On an otherwise forgettable evening last March, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl donned a personalized retro basketball jersey.
During a game.
Over a long-sleeved T-shirt.
Tucked into a pair of sweatpants.
To quote noted late-20th century philosopher Keanu Reeves: Whoa.
Pat Riley channeling Gordon Gekko, it wasn't. Bill Belichick raising homeless awareness, it wasn't. Looking less like a leader of men than a middle-aged cubicle drone playing pickup hoops, Karl broke new ground in sideline fashion futility -- no small thing, considering what ABA couture brave-heart Larry Brown once wore while coaching the Nuggets.
"Not much to look at," Denver forward Kenyon Martin said of Karl's jersey. "But he is the man. He can do what he wants."
So can the rest of us. This is America. And therein lies the rub. Like Karl, we don athletic jerseys wherever, whenever. To the mall, the club, church. To dress up and dress down. To stand out and fit in.
Occasionally, we even wear them to play sports.
Simply put, we have become a Jersey Nation: one public, under Mitchell and Ness, with sliver 'n' black Randy Moss getups for all.
On the bright side, we haven't adopted matching sweatpants. At least not yet.
Gaze into the mirror, Jersey Nation, and despair: your ill-fitting Carmelo Anthony jerseys are the greatest mass clothing blunder since backward overalls and 8-Ball jackets. With every Michael Vick jersey worn to the office, every Alex English throwback donned by someone who couldn't tell the former Nugget from Alex Trebek, you unspool the very fabric of our fair republic.
|What Do You Think?|
• Has Jersey Nation gone too far? Is it time to end the retro craze? Vote at SportsNation.
• Patrick Hruby chat wrap
• Mailbag: Is it ever OK to wear a sports jersey off the field of play?
In this case, high-grade polyester mesh.
Looking back, Karl clearly was attempting to warn us, mounting a fashion cross to atone for our collective sins. Will we heed his canary-in-the-coal-mine squawks? Or in our giddy rush to embrace both LeBron James and the 1980 Houston Astros, will we end up resembling a country of 13-year-old boys, only with deeper voices and less acne?
Time is running short. The line must be drawn here. With an eye toward sparing future generations the soul-sucking indignity of Emmitt Smith Arizona Cardinals throwback muumuus, Page 2 presents a jersey-wearing FAQ. These rules are designed for your protection; flaunt them at your peril
Is it OK to wear a sports jersey?
Yes, provided you are a professional or amateur athlete and are participating in an actual sporting event.
Otherwise, you probably look like a clown. Which, it should be noted, is only a small step up from a mime.
Er, I am a clown.
No worries. You're all good. Jerseys and red, floppy shoes are the fashion equivalent of Las Vegas and cheesy world-landmark replicas -- they just go together.
I'm not a clown, but I am a mascot. The jersey is part of my costume.
Again, Godspeed. Watch out for fireworks and flaming hoops. As Terrell Owens can attest, mesh is flammable.
Wait a second -- are you implying that baseball coaches shouldn't wear game uniforms?
Not unless Don Zimmer plans to pinch hit.
C'mon, lighten up. I'm not feeling the clown thing.
Fine. We'll put it another way: Wearing a jersey puts you in sartorial cahoots with ESPN's "The Rick." And Mark Cuban. Capiche?
Ouch. Does it really look that bad?
Not always. When it comes to jersey-wearing, kids get a permanent pass -- in part because the legal system holds that minors often lack the ability to make fully informed choices, in part because an article of clothing featuring a cartoon dinosaur isn't exactly out of place on anyone under the age of 10.
Similarly, there's no shame in adults wearing jerseys to games. Cuban included. Nor is it disgraceful for rappers to sport jerseys in music videos, so long as the jerseys are size XXXXXXXXXL and accessorized with diamond-encrusted Jesus medallions.
What about wearing a jersey to the office on game days? Can't I support my team?
No. Three reasons why:
(1) You are no longer in high school;
(2) You are no longer playing third-string center for the varsity;
(3) If you think back really hard, you'll recall that players wore suits and ties on game day, not game jerseys.
On a related note, look outside your cubicle. See any female coworkers wearing Laker Girl cheerleader outfits because the Lakers are playing tonight?
Take a hint.
I want to wear a good-luck jersey while watching the game at home. Fair enough. The 9th and 10th Amendments protect your privacy rights. A man's home is is castle.
