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When did Basketball Shorts get Longer?

I was a child of the ’90s and when basketball came to my attention late in the decade the look to copy was to get long or baggy shorts. I regularly wore shorts three times too big for me as I felt like I was imitating my favourite NBA star’s. However, it was only really in the early ’90s that long basketball shorts had become a thing. Check out the video below on players views of the 1980s basketball shorts.

When did Basketball Shorts get Longer? There are two main reasons that basketball shorts became longer and baggy. Firstly Michael Jordan wore extra big shorts so he could wear his UNC shorts underneath as he felt they gave him luck. The second and probably more important reason is the Fab Five from the University of Michigan.

You’re probably wondering how just a handful of players, 1 pro and 5 college kids, change the whole culture of the NBA. It’s safe to say that the NBA has long been a counter culture in sports. Where other sports fail to be inclusive the NBA does not, it’s unlike the Basketball to follow the norms, many see the game as much as a phyiscal art than a regular invasion game. Many elite level sports demand tight fitting clothes to ensure the best athletic performance, not however in the NBA. In this article we look at how Michael Jordan and the Fab Five changed the look of Basketball forever.

Why did Michael Jordan wear baggy shorts?

In 1983, Michael Jordan won the NCAA national championship with the university of North Carolina, his home State. Jordan hit the game winning shot in the last few seconds to win the title. Jordan believed his shorts in that game were lucky. Going forward Jordan wore the shorts out of superstition. When Jordan was drafted to the NBA he realised that he would be unable to wear the regulation tight fitted basketball shorts without showing his UNC basketball shorts underneath. Therefore, Jordan asked the kit man for a larger pair of shorts which meant he could cover his UNC shorts.

Jordan was a breakout success and every aspect of his game was soon copied by kids all over the world. Including his baggy shorts and wagging tongue. Although Jordan was the first to introduce longer shorts it was the Fab Five out of the University of Michigan that solidified the iconic look and took long shorts mainstream.

Advert for the brilliant 30 for 30 Documentary on the Michigan Wolverines Fab 5

Why did the fab five wear baggy shorts?

In 1991, the Summer after Jordan ascended the mountain top and won his first NBA title, there were five college freshmen recruited by the University of Michigan about to make waves in Basketball. This was before the one and done era and before the NCAA lost it’s status as the most watched Basketball competition in the world. The Fab Five, as they were to become known, was made up of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. The Fab Five were the talk of NCAA basketball as it became clear once they started playing, that these 5 freshmen had a real chance to win it all and with some style. They wore baggy shorts and black Nike socks, with black Nike high tops, which was the complete opposite to what everyone else was wearing in basketball at that time. Some wore the long shorts as Jordan had been carving up the NBA for years now, but no one wore the black socks with the black kicks. It was beyond iconic. With their talent and joy for the game they made playing basketball look effortlessly cool. They also made brands such as Nike effortlessly rich, just look at the revenues made below.

People copied the Fab Fives style so much that as a protest the Fab Five only wore plain blue t shirts in warm ups. It wasn’t that they weren’t pleased the fans and basketball culture as a whole was vibing their style, this was to highlight the struggles of college athletes. Despite their value to the University and the NCAA they were not allowed to profit from any involvement they had in basketball. All that money they generated flowed rapidly over their heads. Their stand would become a beacon that would eventually lead to change.

Do NBA Players still wear baggy shorts?

NBA players adopted baggy shorts through the 1990’s, with the exception of John Stockton, who kept with the tight shorts. Usually sports people wear tight fitting uniforms to ensure the best physical performance. An example of this is Rugby players switching from baggy shirts to tight fitting shirts in the 1990s to prevent oppononents grabbing onto them. Whereas in the NBA players were able to achieve supreme athletic performance whilst wearing long shorts and oversized jersyes. Allen Iverson was a player who wore baggy shorts in particular and was also a great player in the NBA. He has been credited/derided for being the catalyst that fused Basketball and Hip-Hop culture together. So much so that the NBA would bring in and enforce mandatory dress codes for NBA players at games, when not in uniform. They couldn’t legislate the shorts shorter again though.

However, times have changed and baggy shorts are not seen as much in today’s league. Lebron James went from the baggy look to a professional look in 2015, CBS reports that:

This season he trimmed his uniform shorts by a couple inches, and had his jersey made snugger than in years past. He had expressed to those close to him he wants to leave the baggy look behind and place a renewed emphasis on professional appearance when it comes to the size of his uniform as well as his pregame and postgame attire.

CBS Sports

A professional look is adopted by all teams today to make it easier for players to reach the athletic ability that they need to hit in games. If not having baggy shorts gives a player an advantage then a player will take this advantage. Therefore, in today’s game baggy shorts have become obsolete.