In 2015, NBA star Lebron James signs a monster contract with Nike. This is not the usual agreement between a sports brand and an athlete, one of those like "always use my shoes and I pay a few million". What the 31-year-old basketball player is offered is a kind of pact with the devil: Lebron would have linked his image for his entire life to Nike in exchange for the incredible sum of one billion dollars. In reality, after a few months it turned out that the agreement provided for a "marriage" up to the age of 64 (a limit beyond which even a guy like Lebron stops being cool) but the substance does not change.
Now, the figure is indeed outrageous, but in line with the economic power of the NBA. About 20 years earlier it would have been pure science fiction, because the NBA at the beginning of the 80s was a traveling circus with no rhyme or reason: salaries often lower than those in Europe, cocaine running in rivers (it is estimated 40% to 70% of players used it daily), empty stadiums, zero marketing, little interest from the big television networks. Then in 1984, with the League having a turnover of 185 million dollars, David Stern, a New York lawyer, arrived. He imposed surprise drug tests and decided to exploit the image of the players, bringing them to the same media level as the teams. and sharing in the profits. In short, when, at the end of his twenty-year reign, Stern decides to retire, the NBA has a turnover of almost 6 billion dollars (more than Fiji's GDP, to be clear).
The tank-mania begins with the arrival of Stern, who was also lucky to find an NBA already full of very strong and charismatic players. Among the most requested tanks are those of the Lakers number 32 of the African American Magic Johnson and the 33 of the Celtics star the white Larry Bird. Their presumed rivalry was basically a great friendship that has dragged on since the days of university basketball.
The bond between the two is so strong that Magic Johnson wants Bird in the most difficult moment of his life, when the Lakers star organizes a press conference to let the world know that, first athlete of that media level, he contracted the HIV virus (at the time still an obscure disease, whose contagion was equivalent to a death sentence).
But among all the tank tops and t-shirts, the green ones of the Celtics with the number 33 of Bird go beyond the passion of basketball, they become an icon, the pride of whites, not intended as white supremacism. Indeed, we must not forget that the Celtics are the team of the Irish Americans, descendants of those who escaped from the hunger and oppression of the British Empire.
In the film "Do the Right Thing", the first success of the African American director Spike Lee, who talks about the racial tensions between the various communities of Brooklyn, a peaceful John Savage, who played one of those new inhabitants of the New York neighborhood who later were called "hipsters", he is misunderstood by a group of black brooklyners, who accuse him of invading their territory and especially of wearing Larry Bird's t-shirt.
A couple of years later, House of Pain, a trio of Irish-born white rappers (apart from one, who was of Latvian descent) had a global success with "Jump Around", an adrenaline-pumping track produced by DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill (Los Angeles-based multi-ethnic hip pop group).
The video is an Irish Pride poster, complete with bagpipes, St. Patrick's Day parade and traditional dancing. One of the three rappers is wearing a basketball tank top, guess which player? That's right, it's Larry Bird's 33 tank top.
The NBA tank tops, always worn very wide, seem to relive an eternal spring, although probably those of Bird and Magic Johnson, together with that of his majesty Michael Jordan and a handful of stars of those years, remain the most requested in the world "Vintage". Unfortunately the most popular has become the number 24 and the number 8 of the unfortunate Kobe, a boy with an Italian heart whose death made the whole world cry.
Maybe the NBA tank tops are so beautiful that it does not matter the name carried on the shoulders: probably the less its number is famous, the cooler is the tank!
And it doesn't matter if you can't shoot a ball into your bedroom's basket. You don't need to know how to play basketball to wear an NBA jersey.