Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sorry, St. Patty, No Green for Me: Purple, Gold, Green and Sports Rivalries

With the storied Lakers-Celtics rivalry renewed with last year’s NBA Finals, this past offseason, Lakers reserve guard Sasha Vujacic (known for his bold fashion statements) made news with his avowal to neither ever wear the color green again nor allows his teammates to do so. So, with St. Patrick’s Day upon us, I was met with a dilemma: Do I let down my Irish Catholic ancestors, the Petey’s from Tipperary County, and not wear green or do I defy my sports prejudices and disappoint my French Hugenot forefathers with a giant green shamrock? Answer: I, and my daughter Emma, are wearing Purple and Gold today as we eat our corned beef and cabbage!

However, a sports history lesson will tell us that the Purple & Gold versus Green rivalry extends beyond the Lakers and Celtics. Together, the three constitute the colors of New Orleans Mardi Gras, as selected in 1872 by Russian diplomat Alexis Romanoff, who was visiting the city for Fat Tuesday. Reaffirmed in 1892, the City of New Orleans officially adopted the colors, attributing them royal values: Purple (Justice), Gold (Power) and Green (Faith). The following year, 1893, Louisiana State University and Tulane University decided to form football teams. As the LSU team and fans traveled together by bus to New Orleans for the first match-up, they decided something needed to be done to spark school spirit. The lowly state school was, after all, playing against the moneyed private city school. Arriving in New Orleans to find stores decked out in the city’s newly-adopted colors, team coach (and chemistry professor) Dr. Charles Coates decided to dress up the team’s uniforms of drab grey and navy. Since Tulane used olive green as it’s university color, Coates and quarterback Ruffin Pleasant bought up all of the purple and gold paraphernalia they could and team and fans showed up for the game adorned in the now iconic Purple & Gold. While Tulane won the match 34-0, the upstarts at LSU had founded a tradition and would win the next four tilts of what is now the “Battle for the Rag.” While Louisianans might convene in city centers in the spring for Mardi Gras, wearing beads of purple, gold and green, come fall, the polemics are clearly defined.

Back to the NBA, most fans will remember the Utah Jazz donning the purple, gold and green of Stockton and Malone (and Mark Eaton) they brought over from New Orleans in 1978. In 1996, they changed the logo of the music note “J” and 1920s jazz font but retained the colors for the atrocious Hornacek-era mountain range. With the retirement of these pillars of NBA lore, in 2004, Larry Miller and company decided to go with an entirely new logo with new team colors: Navy Blue, Ice Blue, Silver and White. Many have speculated that the new-look Jazz (along with, later, the Denver Nuggets) removed the purple and gold from its identity to distance itself from the hated Lakers. (Odd thing is, the Lakers originally wore the current Nuggets colors but changed in 1967 when they moved into the Forum to what was then called “funky” Forum Blue.) Ironically, when the Lakers and Jazz play, Purple, Gold and Green still fill the arena—and I don’t mean with retro John Stockton jerseys. The LA Lakers still carry the purple and gold, while the Jazz wear the green of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozers tattoos and the ENVY that didn’t die with a color change.

1 comment:

Corry Cropper said...

Still trying to figure out the Mariners' fascination with teal. I have never liked that color. Just doesn't do much for my figure.

I read a statistical study once that suggested athletes who wear read tend to beat those who wear blue, all other things being equal; something about intimidation or aggressiveness. Maybe it just makes it easier to spot teammates.

So Bob, while you're wearing silver and blue to teach, I'll be donning red. We'll compare our student evaluations at the end of the semester and see who wins. Because I'm sure that clothing color is the only distinguishing aspect of our teaching.