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In the beginning, there were shoes and socks, and it was Good.
And then, occasionally, there were knee pads, and that was also Good, because let's face it, it hurts to bang your knee on a parquet floor. And then there were compression shorts, and this was Not Really So Good, because those things are supposed to be worn by bicyclists, not basketball players. But most of the time you couldn't really see them under the uniform shorts, so it was Not Really So Bad Either.
And then things got out of hand.
As you might imagine, Uni Watch has some remedies in mind, but first let's cover the basics. NBA socks are currently available in three different lengths: ankle-length (also known as quarter-socks), shin-length (crew socks), and over the calf (tube socks), although Chris Wilcox and Shaun Livingston push the limits by wearing their socks above the knee.
Whichever style a player chooses, his socks must be the same length, although Kerry Kittles flouted that rule early in his career. Another no-no: going completely sockless, although it sure looks like Maurice Evans has gotten away with that a few times.
NBA rules specify that everyone on the team has to wear the same color socks. That color can be white, black or one of the team's official colors. For years, this was simple enough, because everyone just wore white. But then the Pacers began wearing black socks during the 1999 playoffs, and now lots of teams use black during the regular season. The playoffs, meanwhile, have become the unofficial showcase for new sock colors, as the Nets, Lakers, Sixers, Celtics, Pacers and Timberwolves have all tried out new hues in the postseason.
Unfortunately, not even a new color for the playoffs can hide the fact that NBA socks are mired in stagnation -- there's no zip, no pizzazz. Even worse, socks are now viewed as just another mix-and-match accessory, like a knee pad, instead of as a functional element of an integrated uniform design, like they used to be.
How can we restore hard-court hosiery to its rightful place in the game's aesthetic hierarchy? Uni Watch has a few modest proposals:
1. Ban the quarter-sock. Yes, Uni Watch is well aware that MJ himself helped popularize the low-sock look, but that doesn't make it sacrosanct. Even Pete Maravich, whose slouchy socks became a signature style during his LSU days, pulled his socks up once he went pro (well, most of the time). If a player doesn't want to go all the way to tube socks, that's fine -- crew-level is OK. But Uni Watch, for one, does not need to see a player's hairy shins. And besides, what's the point of wearing socks if the only thing you can see is the NBA logo peeking out of your sneakers? Speaking of which, that brings us to
2. Take the NBA logo off the socks. Uni Watch gives the NBA folks credit for keeping sportswear logos off of their uniforms, but they really go overboard on the league branding. Seriously, is it really necessary for a player to have the NBA logo on both sides of both socks (especially when he's already wearing it on his jersey, shorts and headband)? It's not just a matter of overkill -- the logo, which first appeared on socks in 1989, also takes up valuable real estate that could be used by stripes. Which in turn leads us to
3. Bring back the stripes! Uni Watch doesn't completely blame today's players for wanting to keep their hose down low -- wearing plain, solid-color socks up high often looks kinda dorky. Ah, but wearing striped socks up high, or at least at shin level, looks totally cool. Plus it's another way to show your team colors. And it opens up all sorts of design possibilities: You can vary the stripe widths, position the stripes a bit lower, add extra stripes, even try vertical stripes!
OK, maybe that's a bit extreme -- Uni Watch got a bit carried away there. But look, who would you rather be in this photo? It's no contest. Need more proof? Check out this caricature of Keith Van Horn. See how the illustrator instinctively put stripes on the high socks, even though Van Horn has played exclusively in the plain socks era? Big improvement. Hell, stripes are so cool, they even make low socks look good.
Unfortunately, the only time we see stripes on NBA legwear nowadays is during the occasional throwback game. And sure enough, they still look great. They need to be brought back on a full-time basis -- now.
4. Reestablish sock supremacy. You want to wear tights or a calf sleeve? No problem -- be Uni Watch's guest. But wear the socks over these accessories -- nothing else should supersede the sock. Antonio Daniels and Jason Terry have done this recently, and it looks surprisingly good (although it would've looked even better if their socks had been striped, natch).
Getting all of the planks of this manifesto enacted might seem like a long shot, but take heart -- there's a Great Striped Hope lurking in the college ranks: Adam Morrison of Gonzaga, who always wears stripes, even though his teammates don't. Unfortunately, he won't get away with that in the NBA -- unless, that is, the team that drafts him is smart enough to change to striped hose when Morrison joins the team.
And let's face it, that would be a genius marketing move: You draft the kid with the signature style, remodel the team's look in his image, and then sit back and watch as one team after another follows your lead. Sharon Rivenbark and Kelly Baugh of For Bare Feet -- the Indiana company that manufactures all the NBA socks -- confirmed to Uni Watch that they are fully equipped to produce whatever stripe patterns the NBA brain trust can toss at them.
