After a standout first season in Chicago that saw “The Worm” pull down a league-leading 14.9 rebounds per game, help lift the Bulls to their fourth title, and break things off with Madonna, MTV came knocking. In the winter of 1996, The Rodman World Tour premiered on the network. The loosely structured talk show, which ran for one 13-episode season, trailed the NBA star through various cities on one seemingly random, hedonistic, and hedonistically random journey after another. Segments included: cruising down the Las Vegas Strip with Jenny McCarthy, playing tennis with Jon Lovitz at The Malibu Racquet Club, and kissing Kelsey Grammer on the lips, among other things.
As far as ‘90s sports figures go, these strange forays into pop culture were…unique. So was the merch that accompanied them. This Champion t-shirt was one of a number of items sold around the show. A trove of official and unofficial Rodman gear from the period exists online, and new important paraphernalia continues to be discovered every day. Rodman, of course, wasn’t alone in his pursuit of off-the court media exposure. That same year, his more-famous teammate starred in a major production of his own.
The Bootleg Bulls
There is perhaps no greater indication of a cultural phenomenon’s relevance than the range and depth of counterfeit material that blooms around it: remember the fake Yeezy storefront that reportedly opened in Wenzhou, China? The Jordan-era Bulls slightly predate the manic streetwear age, but they inspired a similarly fervent knockoff culture. But according to Will Wagner, the aim of most 90s bootleggers differed slightly from today’s fakesters.
“What’s cool about bootleg T-shirts from the ‘90s is that [each one] was someone’s own, individual creation,” he explained to me. “Today, [bootleggers] try to make them so close to the official stuff that you can’t even tell. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was just about taking an iconic image and putting it on a T-shirt with some other cool, iconic images.”
This was the governing logic of “Bootleg Bart”—an ’80s wave that saw bootleg T-shirt makers recast the snarky Simpsons character in the role of a range of pop-cultural archetypes, including: an anti-apartheid advocate, a soldier in the Gulf War, and a certain star shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls. Being turned into a Bart Simpson t-shirt was a de facto certificate of notoriety. Judging by the Screen Stars Best tag here (a Fruit of the Loom-owned brand that produced cheap blank T-shirts popular among independent screen printers at the time), this “Air Bart” shirt dates back to the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, right at the beginning of the Bulls’s ascendency.