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Drawstring Drama Nearly a Bum-Out

Lakers rise to the challenge in crucial game Sunday, but 2 players' shorts don't, necessitating a quick change


As the old sports saying goes: It's not whether you win or lose, but whether your drawers stay put. Just ask the Lakers. In Sunday's climactic Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, the defending NBA champs were forced to battle not only the Sacramento Kings and the howling mob at Arco Arena, but some busted drawstrings on their Nike shorts.

Kobe Bryant's britches snapped in the second quarter, forcing the star guard to leave the game for nearly a minute. While teammate Lindsey Hunter held up a white towel for cover, Bryant was obliged to pull on a new pair in front of God, several thousand fans and a national televisionaudience.

Then, in the third quarter, Robert Horry suffered a similar fate and had to perform the ol' switcheroo while Bryant was shooting free throws. The same thing had happened to Horry in Game 5 of the series, when he had to use tape to keep his shorts on.

Fortunately, both players returned Sunday to help the Lakers snatch a 112-106 overtime victory that put them in the NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets. Is Coach Phil Jackson considering suspenders?

Nike spokesman Scott Reames said the company has requested that the pairs of shorts be sent back for inspection. Among the questions Nike has is whether the shorts were new or had been worn by the players for some time. "We're really scratching our heads as to why this happened now," Reames said. "This could be a new batch where there is a defective string."

One sports marketing expert speculated about the drawstring development.

"If I'm a weekend warrior or I'm in one of those lawyers' basketball leagues and I've spent a little too much time behind my desk over the years, and the elastic doesn't work for those [Lakers] guys, what does that say about the reliability of a product?" said David Carter, a principal at the Sports Business Group, which does strategic marketing for the sports industry.

According to a Monday sports story in The Times, the shorts in question have two drawstrings, not one, each of which is sewn into the back of the waist. "One tug and one or both sides can break free, and the waist is not sufficiently elastic to keep them up," The Times reported.

Bob Carr, editor of a weekly sports goods newsletter, expressed surprise at the shorts' design. "I didn't even know they had drawstrings," he said. "With good elastic, why would you even need drawstrings?"

An equipment miscue is no laughing matter in the high-stakes world of sports brand-name marketing. Big companies pay millions of dollars to get Michael Jordan to wear their sneakers or Tiger Woods to whack their golf balls. Overall, Carter said, Nike has a strong reputation as a leading sportswear manufacturer. But incidents like Sunday's are embarrassing for more than just the players.

"Athletes used to take the money and run," Carter said, "and now in this case they take the risk of taking the money and stumbling when their pants fall down."

Carter then posed a hypothetical, if unlikely, scenario: Suppose another busted drawstring caused a player to leave an NBA Finals game at a critical moment. If his team went on to lose the game and the series, Carter said, it could cost the losing team "potentially tens of millions of dollars" in diminished merchandise sales and ticket sales and concessions the following season, "if for some reason the team were in less demand."

That script may strike some as a bit too Heisenbergian. But Nike stumbled several years ago when Olympics sprinter Quincy Watts had shoe problems during a race--the sole of one of his Nike track shoes came unglued and he finished in fourth place.

So Just Do It. But remember to bring a safety pin.

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