That would be Very, Very Good.
(Special thanks to readers Todd Krevanchi and Adam De Cruz for their contributions to this week's columns.)
NBA teams have unveiled a ton of throwback designs in the past two weeks. This also coincided with the onset of the holiday shopping season, although Uni Watch is sure that's a complete coincidence, right? Right.
Anyway, here's the rundown: On Dec. 5, the Clippers dressed up as their franchise forefathers, the Buffalo Braves (pretty cool, especially with the striped armbands) and the Bulls honored their municipal ancestors, the Chicago Stags. (Fun idea, but those mismatched shorts looked kinda junior high, no?) The night after that, the Knicks and Sonics had a full-scale throwback throwdown, which looked great, although Seattle's horizontally striped shorts created an odd effect when several players were bunched together.
A few nights later, the Suns wore these throwbacks -- not much of a retro trip, since the team wore this design as recently as 1992, although Uni Watch gives them bonus points for getting the rear-name lettering right. That same night, the Grizzlies dressed up as the ABA's Memphis Pros, complete with the team name on the side of the shorts (but not, alas, the belt buckle).
On Dec. 10, the Nets went star-spangled (nice, but we've seen those throwbacks before) and the Magic went pin-striped (ditto), but the big story was in Washington, where the Wizards became the Baltimore Bullets. It's a pretty good look, although maybe it wasn't the best idea to have the Bulls wearing their Stags throwbacks in the same game -- the resulting visual chaos was a bit much.
But that was nothing compared to the following night, when the Wizards wore those same outfits against the Heat, who were dressed up as the ABA's Miami Floridians, creating a neon stripe-o-rama effect that was literally painful to watch. What with all of the vibrating colors, it was easy to overlook a more subtle factoid: This was probably the first NBA game in decades -- or maybe ever -- in which players' names appeared below the uni numbers for both teams.
Lights, Camera, Unis!
Two weeks ago, Uni Watch briefly mentioned that Boobie Miles -- the key figure in the book and film "Friday Night Lights" -- wore a "Terminator X" towel but that photos were proving elusive. Reader Harrison T. Blue not only came up with a picture of the towel, he also had some keen observations about the film:
"There were a few problems with the movie's jerseys. First, in the movie, Mike Winchell wears a captain's patch, though in real life he did not. Also, the face masks in the movie are black, while in actuality they were gray."
Personally, Uni Watch doesn't mind if a movie takes a bit of aesthetic license with a team's uniforms. The bigger question, it seems to Uni Watch, is this: Which movies have had the coolest uniforms? Uni Watch has a few thoughts on this subject, and you probably do too -- send them here.
Uni News Ticker
If you see an NBA player with the laces on his shorts hanging out, it's not necessarily a case of sloppiness or a fashion statement. With more and more players being fined for wearing their shorts too long, it turns out that some players are rolling down their waistbands and then pulling up their shorts a bit as a way to avoid the fines. For more details, scroll down to the "Hem and Haw" section of this page (with thanks to Jeffrey Sak). The Bulls retired Scottie Pippen's number on Dec. 9. Texas wore black uniforms for their Dec. 10 game against Duke. Speaking of UT and black jerseys, according to this article, Vince Young wants the 'Horns to wear black on the gridiron next season. As Uni Watch previewed two weeks ago, the Brewers have unveiled their new Sunday throwback uniform. Unlike the old design on which it's based, the throwback repeats the ball-in-glove cap logo as a sleeve patch -- nice. Speaking of throwbacks, check out the totally cool 1967 design that the Reading Phillies will be wearing on Tuesdays next season. Logo Creep Alert (courtesy of Denis Kirstein): Look what Nike is doing to college hockey socks! Meanwhile, Nike's obsession with asymmetrical football sleeves apparently extends beyond players. Look closely at this photo of Longhorns coach Mack Brown and you'll see white piping down his left sleeve but not on the right (with thanks to eagle-eyed Damian Artho). Auburn has agreed to become the second school to be outfitted by Under Armour (Maryland was the first), which has led one enterprising observer to suggest ad campaigns like this and this. Pedro Naranjo notes that Reggie Bush had unspatted shoes during the first quarter of the USC/UCLA game, but got an in-game spat job -- and turned his socks black in the process -- by the second quarter. Speaking of that game, Richard Craig reminds Uni Watch of a bygone USC/UCLA tradition: "Back in the days when both USC and UCLA played their home games at the L.A. Coliseum, both teams would wear their home uniforms when they played each other. Unfortunately, now that UCLA plays at the Rose Bowl, the visiting team wears white, and to me it makes the game much less distinctive." Nicely put. Anyone know of other instances, in any sport, in which both teams wore home unis? Priceless moment