On the John
A shirt for all ages
Originally completed October 27, 2010
In 30 minutes, the Chicago Bulls begin their 2010-11 season. As a new patch on their jerseys indicates, this season marks the twenty-year anniversary of the 1991 Bulls, the franchise’s first championship team.
Perhaps more significantly than that is a separate, albeit connected, twenty-year anniversary: that of my Chicago Bulls Triple Threat t-shirt.
This legendary tee features, from left to right, a driving Jordan, an outlet pass-throwing Grant, and a passing Pippen.
It was one of a larger series, which included, at least, Detroit (Isiah, Dumars, Laimbeer) and the Lakers (Magic, Worthy… Byron Scott?), and, more than likely, Portland, Boston, and the Cavaliers.
My brother and I each owned a Chicago Bulls Triple Threat t-shirt. Somewhere along the way, one version was lost, while the other ended up in a bag of clothes in the closet of my Wilmette bedroom.
I re-discovered the shirt on the morning of April 24, 2005, a few hours before Ben Schwartz and I attended the first Bulls playoff game since MJ’s last shot, the first home playoff game since MJ’s other last shot – the wilder, more memorable one he missed, to end Game 5. (Forgot about that, didn’t you?)
The shirt was noticeably tight at the armpits that first day, but it helped bring a win, and gradually loosened with successive wears. Eventually, the stretching of this 3rd grade shirt led to small rips around the arms and frays at the collar; I rarely wear it now, employing it as a good-luck over-the-shoulder item, like a t-shirt emeritus or Doug Flutie on the ’05 Patriots.
More than just a clothing item, the Chicago Bulls Triple Threat shirt also serves as a representative of the other great t-shirts lost along the way. The generational survival of a t-shirt is usually total chance; there are so many ways and opportunities for someone to lose a t-shirt between the ages of 9 and 29, that eventually they all blow away.
The ones I think of most are my Bulls championship shirts. The ones with the heads. Part of the thrill in seeing the team win another title in ’96 was the return of the caricatured head shirts, especially after the disappointing 1993 design with the lightning shadow marks. There was also the great Michael and Magic full body caricature shirt for the ’91 Finals. Julian Lapkus had that one, while Donny Burba had the caricature shirt for the 1990 MLB All-Star Game at Wrigley Field.
Julian also owned – and, as I understand it, still owns – the Grateful Dead-designed t-shirt for the 1992 Lithuanian men’s basketball team, the Sarunas Marciulionis-led squad that won the bronze.
There was the Dennis Rodman tattoo shirt, which I bought back in the fall of ’95 while snatching up every bit of Rodman apparel available. I took extra care of that one, since it seemed exclusive, (made without Rodman’s permission, it was pulled from the market after only a few months, if that), though I did lose my black Rodman jersey, as well as the cool yet entirely impractical Dennis Rodman zipper shoes.
There was the pretty standard ’85 Bears tee that vanished in the early 90s. My big memory with that shirt was Detroit fan extraordinaire Aaron Wightman spilling some water on his own t-shirt while sleeping over at my house, and me sadistically insisting that he wear the ’85 Bears shirt as a replacement.
My favorite non-Chicago shirt was a full-body Charles Barkley caricature tee with ‘SIR CHARLES’ written downward under Barkley’s glowering stare. Second place would be my black Dream Team caricature shirt, while my favorite bizarre tee was the “Alonzo Mourning Glass Cleaner,” a showcase of Zo’s rebounding prowess with an “ad” for a window spray.
I always felt ambiguous toward the newspaper shirts, though I loved the papers themselves, saving them all in my “historic newspapers” drawer.
And then there are the bizarre shirts that you never knew at the time and only saw through friends sending links, like the 1995 Bulls centers shirt of Longley, Wennington, and Perdue, apparently known by no one but the makers of this shirt as the “Bang Gang.”
Above all others, though, the one shirt that rivals the ’91 and ’92 Bulls caricature shirts was one I had with Mars Blackmon and IT’S GOTTA BE THE SHOES on the front, and Michael Jordan and IT HAD TO BE THE SHOES on the back. I’d trade my best suit for that.
Jack M Silverstein is a freelance writer covering music, sports, and community in Chicago. His first book, “Our President,” is available at Amazon.com. Say hey at twitter/readjack or facebook/readjack.