Walton Joins Bazemore, Trent Jr. And Others To Celebrate The Trend Toward Shorter Shorts
A few weeks ago, the Portland Trail Blazers released the 2019-20 edition of their "City" uniforms to nearly unanimous praise. A nod to the Trail Blazers' 50th anniversary season, the newest iteration of their "City" uniforms are a mashup of the team's first two uniforms along with accents and coloring that gives the uniform a vintage look. Adorned with the "Rip City" word mark across the chest, old school fonts for name and number and red and black accents that pop against an off-white field, Portland's "City" uniforms have been a hit with the young and old alike.
But there's also growing a growing consensus between the standard bearers and the new guard in another area pertinent to NBA uniforms: shorts length. Fashion off the court has always bled over in terms of what teams end up wearing on the court, so as clothing designers have trended toward snugger fitting creations, new uniforms designs have gone the same direction.
"I actually have noticed shorter shorts," said Trail Blazers forward Rodney Hood. "When I was coming in, it was kind of bigger jerseys, bigger shorts. When we switched to Nike, it's tighter fit jerseys, but even some guys roll up their shorts. Especially with the evolution of tights -- more guys wear tights, longer tights -- they wear them even shorter. I've noticed it, it's kind of a thing."
In yet another example that all fashion is cyclical -- shoutout to everyone wearing fanny packs in 2019 -- the trend toward shorter shorts is a throwback to the early days of the NBA, where players wore shorts that would be considered more akin to underwear by contemporary observers.
"They were fantastic," said Bill Walton of Portland's uniforms during his playing days with the Trail Blazers. "I wore the uniforms with great pride. When we were first getting started, when we were just little children, we wore cutoff jeans and a t-shirt. And then somebody would hand you a tank top and that's what you played in. But then we got going at Helix, at UCLA and with the Blazers, just fabulous uniforms. The quality was expert in design and manufacture, and they fit."
That concept of "fit" is why Walton is adamantly in favor of players wearing short shorts, just as he did during his 10-year career in the NBA.
"The concept of athletic competition is to get there first, and that's quickness, so you do everything you can to improve your quickness," said Walton. "And so that was the design. The same way that the bicycle racers, the swimmers, track and field athletes, where success is measured by who gets there first, people wear uniforms that fit. I am not of the baggy clothes generation. They were extremely comfortable, we never thought of them being any different than what they were. I love them."
Which is something Walton's generation and those making their way through the prep and collegiate ranks have in common. While the ubiquity of the insult turned catchphrase "OK Boomer" might give one the impression that the first generation born post-WWII and Generation Z, also known as "Zoomers," have little in common, there does seem to be a detente when it comes to short length.
"Throughout the AAU circuit you're seeing more and more people wear (shorter shorts), me being one of them," said 20-year old guard Gary Trent Jr, one of Portland's primary short short devotees. "The shorter the better, in my opinion. Don't feel so baggy, able to go between the legs and do moves better. And it just looks better, cleaner."
While younger players on the team such as Trent Jr., Nassir Little and Moses Brown have trended toward wearing shorter short, the middle-aged players like Hood and Damian Lillard are still more reserved when it comes to short length. Though that's not a hard and fast delineation, as Kent Bazemore, an eight-year NBA vet, wears the shortest shorts on the team, and by a considerable margin.
"Trying to set an example for the younger people," said Bazemore. "That's what I've always done, always worn high shorts. Even back when I was a young guy I wore high shorts. I like my knees to be free, kinda sit down in a stance, show those quads."
The fashion choices made by Bazemore and the AAU set are not yet standard in the NBA, and some would prefer to keep it that way. Lillard might have rapped in his debut album that he wants to win a championship in Portland "just like Walton did," but evidently that desire to emulate "Big Red" doesn't apply to shorts length.
"I've seen high school kids doing it, college and stuff like that, but in the league, our shorts are all made the same so nobody can just say 'I want 'em shorter,'" said Lillard. "They can roll 'em up maybe. Not supposed to, but I know they do though... It just ain't my style. In the game I like my shorts to be above my knee, but I don't know about the whole short shorts, all that stuff."
Despite his size, Walton said Portland's uniforms, which featured shorts with inseams that could be measured in centimeters, were never too snug. There's a tendency to assume that closer fitting is generally synonymous with constricting, but Walton, who covered ground on the hardwood like a gazelle before being slowed by foot injuries, never felt that shorter shorts were a hinderance.
"If anything, they were too much!" said Walton of short length during his time in Portland, which saw the center lead the Blazers to their only NBA Championship in 1977. "I'm a beach boy from San Diego, we get dressed in the parking lot. The less we had, the better.
"Imagine if Peter Sagen or Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky, imagine if they were wearing clothes that slowed them down or got in the way and were bulky, not capable of enhancing human performance, which is what I'm about. I like clothes that fit."
Which is why Walton is supportive of not only the more throwback designs that many teams are turning to for their yearly "City" editions, but of shorter, tighter fitting shorts. The way he sees it, if you can't play naked, wearing as little as possible is the next best thing.
"Michelangelo drew the sketch of the human body, arms stretched out, the angles, perfection," said Walton. "You look at the perfection of everything. You have to wear clothes, so get clothes that fit and allow you to be at your best at all times and not get in the way, not slow you down."