2018-03-15 08:30:04
Michigan Puts the Short Back in Its Shorts

08:30, March 15 94 0

The Michigan freshman Isaiah Livers can only marvel when he watches highlight clips of the Wolverines’ Fab Five days.

“How do you play that way?” Livers asked.

He wasn’t referring to the style of play. He was talking about the style of attire.

Those extra-baggy shorts that former Michigan stars Chris Webber and Jalen Rose made famous? Almost 30 years later, this year’s Wolverines just aren’t feeling it.

“The long shorts are out of date,” the sophomore Ibi Watson said. “If they can touch your knees, they’re way too long.”

It is said that fashion is cyclical. The irony is that the same program that bucked the trend by concealing its legs in the 1990s is helping bring skin back in now.

In fact, players on Michigan, seeded third in the South region and set to play Montana in the first round of the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament on Thursday night, lamented that they can’t get find shorts that are quite revealing enough.

So they roll their shorts at the waistband. Once. Twice.

“Three rolls is the max,” Watson said. “If you go four, it’s too much.”

He added, “I think they should just start making shorter shorts.”

This is music to the ears of the men’s wear expert Mark-Evan Blackman, an assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. He began noticing shorter shorts becoming popular again among athletes — tennis players included — around 2013. In his opinion, the change to a more tailored fit could not come soon enough.

“That’s the antithesis of fashion,” Blackman said of the baggy shorts. “I’m glad to say goodbye.”

Although Michael Jordan had started wearing oversized shorts in the 1980s — purportedly so he could comfortably fit his University of North Carolina shorts underneath — for many, it was Michigan that was to blame for popularizing the billowy uniforms favored by their highly regarded freshman class of 1991.

That team stretched the mere definition of “shorts.” They said goodbye to knees. They made nuns appear immodest. The attire began to resemble drapery. Streetwear fed into the on-court look, which further influenced the broader culture. Bagginess begot bagginess.

And, now, the current generation of Michigan players kind of feels badly about that.

“That’s not my swag,” the freshman guard Jordan Poole said. “I feel more comfortable with the short-shorts.”

Currently, the smallest size that Michigan offers its players is a medium. That’s the size that the team’s 6-foot point guard, Zavier Simpson, was issued at the beginning of the season.

Then Livers asked to trade with him.

“He said his shorts weren’t short enough,” Simpson said.

He acquiesced. Livers is 6-foot-7.

“I like mine a little wide,” Simpson said. “I still roll mine up, but not too far like them.”

By “them”, he means Livers, Watson, Poole and Jaaron Simmons, who have seemed to make it a contest who can show off the most thigh on a nightly basis. Their motivation is not purely aesthetic.

“It’s a little bit of look and a little bit of comfort,” Poole said. “I feel more free. You don’t want the ball to hit the shorts. When you’ve got shorts that are not blocking your knees, you feel like you can jump higher, run faster.”

Apparently, it’s working. The Wolverines (28-7) had won nine in a row, including the Big Ten tournament championship, entering the N.C.A.A. tournament, and they have a reputation as one of the nation’s most energetic defensive teams.

Michigan’s players are hardly alone, though, in their affinity for a retro look. Several college players, including the former Kansas big man Carlton Bragg and Florida forward Devin Robinson, kept their apparel as brief as possible in recent years. The former St. John’s center Chris Obekpa would draw double-takes for his resemblance to his Nigerian countryman Hakeem Olajuwon — in looks and attire, though not necessarily in play.

And in the N.B.A., the days of Allen Iverson’s driving the lane as a whir of churning feet and swirling polyester seem to have past. Even LeBron James trimmed several inches off his shorts a few years ago, in an effort, he said, to make his on-court appearance “more professional.”

Shorter shorts do tend to convey a more thoughtful attitude, according to Blackman.

“They’re a backlash to the oversized and baggy,” he said. “They’re neater, there’s more thought put into them. They’re stepping against the tide. They’re perceived as more finished, more professional.”

Poole, who said he started rolling up his shorts as a sophomore in high school, seemed to be under the impression that he introduced the trend to the Wolverines. Watson disagreed, taking credit for wearing short-shorts last year.

Neither player mentioned the former Michigan star D.J. Wilson, whose style last year of wearing mid-thigh trunks and bushy hair — almost, but not quite, an Afro — looked right out of the 1970s.

But these Wolverines believe they’re resetting the fad. Again.

“We took it to a whole new level,” Poole said. “Everybody started feeling comfortable. It just became a regular trend.”