Sunday, December 26, 2010

The NBA's Christmas Extravaganza

Should basketball be played on Christmas day? To work for the NBA is to be unsure. It's an honor. It's a pain. Hell yes. Hell no. If you were a coach -- Ok, if you were Stan Van Gundy -- there was but one answer: Certainly not. He mocked today's five game, two-network, all-day Christmas blockbuster nearly forgetting his claims of being heftily fined for doing the same thing last year. In any case, this is a no-brainer for just about everybody sitting in the stands or in sweatpants at home: Of course! The NBA can give gifts, too. And for about 12 hours today, it gave.

Kathy Willens for the Associated Press
No team gave as much as whoever we have to thank for the Knicks' holiday uniforms, which put the team in a literal Christmas spirit? For one afternoon, the customary complementary orange and blue became green with such a faint hint of orange that, depending on the setting of your television or the quality of your vision, it seemed red. So in some homes and through some eyes, the combination was either like a bowl of M&Ms in a picky celebrity's dressing room or a selectively eaten bag of Skittles. The Knicks were playing -- and eventually beat -- the Chicago Bulls in their usual red. During free-throws, jump shots, and general action in the paint, you could taste the rainbow (and not only because Mariah Carey was doing the musical outros).

Amar'e Stoudemire was way too much rainbow. He chose to wear the usual blue and orange Adidas, rather than the special holiday shoes. "Chose" might be harsh, since it's possible that he arrived for game time at the Garden with no memory of what today was all about and that, with today being today, a last-minute Foot Locker run would be impossible. So, for him, no nice matching pumpkin Adidas like Raymond Felton's. The blue did nothing to diminish the intense scrappiness of his play -- after all these years, Stoudemire still balls as if he expects to be kicked out of the league at any minute. But scrappiness has its limits. Today he was a one-man clash of the titans.

Lisa Blumenfeld for Getty Images
From the standpoint of non-athletic coordination, things weren't much better a few hours later during the day's most wildly anticipated game at the Staples Center. Although speaking athletically, the Lakers were simply outplayed by the increasingly terrifying Miami Heat. From the standpoint of footwear, they were also out-dressed. Los Angeles used the game to unveil a shade of Nike Zoom. It was a gimmicky sorbet green and was topped with with licorice-orange strings, and it has so little to do with basketball it's a wonder Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were able to play as convincingly as they did while wearing it. No athlete wears those sneakers, not even Serena Williams and Shaun White. It's possible the shoes said "Merry Christmas" to someone in California, but only if that someone is Peter Max.

Lisa Blumenfeld for Getty Images
One hates to give this incarnation of the Heat credit for anything (although Chris Bosh deserves a lot of credit for his work the last couple of weeks), but they were the only team that dressed wisely today. Their sheeny red Nike's with green laces were, for Christmas, sensible shoes. It's easy to say they looked smart since their wearers won. But you suspected the Lakers were doomed when ABC showcased the shoes early in the broadcast along with two other pairs. You knew they were done when the shoes -- or just good editing -- appeared to make even Penélope Cruz sick (or, at least, extremely bored).

The NBA can be the most adventurous place in sports for footwear, and Kobe Bryant, who is Mr. Nike Zoom, is often at the front of the pack. But today he looked like a man who'd been tricked into new shoes. The Zoom-Air, in other incarnations, is a nifty sneaker. This one has Jurassic Park scales that in other shades might be both intriguing and intimidating. It's a color from which one recoils. It's the velociraptor by Willy Wonka. Next year, Kobe, two syllables: Re. Gift.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tom Brady's preseason haircut, Johnny Damon's post-Yankees mohawk

AP Photo/Winslow Townson
Depending on the photographer, depending on the angle, depending on where his throwing arm is in relation to his head, it is either confusing, spectacular, or spectacularly confusing. In some shots, with his uniform on, he looks like he won the lead in "Mrs. Doubtfire 2." In others, he looks like he finished dead last in a Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber contest but first in the Pro Quarterbacks Who Could Be a Redgrave Sister posedown. Once in a while, it looks good in a "I went to where Farrah said" sort of way. When it's a little wet, it works. When it's dry, it can't even collect unemployment. But he's standing by it -- or, rather, under it.

Tom Brady's hair cut, his hair growth: People are talking. But not enough to make it stop. It gives the sharp angles in his face a great feminizing agent, a teeny touch of slutty Warren Beatty in "Shampoo," a touch of intramural jock. That haircut has stolen how many girlfriends and fogged up how many windows? I presume the men who hate it fear for their relationship. They prefer what, say, Matt Hasselbeck's hair is -- or is not -- up to. Brady, however, has taken a risk that is threatening to become The Way It Is. This is a diversion from the quality of his game. He's looked fine in the preseason. Should he come unglued -- or should The Patriots simply fail to dominate their first few games. The hair will become a kind of PR liability. It will become a joke.

