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The NBA Is Banning “Ninja-Style” Headbands. We Have Some Questions.

The piece of headgear made popular last year by players like Jimmy Butler, De’Aaron Fox, and Mike Scott will no longer be allowed on the court due to safety concerns

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The NBA wants you to know that size and length matter. For headbands, anyway. On Monday, the league announced in a statement that the “ninja-style” headbands popularized last season by players like Mike Scott and Jimmy Butler will be banned for the upcoming 2019-20 season because of concerns “regarding safety and consistency of size [and] length.”

Players and fans alike were upset by the news. The style has long been worn in other sports, like tennis and soccer, and didn’t seem like any more of a safety issue than, say, NFL linebackers with luscious locks wearing their hair down. So why ban the ninja-style headbands, and why now? We have some questions:

Why Are They Being Banned?

The league says the ban is for safety reasons:

“The ninja-style headwear is not part of the NBA uniform and hasn’t been through the league approval process,” league spokesman Mike Bass wrote in a statement. “Teams have raised concerns regarding safety and consistency of size, length, and how they are tied which requires a thorough review before consideration of any rule change.”

It’s interesting that individual teams brought this to the league’s attention. But is it really a safety issue? In a tweet last Friday, Scott said he was told the headbands were “unprofessional.” It’s unclear who told the Sixers guard this, though he later tweeted to send complaints to the “folks in Oregon.” When asked to clarify, NBA spokeswoman Amanda Thorn George referred The Ringer to the original statement.

If the headbands were deemed “unprofessional” by the NBA, and that sentiment was relayed to players, that turns a simple (if slightly dramatic) safety concern into the league policing player style. Looking “unprofessional” was the reasoning former commissioner David Stern gave when he instituted the league’s notorious and problematic off-the-court dress code in 2005. That the headbands are worn on the court would make the “unprofessional” defense more ridiculous, as gym shorts, sleeveless jerseys, and sneakers are hardly business casual attire.

If They’re Unsafe, Why Didn’t the NBA Ban Them Last Season?

The NBA’s statement explains that “when some players began wearing them last season, we didn’t want to cause a disruption by intervening midseason, but we notified our teams in May that they would not be part of this season’s uniforms.” So maybe ninja-style headbands are unsafe, but not unsafe enough to ditch immediately. But if that’s the case, how unsafe could they really be?

Does It Really Take That Long to Do a “Thorough Review” of a Headband?

It’s early September. There’s a lot going on in the NBA right now.

Why Is Mike Scott Such a Big Character in All This?

Scott actually broke the news in a series of tweets last Friday, prior to the NBA’s statement:

He called for a petition to be sent to Nike, which almost made it seem like Nike was banning one of its own products. Had that been the case, the timing would’ve been terrible: Rafael Nadal was actively wearing one of the Nike-branded ninja-style headbands in the U.S. Open over the weekend. In Scott’s defense, he’s not used to breaking news. He also had an upcoming Eagles game on his mind.

Which Players Are Affected Most?

Among the players who wore the ninja-style headbands were Scott, Butler, De’Aaron Fox, Jrue Holiday, Montrezl Harrell, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Jarrett Allen. While LeBron James has never donned the ninja-style headband in a real game, he did wear it once in a game of pickup, and posted a Photoshopped picture on Instagram in July that depicts him wearing one in an actual game:

His caption: “Kung Fu King, Bruce Lee-Bron.” Since that post went up months ago you may think it has nothing to do with the recent ban, but because teams were notified of the ban in May, LeBron may have known about it when he posted this. We all know LeBron isn’t above a subtweet.

I have to say it: Of that group of first-year ninja-style headband-wearers, four—Fox, Holiday, Harrell, and Allen—had career years last season.

Have Any Other Players Said Anything About This?

Harrell wasn’t happy:

And Blake Griffin thought it was hilarious:

If there’s any upside to taking away one of the better trends in on-court fashion, it’s knowing someone somewhere had to dedicate time to workshop the term “ninja-style.”