Here’s the thing we know about Basketball. It’s fluid. Athletes get stronger, faster and develop according to the evolutionary ebb and flow of the game, and the result is a game that’s gotten more and more complicated and, most would argue, more and more interesting as strategies, plays and innovations forever push the margins of the game.
But in the same way that stars shape the era, so too do the uniforms, as a matter of fact, the evolution of NBA uniforms are a direct link and bellwether to how professional basketball has fit into, and stood out from, the larger cultural zeitgeist for almost 70 years.
BALLnROLL.com wanted to examine the foundation of the uniform, and track where the bottoms have been, and what they’ve said about the era and our shared NBA history. It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ve had to go there to get to here.
The Meat and Potatoes
It was a uniform you could set your watch to. America was frozen in postwar stasis, where buzz cuts, movie drive-ins, and segregation were still “groovy”. The design for these shorts was certainly modeled after a 7 year-olds uncomfortable bathing suit, and were about as Protestant an article of clothing as has ever existed.
The Ruskies were set to nuke us at any moment, and America would be damned if they met their maker wearing anything that wasn’t all-American. We can never be sure if it actually was simpler time back then, but we do know for sure we’d never be able to go back to a place where they make us squeeze into these sperm murderers.
The Jackie Moons
The sexual revolution was in full swing, and nowhere was that more flagrant than in the groins of the NBA’s finest. What had once been tight but modest testaments to aerodynamics and McCarthyism was now a giant sex diaper just waiting for one Mr. Chamberlain to get off the court and up into your girlfriend’s business. It was a hell of a time to be alive, because basketball wasn’t just about small town Indiana anymore, it was about big beautiful style, and that was a genie that wasn’t ever going back in the box.
A Bridge Too Far
And then, something went wrong. Inexplicably, the next evolution in trunks was a step in a decidedly awful direction. Tighter, whiter, and now leaving so little to the imagination that people who sat in platinum seats then can actually sketch out the genitals of their favourite stars from memory. At this point we’re just kidding ourselves if we call these things anything other than lingerie. The only men wearing these today are perverts with windowless vans about to stage a coup a the Jamba Juice in the name of their alien overlords.
Finally, a light!
Like every damn thing in the NBA worth talking about, a change for the better all started with Michael Jordan. While he was making Larry Bird cry, Jordan approached the people at Champion and asked them if they could give him a little more fabric to hold on to when he was catching his breath in between feats of wonderment. When Jordan says “jump”, you bet your last ass Champion says “How High?” and the tide turned began to turn. Almost immediately, the rest of the NBA adopted the cooler, less perverted garment, and the nineties were allowed to begin.
The MC Hammers
As so often happens in the world of fashion, the millennium brought with it a pendulum shift too far to the right of the 70’s. Now shorts flared out like two bilious parachutes, flowing like sails in the wind. It’s estimated drag caused by these shorts alone had cost the NBA anywhere from 3 to 4 hundred baskets a season between ’01 and ’09. Aerodynamic they were not, but symbolic of the NBA’s new excesses they certainly were. Several children were lost forever, having been swallowed up by Shaq’s gargantuan, genie like trunks, and Steve Nash was once lost for several days, wandering the fabric wasteland of his own uniform after a near fatal laundry mishap. It was an interesting time, but in some ways, best forgotten.
The Glorious Present
We’ve managed, through trial, error, and the aftershocks of the Great Recession, to rein in the shorts a bit to a point where they’re manageable, sleek, and actually the kind of things you can wear around the house on Sundays. We’ll admit we’re prejudiced by the style and taste of the day, but it feels like we’ve finally got it right this time.