There are a pair of cargo pants I own that sit, friendless, in my dresser wondering why I’ve forsaken them. They were really great, too. Lots of pockets, especially those really large ones halfway down the pant leg where you could jam an entire Saturday edition of the Times if you were headed out to brunch. Thankfully, I live with a lady who tries to protect me from the villainy of the streets (i.e. those people who used to wince at me when I wore flannel back in the aughts). She instructed me to toss them. I don’t like throwing out perfectly good clothing, so I still have them, but they haven’t been worn since Mark Jackson was coaching the Warriors. That’s because cargo pants are passé these days. I have a few pairs of tapered trousers instead, and while they aren’t as easy to slide into in the morning, I can inconspicuously shuffle along St. Marks street without the NYU kids pointing and laughing. And that’s all I really ask for: to be able to move stealthily through the streets of the city I live in without feeling like a freak show of anachronistic sartorial choices.
I bring up this little anecdote as an analogy for the hot, then not, then sorta tepid career of short shorts on a basketball court. When I was growing up, Chris Webber was still buddies with Jalen Rose, and the Michigan pair teamed with Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson to revolutionize basketball fashion. Since then, short shorts were how you identified the chump on the court. Except, it didn’t seem very logical when you really looked at baggy shorts.
Sure, any pair of mesh shorts that fall more than two inches above your knee is coming too close to an exposed testicle, but the super baggy shorts that gained traction in the early ’90s with the Fab Five, and continued to be the predominant style well into the millennium, always annoyed me. If the shorts were too baggy — like I wore on my modified basketball team in the seventh grade — you couldn’t dribble between your legs as easily. They were impractical, but cool. Which do you think won out in the seventh grade?
So I labored in my attempts to perfect the Tim Hardaway crossover because of the exigencies of fitting in. Deep down, though, I always knew I was a shorts-at-knee-level-or-an-inch-above sorta guy. Then I started to see old basketball clips (my Old Man is old and loves basketball, and I had seemingly every basketball VHS available as a kid), and I noticed that the baggy short phase was just that: a phase. In the 1980s, they wore shorts that were so snug, I’m shocked there was never a Lenny Kravitz moment.
But while they looked odd, they also looked rather comfortable and people moved with the ball more easily. John Stockton could cross up an opponent (this is a bad example because John always played by-the-book basketball and almost never went between his legs unless he absolutely had to, and yet he’s somehow become the standard-bearer for short shorts — I blame the coastal bias against Utah) and it wouldn’t get lost in the balloon-like mesh material. Just look at Steph Curry’s Old Man and Magic below: