Who Wears Short Shorts? Who Cares?

The Celtics beat the Lakers 110-91 last night,  capping a physical 4-0 road-trip for the Green with each game chippier than the last. More importantly, I think I caught a glimpse of Sasha Vujacic’s ballsack.

Last night was thrown further back than any previous promotional night, taking the NBA’s current obsession with dressing players in uniform styles worn by teams with a national fanbase. Not only did the Laker Girls dress in vintage dance team attire. Not only did Phil Jackson regain the ability to walk five steps without crumpling to the floor in excruciating pain. Not only did… The Lakers wore short shorts. That’s where we were going with this.

The game itself was fun to watch. The Celts scored 110 with only 13 coming from the bench. Reserve PG Tony Allen played 42 minutes and scored 16 points before fouling out. Kobe was held to 6-25 from the floor and 0-6 beyond the arc. Andrew Bynum also fouled out with only 8 points and 2 rebounds, forcing L.A. to go to the bench early and often. It wasn’t Magic’s baby hook or Havlicek’s steal but it was worth the time it took to play. Yet every recap I’ve read, the game is glossed over in favor of the shorts. It was like ever article was ghostwritten by Paul Lukas. What a travesty.

But not really. Basketball is a game. In The Breaks of the Game, David Halberstam gives his account of the history of basketball up through the late 70s. In in, he writes:

Television had changed the nature of the audience too, from a tiny handful of passionate fans who went to live games and paid real money, and insisted on real performances, to millions and millions of watchers, loosely connected to the game, who sat in their homes and accepted what a given network offered because it happened at the moment to be somewhat more pleasing (or less displeasing) than what the other networks were showing.

While I can’t account for the passion or even existence of the cro-magnon fan Halberstam describes, it’s clear he saw the evolution, or devolution, of the game in 1981. The obsession with short shorts are an illustration and an aftershock.

We, the writers of Rebuilding Year, care about the game of basketball; we appreciate the precision of a good forward pass.  We’ve also written more about the New York Knicks than any other team this year. They’re a poor collection of players who play an unexciting brand of basketball and often make fundamental mistakes which put them in the hole early only to pout about it during the game. But everything they do off the court- from “You getting in the car or what?” to “Get me out of here. Please get me out of here.” – is fascinating.  And we like to write about what we find fascinating. 

It isn’t fascinating as a basketball fan though; it is fascinating as sniffers of dirty laundry. My interest in international basketball is nil except during international competitions in which NBA players are involved, which foreign players may be drafted and the occasional game of Pin Paul Shirley on the Euroleague Team. Despite the focus on fundamentals and team play, this form of “pure” basketball lacks the style and flash of today’s NBA. I never much cared for George Mikan.

More than any other large domestic sports organization, the NBA sells a product more happening than sport. David Stern, meet Allan Kaprow. The sport itself is the foundation but the dance teams and the t-shirt guns and Derek Fisher wearing hot pants can easily become the focus. For everyone, fans and players alike. The Lakers wore the short shorts, knowing they would make them feel uncomfortable, feeling  “naked” according to Kobe. But they did it because they’re performance artists.

That’s where the conflict comes, the disconnect fans and athletes always seem to have. We’re inclined to complain about players not playing hard or maintaining a commitment to winning (It’s Vin-sanity!) yet our fanhood is just as fickle.In this same game (were the uniform styles reversed and the final scores flipped, it would be known as ShortShortsGate), everyone played physical, Garnett was split open above the eye and Lamar Odom speared Ray Allen to the ground like he was Bill Goldberg.  You only need watch the game to see the majority of players truly invested in the outcome but we’re more interested in short shorts. Right, Chris Broussard?

The worst part of all is how reasonable this all is. Basketball players are business men and be it Damon Jones refusing to come off the bench or Alonzo Mourning throwing in the towel, they’ll always do what they believe is best for them.  As fans, we say we want the best for our team but we really want what’s best for us, the happening with the highest subjective entertainment value. Some of us enjoyed the game while some of us enjoyed the happening and we did so because both were there to enjoy.

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