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Courting Fashion

Do basketball players set the trends, or do the styles follow them into the game?

April 01, 2001|LYNELL GEORGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Back in the day, when it seemed that it was--and would ever-always be Converse Chuck Taylor high-tops--it was suddenly shell-toe Adidas.

So you scrambled.

Change was rapid. Often unpredictable. And just what would cause a particular style or statement to so quickly (and unceremoniously) tumble from grace was often difficult to discern. But it could. Sometimes before a season's end.

Basketball season that is.

Nothing seemed to embody a campus' sense of style, of who they were--or better, where they were comin' from--as much as the tough grace of basketball.

It was true from junior high to college. Some years it might have been something as simple as the hem or contrasting trim of the shorts or the cut of the jersey. There were years when black ball players on many a JV squad tried to pull off a scrubby homage to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar--to little success (since the hormones hadn't quite kicked in yet). Not to be left out were the white guys--who were trying to find someone to emulate in intent as well as in style. They chose the edgy Bill Walton, even as late as the late '70s because his shaggy look was so "party guy, out there"--cool.

From sweatband sets (wrists and head) and color-coordinated tube socks to the old-school game silks and now gravity-defying baggies, basketball in particular still shapes street culture like nothing else--or is it the other way around?

It's the textbook "What influences whom?" Is it the kids who come off the asphalt for their first game on high-gloss bringing their neighborhood good-luck charms? Or does the game itself--and those who raise the bar and are celebrated for it--reflect the way we celebrate them?

As with any "Does fill-in-the-blank imitate life?" scenario, obviously it's a little bit of both.

When baggy clothes that were the mainstay of gang and then gangsta rap affiliation made their debut on the court, their arrival changed basketball from top down. However, the afros that Kobe Bryant, at the pro level, or, say, Arizona's Eugene Edgerson are featuring, have yet to really make a significant dent on the court--or in the day-to-day.

In this era of post-Michael Jordan stoic elegance, is there a preeminent figure whose sense of style sums up the drift of the game, the spirit of the moment? Or more bluntly put: Who's at the top of his or her game, and got the style pull to prove it? There are those making bids at the pro level. Sure, Kobe's got his shoe; Philadelphia 76ers Allen Iverson's got a shoe, the tattoos and a 'do (that mad maze of cornrows); and Trouble Man Latrell Sprewell's cornrows became a popular motif in a series of absurdist ads in hip culture mags like Vibe and the Source.

Nowadays, the trickle-down at the college level is an amalgamation of all of it--forward and retro--finding itself.

Joining Edgerson's 'fro, is a crop of cornrows on players from Stanford's Katie Denny to Purdue's Camille Cooper and Katie Douglass, reinterpretations in black and white. But truth be told, Jordon's clean pate's influence still looms large. Every other male player still seems to prefer the hassle-free simplicity, whether or not it's becoming: It's Mike.

In the day-to-day, it shakes down this way: You see space-age Kobes in homeroom. Afros in music videos. Cornrows on the Britney clones in the Glendale Galleria. All of which reflect the fact that basketball doesn't have simply one face.

But that could change in the moment. Just like you wouldn't have thought shell tops would be for "old schoolers" and Chuck Taylors would be for . . . God forbid . . . neo-new wavers.

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