Nostalgia for the ’90s has recently hit an all-time high, and rightfully so: they rocked. The fashion, the music, and the television were all so awesome (and for fashion, by awesome, we mean terrible) that people of all sorts can’t stop recreating them now, some 17+ years later. The same goes for sports. The pre-aughts were a classic time for sports fans with all sorts of hilarious idiosyncrasies we couldn’t recreate if we tried. But we can remember them. So in honor of the athlete most singularly identified with the 1990s (MJ, duh) here are 23 things you will definitely look back fondly upon if you were born before 1987.
23. The NBA on NBC Theme Song
Who didn’t get excited when that music came on and Bob Costas began his voiceover? It still gives us chills to this day. In fact, as soon as we looked up this song and listened to it a few times, we breezed through the rest of this list at warp speed. We couldn’t help it: the song is that great. Little known fact: its author is current late-night radio host and former Entertainment Tonight reporter John Tesh.
22. Sports Reports on the Local News
Millennials may be wondering what the local news is, but there was once a time when the average fan got their daily share of highlights from the local nightly newscast. These local sports reporters were larger than life, and thousands and thousands of fans knew exactly (to the minute or even the second) when they were coming on every night and made sure to tune in. Because if you didn’t, you would probably never see the highlights from that night’s games. At best, you had to wait until the next morning. The heyday of local sports news began to wane in the ’90s thanks to SportsCenter, but it was still a very big deal until at least the turn of the century, when internet use became very mainstream.
21. Zubaz Pants
Little known fact: if you can name every guy in this photo off the top of your head, you can send a video of it to Zubaz and get a free pair of pants in return. Like half the things on this list, they’ve tried to capitalize on this trend of ’90s nostalgia and re-start their business, but we all know that pants this ridiculous will never make a comeback.
20. NBA Hoops Trading Cards
Kids liked them because they felt shinier and more expensive. Pros (like Chris Mullin, who clearly never left the ’90s) liked them because they used great high definition photos. Dentists loved them because they didn’t include gum in their packs. NBA Hoops lives on under the brand name Panini (the sandwich?), but let’s get real: there is no way they sell as many of these things in an entire year as they did in a single week back when Big Willie Styles was running half-court in the White House.
19. Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball for Sega + Super Nintendo
From the most ’90s baseball player alive and the two most ’90s video game consoles ever came the ultimate game for couch-bound seam heads. This game wasn’t licensed by the MLB Players Association, but it was licensed by MLB, so the games took place in actual (virtual) stadiums, but Ken Griffey Jr. was the ONLY real player in the entire game. Amazingly, that only made the game more popular. That’s how beloved Griffey Jr. was in the early-to-mid 1990s. We still have our “Griffey for President” shirts – how about you?
This one needs zero explanation. There are two types of people in this world: those who’ve played NBA Jam over and over at a bowling alley birthday party, refusing to leave until Shawn Kemp made the rim bleed, and those who haven’t lived. On this point, we REFUSE to negotiate…okay, fine, Barkley counts too.
17. SportsCenter Anchors with Actual Personalities
Quick: name a SportsCenter anchor besides John Buccigross. Michael Smith and Jemele Hill don’t count; their show is a replacement for SportsCenter. Even if you can name one, you still get the point, that they’ve become anonymous and subservient to the faceless monolith that is the Worldwide Leader. This wasn’t so in the ’90s: SportsCenter anchors were the company’s main draw. Olbermann and Patrick were more famous than most athletes. Craig Kilborn used the platform to catapult to late-night fame. Chris Berman, Mike Tirico, and Bob Ley all used it as the basis for Hall of Fame careers. Not to mention countless others with smaller fan bases of their own. Now? If this Smith/Hill experiment fails, we’re about two weeks away from either getting rid of SportsCenter all together, or having it hosted by robots (and we don’t mean Adnan Virk).
16. Using Capri Sun for Hydration
If there were any lasting lessons from the ’90s, they were these: it’s impossible to be a great second half performer without inhaling at least two orange slices during intermission, and Capri Sun is a great source of hydration. Did these turn out to be true? Of course not, but why let facts get in the way of a good narrative?
15. Tear-Away Warmup Pants
How many times did you rip the pants off your friends in middle school hoping to expose their Charles Dickens in front of the girl everyone thought was cute just because she happened to get her braces off first? How many times did you practice ripping them off in one motion in front of the mirror while pretending you were an NBA player being introduced in the starting lineup? Did you and your buddies ever suggest they would be a great purchase for the cute girls in your grade? (We promise, we would NEVER rip them off you…they just look cool!)
14. Peter Vecsey
Back in the ’90s this guy was Adrian Wojnarowski, Chris Broussard, and Skip Bayless all wrapped up in one. He wrote front page stories for the New York Post, appeared on the (previously mentioned) NBA on NBC pregame show, and was so viciously hated by so many prominent NBA people that it’s a miracle no one pulled a Sprewell on him at some point.