on the Dec. 5 broadcast of "Monday Night Football," as John Madden and Al Michaels couldn't decide whether the Eagles' jerseys were black or very dark green (for the record: It was black, but you can almost understand their confusion). During halftime of that game, the Eagles retired Reggie White's number, and the team honored him with a "92" helmet decal. More sock shenanigans: James Sant reports that Ravens WR Derrick Mason wore solid-white socks during the first half of last Sunday's game against the Broncos, and then switched to solid-black socks for the second half (no photographic proof of that one, though -- anyone?). In that same game, Mark Clayton wore 1980s-style high whites. Following up on our recent examination of MLB press conference photos: When the Dodgers, who don't have player names on their home unis, introduced Grady Little, they had him pose with the jersey facing forward. Interesting catch by Christopher Carroll, who writes: "One of the powerhouse high school football teams here in the Tulsa area is the Union Redskins. Their main helmet logo is an exact replica of the University of Miami's distinctive 'U' [for Union] but their merit decal is a replica of Florida State's tomahawk [because they're the Redskins]. Seeing these two bitter rivals' graphic symbols juxtaposed on the same helmet makes for an odd spectacle." Uni Watch usually doesn't care about basketball warm-up outfits, but attention must be paid to Indiana's pants. As reader Brian Cobb puts it, "It looks like they're getting ready for the circus!" And look, you can get a pair of your very own -- and at such a reasonable price! Late-breaking news from Detroit, where longtime Uni Watch pal Doug Kalemba reports the following: "Ben Wallace wore some fancy eyewear at the start of the Dec. 14 Pistons/Kings game. Whatever mystical powers he claims that the specs have, the results don't lie: 17 rebounds, five blocks and four steals. Personally, I'd like to think his power came from the pineapple 'fro."
College Hoops: Last Call
OK, one last batch of schools with new basketball uniforms (for previous installments, scroll down to the hoops sections here and here): UMass, University of Arkansas-Little Rock (old, new), Creighton (old, new), Louisville (old, new), Harvard (old, new), BYU (old, new), Duke (lots of readers are extremely unhappy with the new black trim), and Hofstra (old, new).
Thanks to all contributors, including Matt Kost, Don Sherman, Karl Anderson, Thomas W. Keith, Anil Adyanthaya, Spencer Larson, Kyle Yetter, Ed Lee and Bryan Mapes.
Some quick follow-ups on other recent topics:
• On the subject of uniform alterations, Mike Sosin reminds Uni Watch that Sammy Sosa has routinely added elastic to his sleeve cuffs, both with the Cubs and with the Orioles. And Michael Korczynski points out that Kimo von Oelhoffen of the Steelers is sewn into his jersey so snugly that you can see the laces running from his sleeves to his collar.
• Regarding the Cleveland Browns' mascot, Brownie, several Browns fans noted that Brownie briefly wore a crown after the Browns won the NFL title in 1964. And among all the other nonfootball things Brownie has been associated with (the St. Louis Browns, Brownie cameras, children's games), Richard Bolster reports that Brownie has also sponsored a brewery.
• Arizona State's Scholar Baller patch isn't the only jersey insignia that commemorates scholastic achievement. Brandon Wyss reports that Purdue players who maintain a cumulative 3.0 GPA or meet their academic goals get to wear little "SA" patches on their collars, which stands for "Success in Academics." (The "SA" insignia debuted in 2004, but that year, it appeared on the chest, not on the collar.) And Anthony E. Johnson and Matt Lear note that Fresno State unveiled a similar program this season: Players who maintain a 3.0 are given an academic achiever patch for their shoulders.
• Another Fresno State follow-up, courtesy of David Teigland: "It was interesting to read about the 'V' on Fresno State's helmets and how it's a salute to the San Joaquin Valley. On a related note, I grew up in Iowa in the '80s and '90s and remember the Hawkeyes wearing an 'ANF' sticker, for 'America Needs Farmers,' for several years." Anyone got a photo of this?
• Two weeks ago, Uni Watch reported that Western Kentucky memorialized their late teammate Danny Rumph by having the entire team wear "Rumph" on their jerseys for their Nov. 26 game. Unfortunately, Uni Watch didn't have a good photo, but reader John Condray came through with this and this.
• We conclude with a truly disturbing dispatch from Ryan Barto, who writes: "After reading your article on hand-warmers, it reminded me of seeing Montreal shortstop Orlando Cabrera wearing an Expos hand-warmer a few years back. Googled it and found this." Zounds! Cabrera's had plenty of aesthetic miscues over the years, from copious pine tar smudging to losing a shoe on the base paths, but this one takes the biscuit. Someone please add a "No hand-warmers" clause to his contract, ex post facto.
Paul Lukas buys his striped socks here, and encourages you to do the same. Archives of his "Uni Watch" columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list? Contact him here.