The press corps will skip right past Bill Belichick, past Brady's paternity, past the fact that this team hasn't been right since Super Bowl 2008. The press will go right to The Haircut, as though he were Jennifer Aniston or Animal in Dr. Teeth's band. Maybe in some of these stories, Gisele will be cast as a reverse Delilah forcing her Samson to grow his hair. The chances he's taken on the field (who at the moment is less afraid of heaving at 3rd and long?) are one thing. The chances he's taking on his hair are something else.

“You apparently are having difficulty getting an appointment with the hair-stylist-to-the-stars on Newbury Street,’’ complained John Dennis, a Boston radio host, referring to Brady's salon of choice. In turn, Brady set the record straight in a way most men in his position have tried: It was an accident. “We’ve had two-a-days for the last three weeks. . . . This is what happens,’’ he said. “I passed that uncomfortable stage with it. Now, I’m just like, ‘Screw it, let’s just keep going.’ ’’ You could tell this was a non-story by the pitiful followup questions. No one said, "But, Tom, you've looked that way all summer. And, hello, the volume? Is that an accident, too?"

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Aside from loosing, Brady does nothing by accident. Really, though, the press doesn't understand any hair. Just today, Johnny Damon arrived at Yankee Stadium as a Tiger with his mohawk. All season a collective eyebrow has been raised, proving that George Steinbrenner's starchy ghost continues to keep the sportorial mind closed. Damon's mohawk is by far the best any sport -- and most music festivals -- have seen in many, many years. Today, it was at its crispest and most angular.

The spikes of Damon's hair were swept back in a wave. The back fin was choppy without seeming hacked at. It couldn't have been fresher were it caught that day. A girlfriend of mine recently got a spiteful haircut in Chinatown that could have produced a similar massacre on Damon. But there's always been a chic to that mohawk. Today, it looked especially expensive and cool -- even better in the slate-black and orange of Detroit. The Yankees won the game 6-2. Even so: Crypto-scrappy haircut for real scrappy team. It's tempting to reach into Damon's Native American roots for clarity. It's a tribute! It's a channeling! But, actually, it's a liberation from the straitjacket of New York. He's a Tiger, baby. Hear him roar. Damon's haircut might truly mean what Brady was just being coy about: Screw it. Let's just keep going.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

LeBron James holds a live prime-time press conference

LeBron James tells the world there's something more else needs.
It was ridiculous, wasn't it? He wasn't a president, a general, or a Jackson. He just sat in a Greenwich gymnasium full of children perched on bleachers. He wore lilac gingham, pressed denim, tennis boots, and an Honest Abe beard (mustache sold separately, but LeBron James is a wealthy man). He made us wait days for the news of his next team: He'll be going to the Miami Heat. James looked like the sort of guy you see on a third date or standing around at a club or holding the shopping bags of a cute, short, big-butted girl who uses two hands to talk on her Droid. He was, in other words, passive bordering on sad. He's breaking up with his birthplace (James was raised in Akron) for a sexier, sweatier, cuter new home, with a beach and spicier food.

That is what we waited for. It was an evening only a could sports editor who doesn't publish in Ohio could love, one that confirms the insidious tyranny of the sports agent, one that made you wonder what the parents of all those Boys & Girls Club kids on the bleachers surrounding James were thinking. (Who knew Greenwich tolerated so many needy youth of color.) The in-studio silence that greeted the announcement was heartbreaking. You expected to hear some "Yeuhs!" or just polite applause. Hearing nothing made you feel like there was perhaps nothing to hear. Gravitas was probably intended. It seemed grave, instead. Wasn't it, though?

Lebron James and Jim Gray play softball.
James will leave Ohio for Miami. And too much of an entire nation has pretended to care. That is the breaking news, no? Even so, the dress shirt and jeans were a shrewd choice. James has smart style. He looks good in everything. What he wears fits -- and everything he puts on is very... him. Tonight, he gave us the clothes of a man who has achieved a lot but not the ultimate success that, say, a great suit implies.