Great! The good-luck jersey has my name on the back, even though I've never played for the Green Bay Packers or worn the No. 4 at any level of athletic competition.
That stuff about castles and privacy? Forget it. You'll be lucky if the fashion SWAT team is courteous enough to knock before breaking down your door.
Enjoy the smell of flashbangs.
So when is jersey-wearing inappropriate?
Never. At least according to Page 2 reader Matthew Hoffman.
"If it's a wedding and it's my sister, maybe it's not appropriate," he says with a laugh. "But if it's my buddy and we're all diehard Yankees fans, that's a cool wedding."
For Hoffman, weddings are just the beginning. Romantic walks, shopping malls, business meetings. All acceptable.
"I think that as a national holiday everyone should be able to wear a jersey no matter what you do," Hoffman adds. "Senators, CEOs, everybody. Every day of the week, that would be even better."
Sweet idea. Who is this guy?
Hoffman is a vice president for brand management at Majestic, the apparel company that makes jerseys for Major League Baseball.
So he's biased.
Just a bit.
Darn. No Yankees-themed wedding dresses, then?
We hold these truths to be self-evident: Jerseys are not OK at business meetings, unless the meeting is a huddle at the 50-yard line. They are not OK at the mall, unless you work at the Baltimore Orioles team store. They are not OK on romantic walks, unless the walk is from the parking lot to Chuck E. Cheese.
As for weddings? Please. Better to wear a powder-blue 1979 prom tuxedo than a powder-blue San Diego Chargers throwback. But don't take our word. Ask Florida pitcher Dontrelle Willis, whose retro jersey collection is so extensive (30-plus) he has a department store-style rack for them in his closet.
"To a wedding?" Willis says. "Nah."
|Jerseys To Avoid Wearing At All Times|
• Ryan Leaf's San Diego Chargers jersey.
• Brian Bosworth's Seattle Seahawks jersey.
• Patrick Ewing's Orlando Magic jersey.
• Michael Jordan's throwback Washington Bullets jersey.
• Michael Jordan's Birmingham Barons baseball jersey.
• Dwyane Wade's Marquette jersey. As if you wouldn't mix up Milwaukee and Mexico on a map of North America.
• Washington Redskins basketball jerseys; Dallas Mavericks football jerseys.
• The WLAF's Orlando Thunder lime-green jerseys, which should have come with a fork and/or can of whipped cream.
• Anybody's high school jersey.
• Anything with a single, colored sleeve.
• Anything Tampa Bay Bucs, pre-1997.
• Anything with a mascot illustration that resembles the Gorton's Fisherman.
• Anything XFL.
• Anything O.J. Simpson -- unless it's been autographed at a horror convention, in which case it might be worth something on eBay.
Hold up. Willis is a pro athlete. Why does he need all of these rules?
Industry insider? All the more reason to be circumspect. Wearing another jock's jersey can be a nice show of respect, a la Allen Iverson honoring Donovan McNabb.
More often, however, it's an invitation to ruin.
Take Terrell Owens, whose self-immolation began with wearing a Michael Irvin throwback following Philadelphia's road loss to Dallas. Or listen to Washington Wizards forward Antawn Jamison:
"I can recall Joe Forte on the bench in a playoff game, and he had a [Magic Johnson] Lakers jersey on," Jamison says, laughing. "And he was with the Boston Celtics! I was like, oh man, don't take it to that point."
Looking to make amends, Forte wore a retro Bill Russell jersey the next night. Too late. The former North Carolina star washed out of the league and was last seen playing in New York's Rucker Park.
Coincidence? Probably not.
C'mon, throwbacks are tight. I want to rep the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. Mustard stains 4 lyfe, yo!
Look, retro jerseys are the sports equivalent of Supreme Court justices wearing powdered wigs, of Presidents sporting britches and wooden teeth. Do modern women wear whalebone corsets?
Never mind. Talk to Tony Gervino, who keeps his Barry Zito USC retro jersey in the closet, tags still attached.
"When I go to a ball game, I'll put on a jersey," he says. "But I never wear them out. It's like what Seinfeld said about wearing sweatpants outside. You're telling the world you've given up."
