Jerry West, the model for the logo of the National Basketball Association, wore basketball shorts the length of loincloths. Michael Jordan inspired a major alteration when he appealed for a longer and baggier cut. Then a group of freshmen at the University of Michigan known as the “Fab Five” became a national sensation in the early 1990s in part because of their sartorial swagger, with shorts that dropped below their knees. For years after, the subject of inseams inspired older observers of the game to fret: How low could they go?
But now the hemline is creeping back up.
In early November, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James declared he would wear skinnier and shorter shorts this season, his 13th in the league because he wanted to present a more professional appearance. But while he is the highest-profile convert to the shorter short, he isn’t the first. The emerging generation of pro basketball players, one that came of age wearing tighter clothes off the floor, beat him to it.
Kelly Oubre Jr., a 20-year-old rookie for the Washington Wizards, rolls up his shorts — at the waistband and from the bottom — for almost every practice and pregame warmup routine, leaving them distinctly shorter and tighter than his peers. He takes a more conservative approach for games, folding only his waistband, but the alteration nonetheless hikes the bottom of the shorts a few inches above his knees, exposing more leg than most NBA players have over the last two decades.
“I just like wearing shorter shorts because I feel more comfortable on the court,” Oubre said. “I don’t have anything swinging, moving around.”
Oubre is part of a subtle countermovement. From high school ranks through college, basketball players have increasingly chosen short and skinny over long and baggy in recent years in keeping with off-court trends. The vogue is seeping into the professional level.