Tonight, he was dressed like a guy rather than a god (or the King), and, in that, his narrative met painfully but not hopelessly with that of many a native Ohioan compelled to chase dreams elsewhere. By both the records of the NBA history books and his own professional standards, there remains something to prove. To attain it, he had to fly to Dwayne Wade's house and essentially humble himself. (Good luck with that, but welcome to the diaspora, anyway.) As both event television and broadcast journalism (ESPN's Jim Gray excelled at not asking follow-up questions), it was an embarrassing anticlimax. But as a Rust Belt tragedy, it was almost moving. Another factory has closed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tiger Woods's apology

If Tiger Woods knew this was the moment we'd all been waiting for, he certainly didn't dress for the occasion. Although, really, what does one wear to tell the universe you're sorry. The black jacket and blue button-down were seemingly basic. You probably wouldn't have noticed, but the shirt collar was jarring, and eventually so was the jacket. The shirt seemed to move along with his neck in a most unusual way. That collar refused to lie flat. It protruded like the fangs of a snaggletoothed vampire. Woods was talking, but the collar was saying a lot, too.

Those fangs were clearly meant to bite a tie. That they weren't was alarming since Woods presumably could have worn a shirt with a collar one quarter the size. Perhaps there was a tie and someone thought to remove it at the last second. If there had been a tie, was it too ugly? Was it too formal? It photographs much better than it broadcasts. On television, the collar appeared to be creeping up his neck, even though it wasn't actually moving. But its unrequited need to hold something seemed to reflect its wearer's need to do the same. He read a statement without the presence of a tie and of his wife, both of which grew conspicuous by their absences. Woods looked contrite. He looked tired. He looked about 20 lbs. heavier. And, once again, the world's most famous athlete didn't look cool. It's not just that Woods made us think he was a stoic family man. He made us believe in the chic of his mystique. Illusions.

The "breaking news" tag news NBC stamped on the screen quoted Woods's statement as he read it: "Everyone has good reasons to be critical of me." Obviously, he's accustomed to wearing an altogether different blazer over an altogether different shirt. Green and red with him has been, as they say, a winning combination. Today's combo was the opposite: A uniform that Woods seemed unaccustomed to. He looked uncomfortable about speaking to us. He looked uncomfortable in his body and in these clothes.

Of course, there is the distinct and distinctly strange possibility that these weren't his clothes at all. Really, the jacket didn't seem to fit. It looked too big. The shoulders were wider than Woods'. Even though this event was utterly premeditated and chillingly airless, it's not unreasonable that these clothes were brought to him not long before he approached the camera and told us he was sorry. If they belonged to someone else, it's probable that Woods wishes that person would also loan him his life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Olympic men skate

Evan Lysecek: Snakes on a plane.
Olympic mens figuring skating is fashion week on ice. And Jeremy Butler, the U.S. champion, as we've been reminded by our NBC commentary team, looks prepared to ask us whether we'd like sparkling or still. Black pants are as standard here as they are at every publicity firm and press agency in America. But Butler's were painfully plain. The blue shirt they came with were BeDazzled in splotches. He looks tall, and ready to take my order.

Evan Lysecek is tanning-booth German Expressionism in motion. His Vera Wang catsuit is actually classy in a science-fiction way. A diamond-encrusted snake sleeps around his neck. (Presumably, Damien Hirst will be asking for that back.) There are planetary rings on each shoulder. I don't know what the black sequined snake is doing below the other snake, but they contribute an air -- of what is it? -- mystery? Secrecy? He's interesting: stork on ice.

Poor Nobunari Oda from Japan. A wardrobe malfunction in the middle of his routine. The laces on his skate came loose, providing a momentary distraction from his indifferent Charlie Chaplin outfit. There were no tails on his jacket, and the blacks and greys didn't get along. He, too, resembled a waiter at some kind of wax museum.

Stéphane Lambiel, Olympian or building?
Switzerland's Stéphane Lambiel looked utterly Swiss. I don't know what that means, but it just seems right. He wore an ornate vest that under ordinary circumstances would be too much, but the latticework pattern along the shoulders looked a lot less like a metal patio table than you would think, and the gold trim on the collar was nice. The art-deco piping -- it rose up from his waist -- turned him into a skyscraper on skates. Tonight, he moved like one.

Florent Amodio from France? Disco harlequin. Apparently he's playing a marionette, one whose strings are being pulled by the cast of "La Cage aux Folles." More BeDazzling, and suspenders that don't appear to be holding up anything. His maroon shirt is open to the waist, and you don't want to ask about the neon patches of argyle on the sleeves, but, really: Neon? His skating is pretty, but there's an element of pleading about his routine. He punches the air and makes puppy faces at the crowd. It's like he's brought his street act to Vancouver from the Marais. Here's two euros, Florent. (On the deeply charming Dennis Tan from Kazakhstan: Mariah Carey isn't the only person who sucked in glitter.)