Why should anyone take Gervino's advice? Because he just might be the godfather of the throwback boom. The former editor of Slam Magazine, Gervino came up with the idea of dressing Allen Iverson during the 1998-99 lockout in an old-school Sixers jersey for the cover photo of a retro-themed issue.
One problem: throwbacks had yet to take off. Nobody made them, at least not in mass quantities. Gervino called Mitchell and Ness. The store only had one PHILA jersey. Slam could borrow the store's jersey, so long as it was returned within 72 hours.
Gervino agreed. The issue hit newsstands. The rest is history.
"We didn't say, 'Hey, this is going to be a big trend,'" Gervino says, laughing. "We were just looking for a creative way to save our jobs during the [NBA] lockout. But it wasn't long after that throwbacks started to take off."
Now an editorial director at Harris Magazines, Gervino still loves sports. But surveying the current fashion landscape -- a vast wasteland of Dave Winfield rookie jerseys and Larry Bird high school throwbacks -- he feels a little like atomic bomb father Robert Oppenheimer.
"It's sort of a can-you-top-this phenomenon," Gervino says. "Pretty soon, it will be LeBron James intramural, elementary school jerseys. At some point, it becomes too much and people look like [expletives] walking around in them.
"I see people with a Jerry West West Virginia jersey and I'm like, 'Do you even know who he is?'"
Jerry West. Owns the Lakers, right? Isn't he some sort of doctor?
In a perfect world, anyone attempting to purchase a retro jersey would have to pass a test, same as driver's license applicants. Want that Wes Unseld throwback? Answer the following:
(1) How many rebounds per game did Unseld average in his career?
(2) Unseld is one of two NBA players to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors in the same season. The other is:
(a) Wilt Chamberlain
(b) Alex English
(c) That "Pistol" guy who played for Atlanta
(d) Donovan McNabb. I saw his high school basketball jersey for sale, so he must be pretty good.
(3) Unseld's worst move as an NBA general manager was:
(a) Trading Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond
(b) Trading Rasheed Wallace for Rod Strickland
(c) Trading Ben Wallace for Fat Ike Austin
(d) All of the above
Maybe I can't tell Wes Unseld from Wes on "Mr. Belvedere." So what? I like the colors.
Happy Halloween! Remember how dopey Michael Dukakis looked in a tank helmet? Or how jarring it was to see Ricky Williams in a wedding dress?
|Jerseys And The Opposite Sex|
Can a guy in a jersey get lucky?
According to fashion expert Karin Eldor, there's nothing sexier than a sports jersey.
On a woman, that is.
"A girl wearing it around the gym or at home is totally hot," says Eldor, a fashion correspondent for AskMen.com. "Especially if she's wearing it alone."
As for you? Not so much. In fact, your chances of ending up with a woman in nothing but a jersey -- or, better yet, nothing -- improve exponentially when: (a) your pro athlete garb comes with a pro athlete salary; (b) the Zito throwback remains at home. Well out of sight.
"As a woman, I would not be attracted if a guy wearing a jersey picked me up at a club," Eldor says. "Even to a movie, I wouldn't recommend it."
Really, what more do you need to hear?
Guess what: wear a jersey in public, and that's you. Playing dress-up. And not even for the sweet reward of trick-or-treat candy.
A 5-year-old in a Stormtrooper costume is cute; a 25-year-old in the same outfit is borderline creepy.
"You know how they always say those 'Star Wars' geeks have gone too far? This is the same thing," says Daniel Billett, the men's fashion and grooming expert at About.com. "Jerseys are a novelty item. They go along with boxer shorts with funny hearts.
"I can understand going to a game and supporting your team. But why wear somebody else's shirt on the street, with a name and number that they earned?"
Billett makes an important point: Sports jerseys are first and foremost work uniforms, designed for a specific task, same as the brown shorts worn by UPS drivers. Would you wear a Burger King visor to a movie theater? A Navy frogman suit to a non-S&M nightclub?
Of course not. So why dress like a baseball version of Cliff Clavin? Even figure skaters don't wear sequins in their downtime.
"It becomes a costume," Geruino says. "You look like you want to be a kid. It's a little sad. Kids don't look at adults in jerseys and think, 'Hey, there's a cool old guy.' They just think, 'That's an old guy.'"
A few years back, gas-station attendant shirts were chic. So were mesh trucker hats. But the guys who wore them looked like poseurs, tools, Kevin Federline.
Read that last part over.
First you dis backward overalls, now jerseys. What do you have against hip-hop culture? Are you racist?
Relax. Yes, hip-hop helped inspire the current jersey craze; it also paved the way for the high-top fade. Bum stiggity bum. In all honesty, the dustbin of fashion history is color-blind. Otherwise, white people would still be sporting feathered hair.
Can a jersey express individual style?
About as much as a mass-produced GAP polo shirt.
Why are you telling people what to wear? Are you David Stern? Go back to Russia. U-S-A!
Sigh. On one hand, it's possible to argue that jersey-wearing represents the ultimate democratization of fashion, people power in primary colors. After all, jerseys cut across class lines. Break down ethnic and racial divisions. Let the common man vote with his back as well as his ballot.
On the other hand, consider the following:
Top 25 Best-Selling Jerseys, NBA Store, December
(8) Emeka Okafor
(19) Kenyon Martin
(21) Pau Gasol
(22) Allan Houston
Houston? Martin? Gasol? Good grief. This is why the Founding Fathers created the Electoral College.
Does my jersey make a fashion statement?
Yes: "It may appear that I was dumb enough to pay $175 for a Carmelo Anthony jersey that likely was made in China for less than two bucks; in reality, I'm doing my part to increase the staggering US-China trade deficit, which in turn allows Asian banks to gobble up treasury bills, thereby propping up the easy-credit American economy."
Cool. I guess people will think I'm pretty smart, huh?
Not unless your jersey reads M-I-T.
Are jerseys a bad deal?
Think of it this way: Nike spends millions to promote James' newest shoe. The Cavs and other NBA teams buy air time to run commercials featuring James, so they can sell more tickets.
Spring for a Cleveland No. 23 jersey, however, and you're paying for the privilege of becoming a walking King James billboard. The difference between you and those guys who stand by the road wearing placards that read "CAR WASH $14.95"? A Reebok logo.
Say this for advertising-festooned NASCAR drivers: when they sell out, at least they're the ones doing the selling.
(Note: The above does not apply to jerseys sold on ESPN.com. Did we say bad deal? We meant big steal.)
Jerseys are roomy. So am I. If it works for Fat Joe, why not me?
Because aesthetically speaking, jerseys don't work for Fat Joe. Or anyone else who isn't built like a Greek statue.
"We're a country that is getting fatter and less fit," Geruino warns. "At this point, it's a slippery slope downhill."
Compare jerseys to suits. The latter are tailored to make every type of frame look sharp. The former are designed to stay out of the way when jumping for a rebound. The difference is profound.
Not as ripped as David Robinson? The sleeveless look may be a tad unflattering. Leaving the house sans shoulder pads? Your Tom Brady getup is going to fit like a Patriots-themed hospital gown. As for tubby guys in baggy baseball jerseys, one thought springs to mind: bedsheets.
"You beer-drinking slobs with big guts wearing a sports jersey? It's like, OK, you can't even run across the basketball court," says Billett. "Unless you're really fit, we don't want to see it. And unfortunately, most of the people wearing these things ought to cover up."
"As the old phrase goes, spandex is a privilege, not a right."
Hey, I like spandex. I also like to pair it with a skintight, logo-spackled yellow jersey when I'm riding my bike. Cuts down on drag. Go Lance!
The local park ain't the Pyrenees. Do you expect a car to pull alongside and hand you an empty Gatorade bottle to pee in? Face it: You're not fooling anyone. A T-shirt will do.
You don't understand: futbol is life. I can no more part with my Man U shirt than my right arm. Sure you can. In America, wearing a soccer jersey is like flashing the handshake to a secret society that nobody wants to join, or loudly proclaiming your undying faith in Scientology. What sort of message do you want to convey?
Baseball managers wear game uniforms. Basketball coaches wear business suits. Football coaches once wore suits, but now dress like golfers. Golfers dress the way tennis players used to, before they started dressing like basketball players, cocktail waitresses and Catwoman. Catwoman's outfit isn't sparkly enough for male figure skaters, and NASCAR drivers would probably wear figure skating costumes if a sponsor anted up enough dough. Athletes in every sport essentially wear numbered pajamas, which makes all of these fashion and jersey rules seem totally arbitrary. Frankly, I'm confused.
Not to worry. That's why we're here.
Patrick Hruby is a columnist for Page 2.