April 2013

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I’m not saying that everything Adidas does is wrong. The way they handle Lionel Messi is fantastic. His logo and his signature collection are simple, classic and well designed. The Adidas Skateboarding division also does things right. Their recent skate vid filmed in Tokyo is a great example.

I’m also not saying that other athletic brands are perfect. Nike’s use of the University of Oregon as a testing ground for design has its obvious successes and failures. Under Armour has done very well for themselves and seemed to strike gold with Bryce Harper, Cam Newton and Buster Posey. But, some of their products are more than iffy. As for Reebok, they’re struggling so much that Adidas had to move John Wall to Reebok and they’re focusing almost all of their performance efforts on CrossFit.

I’m picking on Adidas because they’re supposed to be number 2. They are supposed to try harder in the classic Avis sense by going the extra mile that #1 won’t. They’re not supposed to be inconsistent and look like they’re trying too hard.

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Several weeks ago, Louisville beat Michigan in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. It was one of the most exciting, highly competitive basketball games ever played. It was also a showcase of everything right and wrong with Adidas Basketball. Michigan used to be the shining star of Nike’s college basketball roster. The Fab Five brought uniform cuts that were street-ready, classic shoes and a style that was more marketable than Duke and North Carolina combined. Not only did Adidas pick up the Michigan sponsorship, they kept their uniforms classy. Even their hyper-color Adidas uniforms weren’t bad.

Then there was the champions at Louisville celebrating in those awkward-looking shirt jerseys and shorts with a somewhat camo print on them: the adiZero Short Sleeve Uniform System. Yup, Adidas actually calls it a “system” and it’s as good of a place to start than any.

 

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Adidas, the Golden State Warriors and select Adidas schools have already taken a lot of negative press and fan backlash for this attempted fashion trend. I still can’t believe it actually happened though.

Someone at Adidas actually stood up in a meeting and said, “You know what NBA players should be wearing? Skin tight t-shirts and baggy shorts!”

Then! Someone else stood up and responded, “Yes! But let’s make them look even more different by putting pinstripes on the shorts but not the shirt. For college teams, the shorts can have a camo print that we will only put on the sleeves to make it look like the players are wearing shirts under the jerseys we’re trying to replace.”

Then, everyone else in the room had to approve it.

Then, the Warriors and colleges had to be sold the idea. It all seems stupid unless a ton of money was involved.

This jersey system is supposed to be 26% lighter than the regular one without sleeves. Does it increase performance? Did it help Louisville or the Golden State Warriors win games? Probably not. But, it did give Adidas another jersey to sell to fans (for $110!!) and more space for the NBA to put corporate ads on jerseys when they finally choose to go that route.

Adidas didn’t just subject the Warriors and Cardinals to their short sleeve experiment. The reward for the top high school ballers in the country selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game was to wear ugly versions of the jersey system. Of this group of All Americans who end up going pro, I wonder how many will sign with other shoe companies based on this branded embarrassment.

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On Tuesday night, the Lakers took a break at halftime during a game with playoff implications to honor Shaquille O’Neal and retire his jersey. It was a nice ceremony. He gave a typical Shaq speech and added a little bit of emotion. Everything was great, as it should be. Except for one tiny little mistake. The jersey that went into the rafters at the Staples Center wasn’t like all the others. And no, it wasn’t the modern purple stripes along the side or the white numbers. It had a v-neck. The Lakers put O’Neal’s name and number on the front of the jersey:

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After the press pointed it out, the Lakers released a statement that basically wrote the situation off as a tiny error and an honest mistake. I totally agree with the tiny mistake part. Honest…not so much. Only one thought passed through my mind the moment I saw the jersey error.

This was the result of a plan orchestrated by Kobe Bryant!

Granted, I am a fan of conspiracy theories. I find them entertaining. But there’s no way I’m the only one who thinks this was a subtle, yet deliberate and public stab at Shaq. I mean, think about it.

 

EXHIBIT A – KOBE’S KNOWN FEUD WITH SHAQ
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Kobe and Shaq won three-straight titles together. There was some obvious chemistry on the court. But as it was later revealed, there was some obvious tension. They’re both great players and leaders but they couldn’t decide which one was Jordan and which one was Pippen. Their feud even played out in the media with numerous reports about Kobe thinking Shaq was lazy and out of shape. Shaq even went as far as blaming his failed marriage on Kobe and saying he would kill him. Those aren’t issues that simply go away with time.

Kobe is also in the middle of an impressive run. He’s playing below his age and through an injury to put a team on the verge of not making the playoffs on his back. At this point, every game for Lakers is huge. There’s no way Kobe was in love with the idea of pausing during an important game to pay tribute to a player he helped lead to titles.

 

EXHIBIT B – KOBE NEEDS TO KEEP DWIGHT HAPPY
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When it happened, the Lakers getting Dwight Howard was a big deal. Whether history remembers it as such or diminishes it to a footnote remains to be seen. Kobe’s not getting any younger though. So, if he wants that 6th ring to pull even with Jordan, he needs Dwight to be healthy and happy. Unfortunately for Kobe, Howard is half baby, half nutjob. He always finds something he can blow out of proportion and cry about. If it’s safe to assume Kobe wasn’t happy about honoring Shaq in front of the town he owns, there’s no way Dwight was happy about taking a break to honor the “Original Superman.” This is Dwight’s introduction to Los Angeles and he’s just starting to feel better and play accordingly. It would make a lot of sense for Kobe to make a gesture that would slight his former partner and make his current one happy.

 

EXHIBIT C – THEY GOT THE FRAMED JERSEY RIGHT
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OK, let’s pretend for a second that Exhibit C doesn’t exist. The Lakers have more championship banners and retired jerseys than almost any other team in any other sport. This isn’t a new ceremony for them. They take pride in their history and often rub everyone else’s face it. There’s no way everyone in the Laker organization who took part in the planning of Shaq’s jersey requirement took a look at the concepts, comps and proofs of that rafter jersey and approved it. They’re not that stupid or careless.

But, Exhibit C does exist. The jersey that they framed and gave to Shaq to take home, the one that would be harder and more publicly embarrassing to fix, was 100% accurate. How could the Lakers get one right and not the other without doing it on purpose?

Kobe and the Lakers intentionally making a tiny error on the Shaq jersey in the rafters but not the framed one:

  • Gives a point to Kobe in their feud
  • Makes Dwight a little happier by taking a little bit out of the jersey reveal moment
  • Sends Shaq home happy
  • Provides the Lakers with an easy PR explanation
  • Creates a prank that is easily fixed before the end of the week

Your honor, I rest my case. The mastermind, as always, was Kobe Bean Bryant.