner David Stern to improve the league's "bad-boy" image. The code, says Matt Ufford at SB Nation, took direct "aim at hip hop culture: Jeans, T-shirts, Timberland boots, large jewelry, and do-rags were all banned." Players were "challenged to think creatively about dismantling Stern's black-male stereotyping," says Wesley Morris at Grantland, and drew on larger shifts in black culture led by artists like Pharrell Williams, Andre 3000, and Kanye West, who "ushered in the chic of the black nerd."
Is the trend here to stay?
Perhaps not. "Trends, they come and go, and people get on board with them or they don't," says Wade. "With the nerd glasses in the NBA, it's just something fun to do right now. I'm sure next season it'll be out the window."