Despite a recent attempt by Chris Douglas-Roberts to reintroduce “short shorts” to the NBA, the notion of the micro bottoms coming back despite fashion’s reciprocal nature seems far fetched. For our latest #TBT, we explore the pioneer of the longer look in the NBA, Michael Jordan, and the real reason he opted for them.
The attempt at “Being Like Mike” is a multi-billion dollar a year venture thanks to the continued success of apparel and shoes with Michael Jordan”s instantly recognizable Jumpman emblazoned on them. Transcendent on and off the court, perhaps his greatest sartorial contribution to the world exists outside of the realm of the Swoosh by bucking the preconceived notion that the NBA uniform – and specifically the shorts – should cut across a players upper thigh. While earlier in his career he’d wear shorts like the rest of the league, a certain superstition caused His Airness to rethink his appearance on court.
Jordan famously starred at The University of North Carolina – notably hitting the game-winning jump shot in front of 61,612 fans with only 15 seconds left in the 1982 NCAA Championship game against Georgetown. By 1984, Jordan was starring for the Bulls in the NBA. Not wanting to leave Chapel Hill behind, Jordan began a tradition that we could carry out every single game of his pro career: wearing his Carolina Tar Heels practice shorts underneath his Bulls uniform.
The mid-thigh shorts trend in the NBA benefited from the fact that no one had attempted to challenge the status quo. In fact, styles of shorts in the league were once so antiquated that in the 1950s, teams like the Syracuse Nats had belts attached to their satin construction.
When Jordan decided he wanted a way to stay connected to his Carolina roots, he found that the snug-fitting shorts didn’t allow for ample room to do so. He decided to approach Champion – then the official outfitter for the league – about shorts that were both wider and longer than what player’s at the time wore. While a stylistic choice on the surface level, Jordan was also prone to tug on his shorts when he was tired and hunched over – thus the extra material could actually benefit his game from a physical standpoint as well. “It’s just something that seemed more natural, more comfortable to me,” Jordan said many years ago. “They felt great.”
For the 1989 season, Jordan was the only player with the specific-tailored shorts. Then Scottie Pippen soon requested a pair. By the off season, Champion was inundated with requests. “It was a league-requested change, based on feedback from the players,” said Cathy Marchant, the senior marketing manager for Champion. “The equipment managers of each team requested new shorts.”
In subsequent years, not only did the longer shorts trend catch on, but so to did Jordan’s “secret weapon.” After making a donation that resulted in a new gym being built for his high school alma mater, Kobe Bryant let it be known that he wore his Lower Merion shorts underneath his Lakers uniform.
When it came time for researchers to truly figure out the power of the “placebo effect” as it related to lucky garments, their findings supported the belief in superstition. A study in the journal Psychological Science found that “activating a good-luck superstition,” the authors wrote, “leads to improved performance by boosting people’s belief in their ability to master a task.” More precisely, they added, “the present findings suggest that it may have been the well-balanced combination of existing talent, hard training and good luck-underwear that made Michael Jordan perform as well as he did.”