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Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
2/27/2007 12:16:00 PM

Hoops' Fashion Dynasty

Larry Johnson
Undrcrwn brought Larry Johnson's Rebels into the 21st-century fashion scene.
Ken Levine/Getty Images
For the unhealthy amount of time I devote to watching, writing and obsessing over basketball, the game is underrepresented in my T-shirt collection. Two tees, out of maybe 100, are hoops-themed. The first is a blue Nike classic with "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" in Western font on the front, and black-and-white images of the Golden State Warriors' Chris Mullin (the archetype for my lefty jump shot), Billy Owens and Tim Hardaway on the back, with the line, "Who are you calling ugly?" That one was introduced into my J.F. Luther Middle School wardrobe in 1992 and made weekend cameos until earlier this month -- when Hardaway's verbal ugliness made it socially stigmatic. Why, oh why, Timmy, did you poke your head out from oblivion and ruin my retro gear?

The second shirt, which I bought in December, ending a 14-year hoops-apparel drought, is the reason for this post. Near the end of a failed sneaker hunt in lower Manhattan, I spotted a tee with no logos or frills -- just six words in silver ink:

The Shark

That was my introduction to the Dynasty Tees, which were the handiwork of the small street-wear outfit Undrcrwn in 2006. The inaugural line included four NBA models and two from the college ranks: 1990 UNLV (sans George Ackles) and 1994 Michigan's Fab Five (Jalen&Chris&Juwan&Jimmy&Ray, sans Ed Martin), an appropriate choice since the inspiration for the shirts was a Danish company's textile tribute to the Fab Four. "John&Paul&Ringo&George" was remixed for the hardcourt, and the resulting products -- which have sold out online -- were an underground sensation among sneakerheads, basketball geeks and even pro athletes. New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush appeared in an AP photo in December wearing the "Sin City" model while signing autographs.

In the interest of taking this blog beyond the standard material -- Florida-LSU and Wisconsin-Ohio State were covered this weekend, if you're wanting in that department -- I put in a call to Undrcrwn's lead designer, Dustin Canalin, who works out of a studio (that also doubles as his apartment) in Tribeca. Undrcrwn's Dynasties as well as its riffs on old Salem caricature tees from the '80s and '90s, resonate in part because, as Canalin said, "When's the last time you've seen a really fun basketball shirt?" And perhaps more because they've taken late-20s and early-30s hoopheads back to an era when Spike Lee played Mars Blackmon, Charles Barkley was not a role model, and the indelible image of the NCAA tournament was Tark dining on his towel. Never mind that UNLV and Michigan weren't actual dynasties; culturally, they had more impact on the street than the Duke team that did win back-to-back titles.

I met up with Canalin, an Alameda, Calif.-born 29-year-old who was formerly a design director at And1 and Ecko Unlimited, earlier this month and talked about Undrcrwn over a few beers in the West Village. The natural reaction to the Dynasty line, he said, was a deluge of suggestions for what should come next. "We get e-mails every day, and the majority of them are like, 'Do my team -- the '76 Knicks!' Or, 'Do the old Milwaukee Bucks!' Or, 'I love Chuck Person -- How can we get the Rifleman on a T-shirt?'" said Canalin. "Those shirts are how we launched ourselves at the basketball consumer."

My reaction was identical to everyone else's. I brought along the NCAA's Final Four Records Book to show him the pimped-out photo of 1977 Marquette (every champion in the book has a standard team picture, except for the Warriors, who are wearing tuxes while posed around a white Rolls Royce) and make my pitch: Bo&Butch&Jerome&Seashells&Balloons.

The Al McGuire model is unlikely to actually happen; the genesis for most of Undrcrwn's ideas is players or teams who mattered in the lives of Canalin and fellow company founders Jeremy Castro and Pete Small. Canalin was born in Las Vegas in '77, and after moving to the Bay Area, was babysat by prep phenom J.R. Rider -- hence the affinity for the Runnin' Rebs. As a student at the California College of Arts and Crafts in the mid-'90s, Canalin estimates that, "literally, 90 percent of my projects had to do with Michael Jordan," and not surprisingly, he made a Bulls Dynasty tee. Canalin's father was such a Dr. J fan that he stipulated his eldest's son's first and middle names be Dustin and Oliver, to make the initials "DOC" -- eventually spawning an '83 Sixers tribute that comes out later this year. "Almost all the products we've done have been a regurgitation of my childhood," said Canalin. "That was pretty much the golden era for everything from hip-hop to Jordan, to sneaker culture."

While Undrcrwn's Spring '07 line is devoid of Dynasties (it's more high-fashion, including a Cosbyesque Bed-Stuy jersey that I could never pull off wearing), college hoopheads should be psyched about what's in the works for later this year: odes to Louisville's Doctors of Dunk, Houston's Phi Slama Jama and, best of all, a blend of '82 and '83 Carolina -- with the shirt done completely in argyle. "That one is hilarious," said Canalin. "This round is going to be a lot more creative than the first."

Canalin, who e-mailed me an exclusive sneak preview of the UNC tee this morning, is already forecasting another Tar Heels title in March. Such an outcome, I presume, could have an effect on the 2023 release of Joakim&Al&Humpty&Corey&Crunk Juice.

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