It's true that Johnny Weir's skating doesn't garner as much attention as his costumes. How can it when he wears an outfit that might give Cher pause? And yet these ornately sequined unitards really work for him. His program is called "Fallen Angel," and NBC's color co-commentator Sandra Bezic explained it this way: "It reflects how he feels about his career since the last Olympics in Torino." He was robbed of a medal but took the snub in stride, making do with a crown of roses.

Meanwhile, Torino's winner and this year's eventual silver medalist, Evgeny Plushenko, has come straight from the Lite-Brite Bob Fosse lounge. And regarding Michal Brezina, from Slovakia, a spiky blonde in a sparkly carnation vest and khakis: When did Ellen Degeneres start skating?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Nole leaves Australia, takes nightwear with him

It was big news late last year that Novak Djokovic was going to wear Sergio Tacchini's clothes. The relationship seemed to be business as usual. Player, meet sponsor. At this year's Australian Open Djokovic played his first four matches in an attractive white uniform, detailed with bright red stripes here and there, though, notably on his flank (Crayola would call the color "girlfriend's nail polish"). It had a lot of Djokovic's trademark flash, but it was a look of understatement and practicality. When you're playing in 90-degree heat and 1000-percent humidity, with the sun hanging only about a 100 feet away, you don't come dressed like Robert Smith.

But for his quarterfinal match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last night, Djokovic arrived to the court in a black variation on the daywear, and the difference was astounding. The simple, wicking quality of the fabric in the white version took on a cryptic sheen under the lights. Rayon? Silk? Satin? Spandex? All of them? He was there to play tennis, but he was also dressed for a rendezvous that culminated in a trip to Arthur Ashe stadium. (Who might that woman be?) Djokovic didn't look a bit foolish. He looked, in fact, sexy. For one thing, it fit him perfectly. Like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he appears to care about tailoring. The same garment on say, Nikolay Davydenko, and we'd be having a much less enthusiastic conversation. For another thing, he knew he looked good. For one night, there was nothing to despise in that villainous smirk.

The shirt wasn't as tight as what Nadal might prefer, but then Djokovic doesn't use his body to intimidate you. He wants to demoralize you with style, before he strangles you with guile. Television really brought out the fabric's subdued reflective quality. (It had a whiff of science-fiction.) The red slashes and strokes and red Tacchini "T" on the sleeve ascribed the clothes a Texas-saloon quality -- in Austin, silly, not Laredo. And Djokovic looked supremely OK with that. He played as such, too, slicing and sprinting and whipping around the court. He and Tsonga split the first two sets.

With Tsonga looking like he might pass out if he had to run down another ball, Djokovic took the third. Then some time toward the start of the fourth set, his face changed. He requested a bathroom break and left the court. When he returned, he was off. His shots sprayed, and he seemed suddenly unsure of how to handle Tsonga's rebirth. Tsonga never looked easy to beat. But with Djokovic's first-serve percentage dipping, beating the Frenchman was beginning to look impossible.

The turn of events accessorized perfectly with the day's other headline matches. Momentum swung like an amusement park Buccaneer. Venus Williams lost a match she was two points away from winning. Victoria Azarenka could only watch, at 4-0, as Serena Williams's hand punched out of the grave (with her, that movie never gets old). And Davydenko spent the first set of his quarterfinal cleaning Roger Federer's clock, only to have Federer return the favor for the next three sets.

In Djokovic's case, you had to wonder: Did the pressure of living up to that outfit upset his stomach? Absurd. And yet, this was the flashiest thing he's ever worn on court (the mismatched black and red armbands were a nice touch). They were confident clothes, and to bring them off you have wear them (and, of course, play in them) confidently. Otherwise, you do start to feel a little foolish. Djokovic has no shortage of confidence, and his sense of style will always win out over pesky second thoughts. And yet I worry that his undignified defeat will only deter him from wearing this outfit in the future. Novak, tell me I'm wrong.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Does This Man Need an Iron?

To hear Brad Gilbert tell, it Nikolay Davydenko is no sponsor's dream. And that has nothing to do with his gambling scandal. It's that he does not dress like a tennis star. His clothes lack glamour. They also lack an iron. They look liked they were snatched from a gym bag 10 minutes before match time.

Right now he's playing Fernando Verdasco in the 4th round at the Australian Open, and while it's true that in his loose spearmint crypto argyle tennis shirt (Adidas) he looks like he's sitting under a cabana umbrella, Verdasco's got a touch of flash. Davydenko has come to the court in whites that are perfect for the sun. But like, say, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Nadia Petrova, standing still there's something tennis instructory about him.