If you’re a fashionista, you might have noticed that the legs of male basketball players are disappearing from view these days. The New York Times had a lengthy article last Sunday in its sports section on this subject. Where once fans might have seen almost three feet of Wilt Chamberlain’s legs, today’s fans often see only the barest glimpse of flesh on players’ legs.
“Skin is no longer in,” the Times announced, noting that players are increasingly covering up because of a changing fashion sense, a desire for protection and a touch of prudish modesty. The in-look today includes shorts hemmed below the knee, socks raised to the calf and a base layer of tights underneath.
I can’t say this look was on display among the over-40 crowd playing basketball Monday afternoon at the Capital Athletic Club in Sacramento. I saw only one player in tights. Most wore shorts hemmed slightly above the knee or barely covering their knee-operation incisions. Socks were mostly a boring white and bunched up above the tops of well-worn basketball shoes.
I don’t elevate the sartorial level of the over-40 crowd much, except that I invest more money in fancy basketball shoes. I’m intent on avoiding another bout of plantar fasciitis and am convinced that switching shoes every four months provides continuing heel support and cushioning. I regularly wear brightly colored Nike shoes, assuring that my defender will always know where I am.
By contrast, the Saturday morning games at the club bring out players in their late 20s and 30s, several of whom look as though they’ve just come from a fashion shoot. Interestingly, these peacocks with a good sense of color coordination are also the better players. I don’t know whether this holds true outside the CAC. The Times article didn’t analyze appearance and performance at the college and pro level.
When I was growing up in Queens, real ballplayers didn’t waste time dwelling on their appearance. The teenagers who came up to Braddock Park to play basketball in their mohair sweaters and chinos had their minds on girls and were relegated to the pebbly asphalt courts. As a player at Van Buren High School, I was given white Converse sneakers, then a status symbol, and admonished never to wear them outdoors. We had short shorts and sleeveless jerseys for game wear.
At the park, I wore inexpensive Thom McAn sneakers that wore out quickly on hot summer asphalt. I stuck pieces of cardboard in the soles as soon as holes started to appear. We all wore long pants, even on the hottest days. Shorts at the park were unmanly.
The Times traces the disappearing-leg look to the early 1990s and Michigan’s “Fab Five.” The five black freshmen popularized baggy shorts to the knee, black socks and shaved heads. They talked trash and played a street-style game. They looked ready to rumble and detractors called them thugs. Their talent on the court, however, made them a force in the game, and their radical attire spread through the basketball world.
I won’t be transitioning to the modesty look on the court, but, frankly, I always felt a little embarrassed in the old-style uniforms, especially with girls in the stands. Shorts slightly above the knee are just right with me and seem appropriate to this stage in my life.