By Ben Cohen
The Wall Street Journal
Updated March 16, 2012
College-basketball players have long used March Madness to flaunt the sport’s latest fashion trends. But baggy shorts, under-the-jersey T-shirts and Allen Iverson-inspired arm sleeves have all been done before.
So what’s hip this year is what’s left: socks.
The final frontier of basketball fashion, the style in socks now is the brighter, the better. Shoe companies like Nike, adidas and Under Armour have provided high-profile programs with the neon, pastel and technicolored hues that are en vogue these days.
Some college athletes take it a step further. Syracuse’s Dion Waiters sports bright-orange socks customized with the letters “SU.” Florida’s Bradley Beal has cycled through white, black, blue and orange options this season. And then there’s former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who flashed Superman socks at this year’s Heisman Trophy presentation.
Socks haven’t always just been strips of white cotton or wool. This basic but undervalued piece of clothing actually has an outsize role in the history of hoops couture.
The former Utah standout Keith Van Horn inspired a generation of players to wear socks up to their knees. The Fab Five teams at Michigan in the 1990s famously wore black socks under their black sneakers. Michigan State star Draymond Green said he once had to do push-ups as punishment for wearing Michigan-style black socks.
A late, great hoops coach was once known for lecturing his freshmen every season on how to put on socks. He instructed them to smooth out the wrinkles around their heels and little toes, then hold the sock in place while slipping on the shoe, all so they would avoid blisters.
You may have heard of this coach. His name was John Wooden, winner of more national championships (10) than anyone in the history of college basketball. Wooden died in 2010, but as the NCAA tournament begins this week, socks are once again nothing to be stepped on.