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THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
BY LIV PHILLIPS
BY LIV PHILLIPS
10. 21. 22
From the courts to the runway, basketball shorts are the essence of swagger. In typical style, the fashion industry has done it again in making unlikely garments into the latest and greatest trends. While it may seem like the long basketball short craze was picked right up off the court, it began as a fashion movement under the Fab Five who shifted the market of apparel and changed the culture of the game forever.
In 1991, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson ventured to The University of Michigan to hopefully carry them into the NBA. Little did they know their goofy personality, unfiltered attitudes, and pure skill would gain them more than just a trip to the big leagues. While prominent players like John Stockton were tearing up arenas in their ultra short shorts, that look was fading as we turned into a new century. Interestingly, the switch to what we know now as the baggy basketball short was not to enhance performance, but strictly for the sake of fashion. Before the 90s, players began pulling their shorts to the base of their hips to achieve that more relaxed fit, but jerseys would untuck, and ultimately the shorts would rise. The Fab Five noticed the change and began ordering their shorts 2 to 4 inches longer. Due to its success, the team fully transitioned into a new era of swag and style. The trend raced down every court in America, and soon the game adapted to its fresh new look. That’s the Michigan Difference.
The Fab Five took the world of basketball apparel by storm, reshaping the market and the money of college athletes. The boys had students barreling straight to the bookstore to get their hands on a Wolverines jersey, and being a Nike endorsed program, the athletic brand issued authentic Chris Webber jerseys for $94.99. With inflation, that price would be a whopping $200 in 2022. Juwan, Jalen, and Jimmy influenced the baggy cut short with the signature embroidered “M” retailing at $84.99. The year before the group stepped on the court, Michigan merchandise sales landed around 1.6 million, but in two years of the boys flaunting their nothing-but-net style, revenue rocketed to 10.5.
But while their faces transformed the name of the game, the players were unable to reap the benefits. Nike developed and marketed a basketball sneaker named “The Fab Five Nike,” simply using the infamous group name as a profit pawn as they made zero in commission. The boys subtly protested by refusing to wear the signature swoosh but were still just seen as money bags. In very recent years, student-athletes have been allowed to make cash from their athletic pursuits. It is only a wonder how the Five would have soared if this had been in place during their peak.
While the longer basketball shorts came on the scene two decades ago, just recently has it started picking up speed in everyday attire. When it comes to making questionable wardrobe pieces somehow glamorous, Bella Hadid takes the cake. She took the oversized shorts and created the perfect big-pant tiny-top outfit paired with a leather bomber and slim sunnies. Unsurprisingly, the garment fits like a ball in the net in the streetwear industry, with brands such as Stüssy and Rhude bringing their own high-end twist: retailing anywhere from 300-1000 USD. To get even more dynamic, the shorts have become a tailgating staple, and countless houses in the Greek System have adapted the look to go with their letters and unique taste.
While we can only reminisce on the iconic boys tearing up the Crisler Center, their legacy lives on with Fab Five fever in all of us. As school rolls back around and students break out their shorts while the weather is still bearable, we see the impact the team will forever have on our school and fashion in its whole. The culture of the game was born from the culture of the players as they launched basketball into a new era of strut and style: remembered by all, duplicated by none.