13. Starter Jackets
If this list was only one item long, there’s a good chance this would be it. The Cowboys and Raiders must have accounted for half of the total number sold, many of them to kids who had never set foot in Texas or California. Every kid had to have one, and repping a team that was cool or good was much more important than supporting your hometown squad.
12. Insanely Baggy Basketball Shorts
Now that we’ve gone full circle and players are actually requesting shorter shorts from equipment managers for the first time since John Stockton was running the pick and roll in front of a crowd full of screaming Mormons, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary the Fab Five and their baggy shorts were. Starting with them (Michael Jordan also gets credit here), the entire basketball world became obsessed with longer and bigger, and the shorts eventually evolved to the point where a simple between-the-legs dribble became nearly impossible. That may have begun the movement back toward smaller shorts, but mark our words: they will be back.
11. Cross Trainers
Popularized by Bo Jackson during the national obsession with cross-training, these are the shoes Nike convinced everyone they needed in order to do more than one physical activity in a single day. Once people realized that you don’t need to train like a decathlete to stay in shape and that running shoes work for most athletic endeavors, sales sorta dried up. Bo Jackson falling off the face of the earth didn’t help either.
10. And1 T-Shirts
The ’90s were the golden era for T-shirts that combined graphics with corny slogans, and And1 had a large portion of the market. Someone should track down whoever wrote these catchphrases and see what they’re up to now.
9. Slam Magazine as a Bible
There was only one periodical that truly mattered to every hardcore basketball fan in the ’90s and it wasn’t SI or ESPN the Magazine. SLAM still exists and turns out decent work while remaining fairly relevant in the hoops world, but the rise of digital media has hurt them about as much as any other magazine. At their height, with Scoop Jackson writing cover stories, Tony Gervino and Russ Bengtson doing their thing, and prominent players begging to be on the cover, no magazine was more relevant.
8. All Boston Teams Sucking
Everything was more fun before they started winning all the titles in sight. And Boston fans as lovable losers definitely beats their current incarnation, which somehow combines unbelievable arrogance with a persecution complex.
7. Sports Illustrated Actually Mattering
What SLAM Magazine was to young basketball fans in the ’90s, Sports Illustrated once was to the entire sports world. It’s hard to imagine now, but the cover of SI was once a Big Fucking Deal, and at their height they combined gorgeous award-winning photography with the best writing in the industry. They also combined newsstand sales, subscriptions, and major ad revenue into a financial powerhouse. Now? Not so much…
6. Reebok Pumps
Did you ever ask your gym teacher to stop the game so you could tie your shoes, just so that you could pump up your Pumps the way Dee Brown did before his famous (and undeserved) Dunk Contest win? Brown’s stunt was one of the more successful PR moves in corporate history and sent sales of the Pumps skyrocketing before the public eventually came around to the notion that pumping your shoes full of air until they cut off the circulation in your feet isn’t the best idea for elite athletic performance.
5. Recording Games with VHS Tapes
SCREW YOU MOM! YOU TAPED OVER THE HOLYFIELD-TYSON FIGHT WITH THE LATEST EPISODE OF DAYS OF OUR LIVES? COULDN’T YOU JUST WAIT THREE YEARS UNTIL TiVO IS INVENTED?!
4. Umbro Shorts
Outside of the boxy men’s suits prominently featured in The Wolf of Wall Street, nothing screams ’90s fashion more than the shiny Umbro soccer shorts that everyone had about five pairs of growing up, but that now only show up in homeless shelters and refugee camps overseas. And on soccer dads who haven’t changed their wardrobes since the ’90s. Them too.
They may be fairly irrelevant now, but at one point And1 was on the top of the world with their triple threat of T-shirts, shoes, and mixtapes. Their tapes and subsequent tour essentially replaced the Harlem Globetrotters as the preferred “alternative” basketball entertainment for an entire generation. They also gave us Rafer Alston, AKA “Skip to My Lou,” who doesn’t get nearly enough credit for transitioning from street basketball to a full NBA career.
2. Reversible Jerseys
Why would anyone want a reversible Michael Jordan/Grant Hill jersey? Beats the fuck out of us, but they actually existed at one point, and people presumably wore them without irony. At a minimum it allowed kids who were short on money but obsessed with jerseys to save a few bucks by killing two birds with one stone.
1. No Fear T-Shirts
If you’re still reading this article, you’re probably aware of just how big a deal these were back in the day. I remember sitting in 7th grade history class when literally half the guys in the room were wearing No Fear shirts. There was a kid in my school who wore a different one every day for a month straight. It was a badge of honor and each time a new one came out there was a race among every pre-pubescent sports loving male to buy it and wear it to school first. Those were the days…