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Grinding Gear
Steve Rushin
February 04, 2002
Laker Girls and famous jocks joined the legions of shills at the sporting-goods Super Show
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February 04, 2002

Grinding Gear

Laker Girls and famous jocks joined the legions of shills at the sporting-goods Super Show

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Last Week, though you'd little know it, the sports capital of the world was Las Vegas, where some 2,000 sporting-goods professionals from more than 100 nations and representing 1,300 companies gathered at the Sands Expo Center for the annual Super Show, in which (among others) American, Pakistani and Taiwanese merchants pitched products, ogled athletes and endeavored—above all else—to get the Laker Girls' autographs. "A lot of people want us to write comments that are too...sexual" said Laker Girl Gigi, a championship ring on her right index finger, while signing glossies in the Capezio ballet-slipper booth. "Things like 'Thanks, you were great last night.' But we're not allowed to do that."

Otherwise, access to athletes and sports celebrities is all but unfettered during Super Show week. A blue-haired slot jockey—her right biceps bulging like the Arm & Hammer baking-soda logo—can look up from a one-armed bandit to see, striding through a Strip casino, Herschel Walker or Sugar Ray Leonard or the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, onlookers' tongues rolling out before them like red carpets. "Everyone tells us the Cowboys are their favorite team," said Brandy and Ashley, Cowboys cheerleaders who finished each other's sentences at the Super Show. "Even when they're wearing Raiders hats."

From the Cowboys cheerleaders to the casino cocktail waitresses to the spandexed women on the Super Show floor sentenced to giving daylong demonstrations of the Thighmaster, Las Vegas last week retained its title as the most overcleavaged city on earth. Perhaps that's why rapper Tone Loc, in a St. Louis Rams shirt, was sweating profusely while he handicapped Vegas's next very tentatively scheduled sports extravaganza, the Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight. "Haven't been seeing Mike in the clubs, which is a good sign," said Loc. "So I'm taking Tyson."

When Loc wasn't living last week at the Mandalay Bay's $10 craps table, he was promoting a product called Tireflys, lights that affix to the valve stems of your lowrider, illuminating your mag wheels like a neon sign. The Super Show is where the next indispensable recreational product—and many more dispensable ones—will likely be discovered. So Mojde Esfandiari, president of the wonderful Wham-O, said, "We've taken the hula hoop to the next level." With that, she showed off the E-Shoop, which electronically counts the number of times a hula hoop circumnavigates your torso. (Mercifully, Wham-O still makes many of the garden-hose-driven products you coveted as a child, like the timeless Splatter Up, a device that shoots a Whiffle ball aloft on a stream of water, thus combining T-ball and a fire hosing by Bull Connor.)

The Super Show is filled with inventors like John Girton, a rabid Raiders fan who sought to build a better face paint, troubled as he was by the legion of football fanatics who wore latex house paints or oil-based paints that put the wearer in an ER "Ours is nontoxic, very safe," said John's son, Bill, whose face, hair and beard were painted in the black, red and white of the Buffalo Sabres. Alas, the spray-on product is flammable, and one hopes that Bill's beard, should he ever smoke at a hockey game, is not set alight like the Hindenburg.

Not far from the Girtons' booth stood Brad Templeton, a boxer-shorts salesman from Hartland, Wis. "Yankees fans are head and shoulders above others," he said, choosing an odd phrase to describe the most prolific buyers of licensed underwear in sports. Notre Dame, said Templeton, moves the next most boxers, a fact that should surely be factored into the BCS rankings. (Cubs fans are third, and Raiders fans—well, they're believed to go commando.)

The Super Show is a fascinating fetishizing of sports, with catcher's mitts rotating on motorized platforms, as if they're cars of the future at an auto expo. Footballs soak in pickle brine, demonstrating the toughness of their hides (should an NFL game ever be played in a Vlasic jar). Everywhere, half-dressed babes run the backs of their hands over volleyballs and Hacky Sacks, as Vanna White does to a letter after turning it.

Everyone—from the inventor of the shvitz-in-a-box, a personal steam bath, to the sellers of officially licensed sports coffins—thinks his or her business is the next Nike, a prospect that grows wearying after a week. "Pssst! You with the press?" a man asked after popping from behind a pillar, mugger-style, on the floor of the Super Show. "This is my invention, the Autograph Cap." He bowed his head to reveal a baseball hat with an easily signed, slick-fabric bill bearing the still-wet signature of Fred Lynn. The journalist ambushed by this inventor simply nodded, backed away slowly from the apparel row and then fled the Sands Expo Center, thus concluding his surreal week among the sporting-goods set: Fear and Clothing in Las Vegas.