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Saturday May 16, 2009 3:11 PM

From Shabby to Chic

The legend of the Rockets red blazer

 

Los Angeles - It began as a joke. Nothing more than the regular shenanigans players pull on each other dozens – if not hundreds – of times throughout the course of an NBA season. It breaks the ice, mitigates the monotony and, every once in a blue moon, ends up bringing a team together.

This is one such time.

It’s the tale of a simple sports coat; something so seemingly benign which somehow sprouted wings and eventually grew into a Rockets red symbol of resilience, unity and triumph against all odds.

Of course, that was never the initial intent.

“Originally, I had a Masters green jacket that I wore and I got a lot of grief from my teammates over it,” recalls the man who started it all, Shane Battier. “So I came back after this offseason trying to one-up myself. When I found out about our 'Get Red!' campaign I told the guys, ‘I’m going to get a red jacket and I’m going to put a Rockets logo on there and embarrass all of you.’ No one believed me. Then I got hurt and I was bored so I thought, ‘What the heck? I’ll do it.

“I’ll never forget Tracy said, ‘Don’t ever wear that coat again. You’re embarrassing me. I will take that coat and burn it if you wear it again.’ So what did I do? I wore it to every game that I didn’t play.”

As one might expect, Battier’s resplendent red blazer got plenty of air time during his stint on the bench. The TV cameras just couldn’t get enough of his sartorial splendor. And though teammates cringed and broadcasters derived pleasure from poking fun at Battier’s twisted sense of style, the seeds of a legend had already been sewn.

Fast forward to mid-April and the beginning of the NBA playoffs. The Rockets ordered several red blazers for staff members to mark the occasion. Chuck Hayes noticed. And he wanted in on the action. The red blazer movement was growing roots. Quickly.

“I saw Daryl Morey and Matt Bullard had one and I actually thought it was kind of neat,” said Hayes. “I asked for one as a souvenir to keep around the house and so I could tell my son, ‘Hey, this is something that represents my special fourth year in the league when everybody wore these jackets in Houston.’”

With Hayes on board, the club went ahead and ordered red jackets for everyone on the team. But that wasn’t the Chuckwagon’s only contribution to the movement. His locker room prank prior to Game 4 of the Rockets’ second round series with the Lakers also served as the tipping point which took the fashion accessory from inside joke to national phenomenon.

“Chuck wrote on the board that it was mandatory for everyone to wear their coats,” explained Aaron Brooks. “But turns out it was just a joke and I ended up being the only one to wear it.”

By now everyone knows what happened next. Bolstered by the power of the red blazer, Brooks went on to score a career-high 34 points in the Rockets shocking Game 4 thrashing of LA. And when he went on national TV to discuss his exploits with the press after the game, Brooks not only broke out the coat but also upped the ante by going old school and supplementing the look with a classy red bow tie.

“Some people thought it was hilarious and some people thought I was quite handsome,” deadpanned Brooks. “I liked the idea of just being funny. People called me Andre 3000 or Mr. Bentley and other different names. But I just thought it was kind of cool.

“I had a great game and now people think it has something to do with the coat. I didn’t wear it for Game 5 and we lost by 40, so it might actually have something to do with it. I did wear it Game 6 and we won, so we’re bringing it to LA this time.”

The nation has taken note. Former Rocket and current TNT studio analyst Kenny Smith wanted a red blazer of his own and two days later he proudly rocked his red sports coat on “Inside the NBA.” Now it seems everyone wants in on the movement.

“I’m not surprised of its success because it reeks of class, sophistication and, at the same time, a little bit of Rockets zealotry,” said Battier with a wry grin. “Nothing but a red blazer can really bring that out.

“I think it’s great. I think it sums up our team. We’re a little goofy, we’re not afraid to try out new things whether it’s a funky lineup or funky haircuts or funky blazers. And we would not be here today if we did not have that spirit.”

If you're interested in purchasing a Rockets red blazer of your own, contact the Rockets team Shop at 713-758-7314 or email us at teamshop@rocketball.com. The Team Shop is open for all Rockets home games. Additional hours for the Team Shop are Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 11 am - 5 pm.