Thursday, December 15, 2016

Souvenir NBA merchandise and the Politics of being a Sports Homer #30HGtees

People arrive at their favorite teams through all sorts of ways, usually via their favorite player. Some find connection through their first piece of team sportswear, building affinity through NBA Fantasy, Video Games or a celebrity supporter. It could be boarding the bandwagon of the day.
Being from Australia, I didn't have a regional connection to an NBA team. No automatic link. My brothers and I were regularly given sporting gifts by family visiting from and travelling to the States. As kids, we got shirts and sweaters emblazoned with Colleges like Duke and Georgetown plus an assortment of teams from the 4 Major Sports.

I still recall the first moment I noticed the depth of meaning in repping a team. I was a teenager traveling with family to Disney World. As we queued for a ride, I witnessed two families bonding over their native Denver, a passer-by flagged for his 'Broncos' sweater. It only dawned on me then that Team Colors signified more than a love for the game, it reflected identity. Not only what one valued but importantly where they were from. Who they saw themselves as.


For Americans this may seem intrinsic but for a distant fan of the game it was something I grew to understand. It wasn't just about liking a logo, color scheme or having a favorite player. Fans of "The World Game" [soccer] may be able to relate, being wedded to a team through no initial connection but later forged through years of sentiment and support. What might have begun as a fashion choice becoming a defining characteristic.

ESPN staff writers Zach Lowe and Kevin Arnovitz light-heartedly discuss the politics of wearing team branded clothing
'The Lowe Post': Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN (11/18/16)
KEVIN ARNOVITZ: (40m) I never feel comfortable wearing the Milwaukee Bucks shirt I have even though I like it a lot...
ZACH LOWE: Loosen up, loosen up
ARNOVITZ: Can I loosen up? The threshold I make is if its a real throwbacky thing where it kinda ventures into design more than team loyalty. I have this old San Diego Clippers thing that's kinda good looking, like that I'll wear sometimes. Cuz to me it doesn't have the current city in it. I actually have a Sonics sweatshirt that I wear to the pool and that I'm allowed to wear obviously and its not expression of loyalty to the Thunder or anything. It's just a great Sonics sweatshirt I've had since college
LOWE: But I also think it can give you a fun human interaction with strangers so I'll give you an example
ARNOVITZ: I don't want that. I don't want to interact with strangers. It's terrifying.
LOWE: I forgot how misanthropic you are... I have a Milwaukee Bucks shirt and on the back it says #34 Greek Freak and it has like Greek Style lettering kind of. They look like the lettering of every Greek Restaurant you go to...
Giannis Antetokounmpo "Greek Freak" promo shirt
I share Zach's sentiment about the value of bonding through Sports. It was a large driver for embarking on this 30 Home Games mission, an avenue to connect with Cities and locals to enrich my travels. Rather than team loyalty, I wear my shirts as a bridge to connect with people and express my passion
ZACH LOWE: And I'm sitting in this lounge in my apartment complex where you like work and stuff. And this kid, probably 11 years old comes up to me. Sees this shirt and said "Where'd you get that shirt?". I was in Milwaukee so I got this shirt. And he said "I'm Greek and he's my favorite player now and we got League Pass at my house and we watch the Bucks every night. I'd really love to get that shirt". You know what kid, I'll give you this shirt. So I go home, wash it and give the kid the shirt. I'd worn it once, I'd just gotten back from Milwaukee.
Now he and I are buddies. I see him around the neighborhood all the time. He's always talking NBA with me and he wears the shirt. It makes me very happy. I feel like a good person

KEVIN ARNOVITZ: You know what? You've sold me. In a moment in history where Globalism and everybody is turning inwards. Where Globalism is a bad word, I'm going to now wear this stuff to forge relationships and moments with people who are unlike me... 
My Brothers and I had our teams when we began following the NBA in the 90's. We don't support the same teams we began with but I'm sure they have fond memories cheering the "Boom Baby" Pacers and the Stockton & Malone era. I remain nostalgic for the "Clutch City" Rockets, ghosts of our youth. We didn't have access to merchandise in those days, so our clothing never matched our fandom. We were limited in what we could represent prior to the internet and the International expansion of the NBA. Not to mention we were kids with little pocket money.
30HG collection of Souvenir Basketball Shirts
At my advanced age, I only update my wardrobe when I'm on the road. Through my travels I've collected over a dozen Basketball Souvenir shirts, commemorating my time spent in places from China to Latvia. I tend to be a "Homer" for places I've visited, celebrating the tragedy and triumph of my favorite destinations when I see them compete in International Competition. Heartily cheering for incoming internationals like Kristaps and Domantas as they enter the NBA.
Zach Lowe echoes this sentiment of supporting various teams as a larger expression of love for the game.
Sports Homer
ZACH LOWE: (38m 18s) I have clothes now from half the league's teams so if I'm out and I have a Nets hat on and a Timberwolves thing on, I feel like I'm Homer Simpson holding the NBA pennant. Just "Fan of basketball". I think that's OK.
I'm having to navigate these allegiances as I build connections and experiences with Teams and Cities on my quest to visit all 30 NBA Teams. So far I've been a lucky charm as I've provided timely wins for all 6 of the Home Games attended. Building a nice collection of Travel merch to match the passport stamps and memories made.