Retro jerseys all the ragePosted: Friday February 07, 2003 9:30 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Michael Martin wanted to do some "representin"' while looking for All-Star game tickets Friday, so he slipped into a San Antonio Spurs jersey from the 1970s.
"We need to bring back the tradition," said Martin, wearing a replica of James Silas' No. 13 shirt on a frigid day outside Philips Arena. "These are the people who started it. We need to show them respect."
Never mind that Martin is only 21, which means he was born about the same time Silas' career was ending.
Whether it's respect or just a love of garish colors, fans nationwide are gobbling up the old-style jerseys, a fashion trend that gained even more attention when high school star LeBron James was briefly suspended for accepting two free shirts from that genre.
Last year, baseball teams went retro for a week. That sparked interest in such uniforms as the Houston Astros' get-up from the 1970s and '80s, the ugly ones with the orange-tinted color bar.
But no sport has taken to the good ol' days like basketball. The hip-hop generation has fallen in love with such jerseys as "Pistol Pete" Maravich's No. 44 shirt when he played for the Atlanta Hawks in the 1970s.
"I love it," said 26-year-old Roy Frazier of Chicago, who already was wearing a New York Knicks jersey (Walt Frazier, No. 10) when he bought a Maravich shirt (cost: $250) at the NBA's interactive fan exhibit. "Everybody's wearing 'em. They're what's happening."
Some of the retro buffs couldn't care less about the history on their shoulders: They just want to look old school -- or keep up with their friend down the block.
"I had a kid looking at a Boston Celtics jersey and he asked me, 'Who's this guy?' It was Larry Bird's jersey. I kind of felt old," said 31-year-old Art Bowser, assistant manager of the Mitchell & Ness store in Philadelphia, which has been at the forefront of the retro movement.
So, why does old suddenly feel so new? What's the appeal of Alex English's Nuggets jersey, with its quiltlike pattern depicting the Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains?
Isiah Thomas, coach of the Eastern Conference All-Stars for Sunday's game, has a simple explanation.
"It goes back to the first principle of fashion," he said. "What's old is new. That's just how it is."
Dominique Wilkins, whose No. 21 Hawks jersey is one of the more popular retro shirts, believes the popularity runs deeper. He wonders if all these whippersnappers are longing for a different era, when names like Bird, Magic, Dr. J and Kareem dominated the sport.
"The young kids know we used to get it done," Wilkins said. "And I think it's a great thing to keep the older guys in the public eye and show their appreciation."
Companies that make the retro attire quickly realized they had a slam dunk -- even though the high-end basketball jerseys from Mitchell & Ness (with authentic stitching and fabrics) are accompanied by hefty price tags, ranging from $200-$400.
Even in a sour economy, the Philadelphia company's revenues skyrocketed from $2.8 million in 2000 to $23 million a year ago, Bowser said.
Matt Bourne of the NBA Store in New York said sales of the Hardwood Classics Collection have increased by 300 percent in the past year, making it one of the fastest-growing revenue streams in the business.
As with many fashion trends, this one began when entertainers and athletes started wearing the clothing at high-profile events. Within two years, young people were clamoring to look as out-of-style as possible -- which meant, of course, they were in.
"It's mainly in the hip-hop community," said former NBA player-turned-broadcaster John Salley, who donned a retro Detroit Pistons warmup jacket as he worked the All-Star interview room. "They don't necessarily know the names, but they like the colors. They go with their hats, they go with their shirts, they go with their sneakers."
Not everyone is eager to drop a few Benjamins to get a Wes Unseld jersey from his days with the Washington Bullets, a shirt that could double as the Stars and Stripes.
Shawn Cooper let out a gasp when he saw Bob McAdoo's powder-blue Buffalo Braves jersey from the 1970s hanging on a rack at the NBA's Jam Session.
"This is sick, man," Cooper said with admiration, holding it up for a friend.
It wasn't sick enough to make the 32-year-old Buffalo man dig into his wallet for $260.
"These throwbacks are priced for people who don't have any value of the money system," Cooper said. "They don't know anything about investing or T-bills. It's just a status symbol to them. They need to read their history first before they throw on the jersey."