A couple of weeks ago, LeBron James was suspended from Ohio high school basketball for accepting throwback jerseys from his local sports store. That punishment has since been lifted, which was the right move. I’m not going to debate whether the decision was right or wrong – I couldn’t really care less, because r. James will be a NBA lottery pick in the next draft, suspension or not. Instead, I’d like to talk about what started the problem in the first place: the throwback jerseys.

Walk down Wisconsin to GT Players and you’ll find them. They’re at Pentagon City and Mazza Gallerie, too. In fact, every self-respecting sports store today sells new productions of old jerseys. With good reason too: the things sell like polish sausages at US Cellular Field. Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon thinks that throwback manufacturers like Mitchell & Ness of Philadelphia are raking in the cash because such jerseys have become a pop culture staple in recent years. Everyone that kids look up to, from P. Diddy to Kobe Bryant to Warren Sapp, has got a throwback jersey. That’s true. Flip to ESPN or MTV and you’re more than likely to see an old Nolan Ryan Astros shirt on someone. However, I suspect there’s something deeper at play here.

Supposedly, Shaq wears throwbacks of the centers he admires. any others say that they wear the jerseys of older players to show respect for what they accomplished or to pay tribute to how they played. I don’t doubt that’s true. I can walk into a sports store, however, and choose between two Allen Iverson jerseys. The first of these would be the current black Sixers jersey; the second would be the maroon and blue jersey of the Charles Barkley era. The Answer wore the latter his rookie season, and maybe a season or two after that, but I would imagine that most people, sometime in the far future, will remember him wearing the former. So why do people want the old jersey? Because of our obsession with sports facts and sports history.

Who was the greatest hitter of all time? Ted Williams, no questions asked. Greatest shooter? Larry Bird, of course. The greatest American tennis players in history are Jimmy Connors and Johnny Mac. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi are gaining respect now that they’re about five years from retirement, but back in the days when Andre had a head full of luxurious hippie hair, nobody over the age of 17 would give the man any respect. Why?

Because if people had started calling Andre the greatest thing since Rod Laver, or if Joe Buck ever says that Jason Giambi has a better swing than Ted Williams or if Barry Melrose says that Brett Hull’s slap shot is better than Bobby Hull’s, then everyone’s childhood memories are somehow dishonored. For some reason, nobody can appreciate today’s players except in relation to their predecessors.

For example, sportswriters for years have been wondering aloud who will replace Michael Jordan in the NBA. Meanwhile, they continued to write columns about Jordan’s legacy, rather than Bryant’s or Iverson’s latest 40-point plus performances. When you get down to it, however, NBA basketball games are about five men trying to put a ball in a hole for the audience’s entertainment. Sports only become something more when we let them.

And even if Ted Williams played with heart, doesn’t Nomar too? It’s absurd to think that somehow, older players had higher moral standards than those of today. Even if they did, who cares? It doesn’t have any bearing on how they play the game.

I should point out that it is important to respect the players of times past. Without Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and John Thompson, I’m sure Georgetown’s basketball program would be nowhere near where it is today. However, our cheers for the moment should go to Mike Sweetney without any sort of comparison to the Hoyas of the past.

So Mitchell & Ness can keep their Pistol Pete throwbacks. I’m going to the Georgetown bookstore to buy myself a current number 34.

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