Basketball shorts are a fashion trend that goes in and out of style depending on the fad during that time or if someone had influenced the popularity of the wardrobe. It was baggy shorts, or anything goes, when basketball was invented, which transitioned to booty shorts, and back to long shorts. Today it’s the long shorts with a twist, tighter fit, and two inches above the knee.
When did basketball shorts become long?
During the ’90s, the Chicago Bulls did a rare three-peat (1991-1993, 1996-98), and that was because of Michael Jordan. Everyone wanted to be like him. People imitated Jordan’s uniform and movements on the court, including his tongue extension. In 1991, the long shorts rubbed onto the Fab Five from the University of Michigan, making long shorts even more popular.
Follow the evolution of basketball shorts and how an NBA player and five college basketeers changed the style of basketball shorts.
A Short History of Basketball Shorts
Basketball was invented in 1891 as an indoor sport to keep athletes fit during cold months. This was the baggy shorts basketball era. Men wore loose trousers, undershirts, and sweaters, and female players donned long skirts and loose-fitting blouses with scarves. There was no standard basketball attire, and ballers played the game wearing street clothes or any athletic outfit.
The game quickly gained popularity and adopted by schools, sports clubs, and social organizations. By 1900, entrepreneurs jumped on the bandwagon and developed customized uniforms sold to basketball players.
Spalding went ahead of the competition by introducing three types of basketball shorts in 1901.
- Regular shorts
- Pants worn by football players
- Knee-high shorts
Basketball is a competitive sport; uniforms back then obstruct a player’s movement and agility. Uniforms must be functional and provide players comfort and free movement. In the 1920s, long pants and T-shirts were replaced with mid-length shorts, sleeveless shirts, and knee-high socks.
Wool was the choice material for basketball uniforms, but discomfort for players.
As the game progresses, the material absorbs sweat, making it heavy and an additional burden carried by the player. As the sweat dries, players experience itchiness and irritation in their bodies.
In the late 1930s, manufacturers introduced synthetic fibers made of nylon and polyester blends as an alternative material for basketball uniforms. The material was light, easy to wash, cheap, sturdy, and absorbent. The length of the shorts was cropped further, and built-in belts were replaced with elastic waistbands to keep the shorts in place.
In the 1940s, teams trained their eyes on the flashy uniforms worn by the Harlem Globetrotters; this was used as a template for designing teams’ basketball outfits. In 1949, the National Basketball League (NBL) and the Basketball Association of America (BAA) collaborated to create the National Basketball Association (NBA). The union required teams to produce uniforms distinct from the others.
In the 1950s, numbers were set in jerseys. The shorts shrunk more, i.e., 3 inches from the crotch to the legs, and had a satin touch. The outfit was matched with white tube socks and black or white high-top sneakers.
1960 – 1980s
Basketball uniforms in the 60’s up to the late 80s ushered the form-fitting look; shorts stayed short, and jerseys hugged the body more. This period marked the arrival of the pinhole mesh fabric, and the material doesn’t stick to the skin; quick-drying, comfy, and durable. Outfits were more colorful and adorned with unique team logos. Great players like Julius “Dr. J” Irving, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael “His Airness” Jordan gave rise to the popularity of the sport, followed by millions worldwide.
His Airness took basketball to new heights and established the NBA as a respected sports organization globally. At this point, change was coming to the basketball shorts. Jordan approached Champion and asked for customized long shorts in 1987, and the company obliged. The long shorts became a fad from the 90’s up to present, everyone wanted to be a Michael Jordan.
An exception was Utah Jazz’s point guard John Stockton; he never replaced his short-shorts for the baggy type during his 19-year (1984-2003) NBA career.
When Did Basketball Shorts Become Longer?
The Chicago Bulls were twice three-peat champions in the ’90s (1991-93 and 1996-98) led by Michael Jordan. Jordan was an instant success; ballers were imitating his outfit and his game, including the movements of his tongue.
In 1991, the baggy shorts trend rubbed onto the Fab Five of the University of Michigan Wolverines, composed of freshmen: Chris Webber (PF), Jalen Rose (PG), Juwan Howard (C), Jimmy King (SG), and Ray Jackson (SF). The controversial style became a craze followed by basketball fans. The Fab Five were instrumental in making the baggy shorts stellar.
How Michael Jordan Changed the NBA Shorts
Michael Jordan was phenomenal on the court, and his accomplishments influenced anyone who held a basketball. People were fascinated with how he did things, and wearing loose-baggy shorts was one of them.
The short shorts didn’t allow players to hand-grip them while playing, and Jordan does a lot of shorts yanking while competing. This is why Jordan approached Champion to provide him with longer shorts.
Some say that Jordan was superstitious. He wanted to wear his NCAA championship shorts with the University of North Carolina (UNC) beneath his Bulls’ long shorts to give him good fortune. Another theory is that Jordan wanted to cover his muscular thighs.
Whatever the reason, Jordan’s long shorts remain the norm of basketball uniforms, worn by players 20 years after retiring.
Benefits of Wearing Long Basketball Shorts
Players tend to pull their shorts down to tuck in their jerseys when short shorts are around. When Michael Jordan wore baggy shorts, the NBA followed suit, and there are benefits that players enjoy that go beyond Michael Jordan.
- Players wearing short shorts tend to pull their shorts down their waistbands, leaving untucked jerseys; long shorts keep them in place. An untucked jersey is an offense in the NBA, a warning for the first offense, and a technical foul for subsequent offenses.
- Long shorts have more coverage to the skin protecting players from scratches and providing more muscle warmth.
- The excess material gives you freedom of movement; you can maneuver sideways easily.
- Long shorts allow players to wear compression tights underneath to keep the legs’ muscles and thighs firm preventing injuries while playing on the court. Or to wear Michael Jordan’s UNC lucky shorts.
Basketball shorts transitioned from court wear to streetwear. The trend today is tighter shorts two inches above the knee, which comes in a variety of style and colors. Complement them with stylish tops or shoes to create your fashion statement.
Wrapping Things Up: When Did Basketball Shorts Become Long?
The basketball shorts length over the years evolved from the 1891 baggy shorts, booty shorts in the 1950s, Michael Jordan’s long shorts in the 1990s, and today’s LeBron James’ look of fitted shorts that is two inches above the knee.
And yes, there are current NBA players who bucks the trend like Jordan Poole from the Golden State Warriors, Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets, and Miami Heat’s Tyler Hero.
In the end, the length of the basketball shorts doesn’t matter, it’s how you play the game and how comfortable you are wearing b-ball shorts.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.