Hip Hop x Basketball -- 4: Fashion Sensibilities

4: Fashion Sensibilities
     Two things can be guaranteed to be taken into consideration when it comes to regional applications and those are fashion and local team fanship.  When it boils down to it, through the presented history hip hop in popular culture, it was no huge deal – one could argue that it was expected – to see their favorite rappers donning the jersey of their favorite player or hat of their favorite team, or even both!

One of the “standard” hip hop uniforms from the earliest days included the simple jeans and t-shirt with a pair of sneakers.  Sneakers would become one of the EARLIEST connected fashion items tying hip hop and basketball together.  As a child born in the late 70s and raised in the 80s, I distinctly recall seeing and desiring to own the player-specific Converse sneakers worn by Dr. J and Magic Johnson, badgering my parents for a new pair of the Chuck Taylors that seemingly every other player wore and To this day, I still go out of my way to own the shelltoe Adidas Superstars of the time.

The particular company that most individuals reading this may have defaulted to for consideration of this topic, Nike, had been making basketball sneakers from 1972 but were more or less an “also ran” until the early 80s.  1981 saw their release of four models in eight different styles and many various colors, 1983 saw the release of what may go down in history as the second most important line of basketball shoes in hip hop history in the Air Force 1, and then 1984 happened.  Despite having worn Converse to a National Championship in college, Michael Jordan granted Nike Inc. what could be referred in hindsight as a winning lottery ticket when he contracted to endorse their athletic shoes.
Buildup of a bit of and upon a “bad boy” persona as it related to the shoes came from the fact that Tinker Hatfield’s design was OPPOSITE of what was allowed per the NBA’s uniform guidelines at the time, therefore Jordan was fined every time he wore the shoes in a game, which Nike took to the marketing arena touting them as “the banned shoes,” which somehow managed to make them more desirable.  Donning the shoes of the best basketball player, AND the sneakers being “banned” apparently lent some ‘street cred’ to anyone willing to come up with the necessary funds to own a pair.  This, naturally, made the Air Jordan line wildly both famous and infamous in the rap and urban communities.  One could argue that the Air Jordan brand helped to keep the Nike brand alive through the completion of its own full establishment, as not everyone had the wherewithal – monetarily or simply based on principle – to spend the amount of money that Jordan’s sneakers cost and a “lesser” pair of Nike/Nike Airs would do just fine.  A simple perusal of the feet of hip hoppers and those who look and act like them to this day will show this to still be the case to this day.

     Basketball and hip hop’s fashion connection didn’t start or end at Air Jordan sneakers.  Remember, at the beginning of this chapter, I mentioned that the jerseys worn by the players on the courts were a standard from the beginning for urban individuals to draw out their local loyalties, or those to a particular player or team.  With the parallel (time wise) commercialization of both basketball and hip hop, a new market was born of the licensing of replica athletic uniforms.  Athletic shoe stores would grow from selling only running shoes and cleats to also selling basketball sneakers, and eventually would branch to the shilling of basketball (and other sports’ naturally) jerseys, usually right next to or near the cash wrap for a quick piggyback sale.  The thought that hip hop artists – New Yorkers in their Knicks gear, west-coasters in the Lakers garb, southerners (reluctantly until Dominique Wilkins came along) in Atlanta Hawks getup and everyone in between repping their city or region – in similar gear didn’t help sales nearly as much as any 30-point night a player might have had would be totally accurate.  Evidence of this is naturally in the fact that retailers in some cities carried (and still carry) gear for teams not in their area, or even reasonably close and sometimes even without even carrying gear for teams that happen to be close to them.  Catalog companies, such as pioneer-of-the-industry EastBay would lead the charge in closing the physical gap for a North Carolina resident who was a fan of a comparatively-obscure team in the Midwest and would hold their spot until the internet came along and effectively reduced such limitations to practically nothing at all.  So now you not only want to wear the jersey that your favorite player wore, you want to wear that one that your favorite rapper had on in his video or on the awards show on Sunday night.

     The natural next (but, seemingly, last based on the way things went) step in the relationship between the donning of jerseys by rappers and the fans who emulate them would be the early-00s’ trend of “throwback” jerseys, those of retired players and/or retired designs, sometimes even defunct organizations.  Again, owing itself to a certain level of historical knowledge or research (even if only implied) on the part of the wearer themselves – as well as a status symbol due to the increased cost of licensing being passed directly to the end customer – rappers had them in spades and their fans wanted them, or at least a commercially affordable replica of them.

Again, the connection between hip hop and basketball is largely rooted in the influence on usually younger individuals and their natural affinity for something being done by someone who looks like them or who does something they wish they could do.  It all gives itself to the being a hero or role model, never minding what Charles Barkley may have had to say on the subject in his own published statements from the time and Nike commercial in 1993.


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