More than the bald domes, fresh fades, long shorts, low or no socks, black Huarache and Maestro shoes, CXC and Karl Kani jeans, 'M' caps twisted to the right, bezels in the ear; more than the fact that they swung -- not hung -- on rims after dunks and punched each other in the chest instead of high-fiving one another after every spectacular play; more than the fact that they were all around the same size and that their facial expressions when they stepped on the dance floor were more Michael Graham than Danny Manning, more UNLV than Duke, more than anything was the undertone. Their diss-position.
The belief that win or lose, they were the sugar in honey's iced tea.
You couldn't tell them nothin'. Not a damn thang. And beyond the fashion and aesthetic statements they were unconsciously making, that is what made America fall in love, that is what made the five members of the "Baggy Pants Revolution" heroes.
But young black men like these had been seen before. America just missed it.
On the campus of the University of Illinois, a change was 'bout to come.
"Yeah, I was there in '86 and I didn't notice it then," says Illini alumni Charles Honoré. "But by the time they got there, I saw it I saw the change."
"They" came in 1988. They came from all over the place but from one place. They didn't come at the same time. When "they" went to the Final Four in '89, people recognized but were not paying attention.
When Kendall Gill, Nick Anderson, Kenny Battle, Steve Bardo and Marcus Liberty made the Illini fly, they kick-started a revolution of basketballism that had never been seen as a collective.
All were the same height, all had the same game. They played ball in a way that reminded old folks of the ABA. They had a certain style, savoir without the faire.
"Their haircuts were different, their clothing was different," Honoré, a police officer who went to U of I on a track scholarship in 1984, remembers. "They took it from midlength shorts to longer ones. They wore their wristbands higher up their arms. They came in with a different style. Basketball was no longer a uniform, it was fashion."
And even they were influenced by someone else.
The advantage the University of Illinois basketball team had in 1989 was that most of them were from the Chicago area. And during that time, around the time all of them were between the ages of 13-16, between the years of 1985-88, a kid by the name of "Showtime" was playing for the Chicago Bulls.
This kid, Showtime -- a name given to him by Isiah Thomas because no other name at the time fit -- was single-fistedly changing the culture of sports. The way it was going to be played and the way it was going to look.
Now everyone saw this kid, but people from the area saw him all of the time. We saw the practices, we saw the shootarounds, we saw all 82 games, we saw the days off, we saw the Chevy Trailblazer commercials where he hit 25-foot jumpers into sunroof tops, we saw the shoes, we saw his style.
And while the world was still watching Magic and Bird, we were watching Him.