ONCE, WHILE WATCHING A UNC MEN'S BASKETBALL GAME circa 1996, I wondered if we would ever see basketball "shorts" any larger than those worn by Serge Zwikker who stood 7-foot-3-inches tall. Since his "shorts" were the size of a small planet, I figured about then that they would soon start shrinking.
(By the way, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Serge currently plays in the Apex, N.C. Parks and Recreation Adult Men's Basketball League and participates in triathlons in North Carolina in the "Clydesdale division.")
But I was watching a game the other night and realized, the shorts, well, they haven't receded yet.
I can understand. Not shorts the size of circus tents. Not oversized culottes for men. I still don't understand those. But non-short shorts do seem like a reasonable proposition.
All you have to do is go to ESPN Classic and watch the replay of the 1983 national championship game (which is pretty much on continually -- no doubt to gall NC State fans with glories passed on by) and you will agree. Those shorts were too short. It's embarrassing to look at them much less to wear them. Nothing could be any more frightening. OK, there may be one exception.
A brief history of the unitard
From The Washington Post, January 7th, 1989: "When North Carolina State's Wolfpack steps onto the basketball court today in Raleigh, N.C., in a nationally televised game against Temple, fashion history will be made. Coach Jim Valvano's team will be attired in basketball's first skin-tight, one-piece uniforms. The unitard debut, however, may not be as thrilling as it sounds. Those sexy suits will be covered by little shorts."
"To be frank," Valvano said, "it seemed a bit too revealing." (Google Google Images “unitard” if you don’t believe Coach V.)
From GoPack.com, a listing under "NC State Men's Basketball History of Success" (from which I conclude that GoPack thinks the unitard was a success): January 7, 1989 -- Always looking forward, Wolfpack head coach Jim Valvano unveils the uniform trend of the future, the unitard.
The unitard is a one-piece, skin-tight uniform, but the Wolfpack players opt to wear the new uniform under the traditional basketball shorts.
GoPack says the team dropped “the new look” after just two games. My memory is that they dropped them at halftime of one game.
Anyway, my pet theory is that Woollen Gym, or at least their famous shorts, are to blame for short short lengthening. It is my take that Michael Jordan got this whole shorts growing unshort phenomenon going. But why? Perhaps so he could wear his Woollen Gym gym shorts underneath them. Why he did that, God only knows, so you'll have to ask Michael.
Until you get that opportunity, this exchange, from the critically acclaimed Looney Tunes cartoon Space Jam, however, may help.
[Michael Jordan needs someone to get his basketball gear]
Michael Jordan: Don't forget my North Carolina shorts.
Daffy Duck: Your shorts? From college?
Michael Jordan: I wore them under my Chicago Bulls uniform every game.
Looney Tunes characters in unison: Eeewwww!
Michael Jordan: I washed them after every game!
Looney Tunes characters in unison: Yeah, okay.
Michael Jordan: I did!
And, by all reports, he did. And from there shorts inflation is simple: everyone wanted to "Be like Mike." Although they could not all steal handsome gray gym shorts from Woollen to wear under their regulation shorts, they could wear shorts so large it looked like they had.
Oh-for-Eternity Streak continues
It's my favorite men's basketball game of the year -- in the years in which it is played. (Don’t get me started!) The game is Clemson in Chapel Hill. The Oh-for-Eternity streak. They haven't won here ever. Ever.
Anytime a Tar Heel fan starts to say something derogatory about Matt Dougherty, I tell them two things. He recruited the players that won the 2005 National Championship -- and kept the Oh-for-Eternity streak going.
But on Wednesday night, I thought, briefly, this could be the year. The signs were ominous as number one Wake Forest lost at home to an unranked team, and the worst team in America, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, ended its nation-leading 51-game losing streak.
I'm not liking the night's vibe. I thought, "Eternity could be coming to an end." But not to worry, it didn’t.
In a local newspaper, which shall remain nameless, a sportswriter, who shall remain nameless, speaking of the streak, said it was "31 losses in Carmichael and 23 and counting in the Smith Center." Well, 31 and 23 do add up to 54 but . . . . The first time the two met in Chapel Hill was in the old "Tin Can" in 1926. Carolina played its home games from 1938 until 1965 in Woollen Gymnasium.
Gary D. Gaddy once almost played in a pickup game against Michael Jordan in Woollen Gym, the home court of UNC's 1957 national championship team.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday January 29, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy