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Former Arkansas Razorback and current Utah Jazz player Ronnie Brewer can no longer don headband on court.

Ronnie Brewer and Dee Brown were known to sport headbands while playing for the Arkansas Razorbacks and Illinois Illini, respectively, as college basketball players. The headbands were no doubt fashion statements, but they also worked to keep sweat out of their eyes while running up and down the court.

Brewer and Brown are now rookie teammates on the Utah Jazz, but neither one is wearing a terry-cloth band around his head this season.

The reason?

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan prohibits headbands.

While headbands are an increasingly popular accessory for some NBA players, wearing one during games is against the rules for at least four NBA teams — Chicago, Miami and the two teams that played Saturday night in the arena formerly known as the Delta Center: Utah and Seattle.

It may seem like an inconsequential problem, but to wear or not to wear headbands has been a major topic of conversation in the NBA this week thanks to Ben Wallace's dustup with coach Scott Skiles in Chicago.

In case you missed it, last Saturday Wallace was benched — twice — by Skiles for wearing a headband during a game at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks.

Wallace often wore headbands while helping the Detroit Pistons to two NBA titles. It had become a personal trademark. But he had not defied the Bulls' rule through the first 12 games of the season after signing a five-year, $60 million contract with Chicago last summer.

Then Wallace came out with a red headband on to start the game against the Knicks — and was quickly benched by Skiles. He removed it and re-entered the game late in the first quarter but put the headband back on before the second half. Once again he was benched until he took it off late in the third quarter.

Wallace has since cleared the air with Skiles and even apologized — sort of.

"If you know the rules and break them, you expect to be punished," Wallace told the Chicago Tribune. "I can't try to put myself above the team or anybody else and wear a headband like I did. I'm man enough to take the punishment. But I'm not sorry."

The issue has been much debated this week. Some people have backed Wallace for taking a stand against a rule that seems to serve no basketball purpose. Others have condemned Wallace for defying team rules, showing up his bosses and being selfish.

Billy Hunter, the executive director of the NBA players union, told the Chicago Tribune that the Bulls' rule forbidding headbands is "asinine" and said that it violates terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Bulls president John Paxson disagrees, however, pointing out that the league has approved the Bulls handbook.

Even Hunter agrees that unless the Bulls suspend or financially punish Wallace for wearing a headband there is not much the union could really do. A coach, of course, can choose to play or not play a player at his discretion.

Several players have come to Wallace's defense — including headband wearers LeBron James and Jason Terry.

"I know Ben Wallace has been wearing a headband for a long time," James told the Akron Beacon Journal. "I've worn a headband for a long time ... It is a routine. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't wear one. If it is something you have been doing your whole life — it doesn't matter what field you're in, athletics or the business side — if someone comes and tells you to switch your routine up, it is going to mess up your work."

"I'm on Big Ben's side," Mavs guard Terry told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Is (wearing the headband) going to affect his play in any way? I don't think so."

Former NBA star and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley said this on the air: "Ben Wallace made a mistake going to Chicago ... It's just stupid that they are worrying about if he has or doesn't have a headband. They're not playing good basketball, and they're worrying about something stupid like a headband."

Heat coach Pat Riley — like Sloan, the Bulls and the Sonics — doesn't like headbands. He told the Miami Herald that wearing headbands is part of "the disease of 'me."'

"I've just always had a thing about headbands," Riley said.

Seattle coach Bob Hill also has a no-headband rule. But Hill says that Wallace should have been made clear on the team policy while the sides were negotiating his deal. Wallace has said that he didn't learn about the Bulls' rule until after signing his huge free-agent deal in July.

Jazz guard Derek Fisher, the president of the players union, feels the whole debate has been a negative.

"Either way the league loses," Fisher said. "Ben Wallace became what fans felt good about. He represented the hard work and the class and he doesn't talk much. He just goes out and does his job. For Ben to be in something like this, I think . . . for a lot of our fans, it's disappointing. No matter how you spin the story, Ben's going to come out looking bad to a certain percentage of people and the team and the league are going to look bad, too."


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com