Grinding GearLaker Girls and famous jocks joined the legions of shillsat the sporting-goods Super Show

February 04, 2002

Last week, though you'd little know it, the sports capital of the
world was Las Vegas, where some 2,000 sporting-goods
professionals from more than 100 nations and representing 1,300
companies gathered at the Sands Expo Center for the annual Super
Show, in which (among others) American, Pakistani and Taiwanese
merchants pitched products, ogled athletes and endeavored--above
all else--to get the Laker Girls' autographs. "A lot of people
want us to write comments that are too...sexual," said Laker
Girl Gigi, a championship ring on her right index finger, while
signing glossies in the Capezio ballet-slipper booth. "Things
like 'Thanks, you were great last night.' But we're not allowed
to do that."

Otherwise, access to athletes and sports celebrities is all but
unfettered during Super Show week. A blue-haired slot jockey--her
right biceps bulging like the Arm & Hammer baking-soda logo--can
look up from a one-armed bandit to see, striding through a Strip
casino, Herschel Walker or Sugar Ray Leonard or the Dallas
Cowboys cheerleaders, onlookers' tongues rolling out before them
like red carpets. "Everyone tells us the Cowboys are their
favorite team," said Brandy and Ashley, Cowboys cheerleaders who
finished each other's sentences at the Super Show. "Even when
they're wearing Raiders hats."

From the Cowboys cheerleaders to the casino cocktail waitresses
to the spandexed women on the Super Show floor sentenced to
giving daylong demonstrations of the Thighmaster, Las Vegas last
week retained its title as the most overcleavaged city on earth.
Perhaps that's why rapper Tone Loc, in a St. Louis Rams shirt,
was sweating profusely while he handicapped Vegas's next very
tentatively scheduled sports extravaganza, the Mike Tyson-Lennox
Lewis fight. "Haven't been seeing Mike in the clubs, which is a
good sign," said Loc. "So I'm taking Tyson."

When Loc wasn't living last week at the Mandalay Bay's $10 craps
table, he was promoting a product called Tireflys, lights that
affix to the valve stems of your lowrider, illuminating your mag
wheels like a neon sign. The Super Show is where the next
indispensable recreational product--and many more dispensable
ones--will likely be discovered. So Mojde Esfandiari, president of
the wonderful Wham-O, said, "We've taken the hula hoop to the
next level." With that, she showed off the E-Shoop, which
electronically counts the number of times a hula hoop
circumnavigates your torso. (Mercifully, Wham-O still makes many
of the garden-hose-driven products you coveted as a child, like
the timeless Splatter Up, a device that shoots a Whiffle ball
aloft on a stream of water, thus combining T-ball and a fire
hosing by Bull Connor.)

The Super Show is filled with inventors like John Girton, a rabid
Raiders fan who sought to build a better face paint, troubled as
he was by the legion of football fanatics who wore latex house
paints or oil-based paints that put the wearer in an ER. "Ours is
nontoxic, very safe," said John's son, Bill, whose face, hair and
beard were painted in the black, red and white of the Buffalo
Sabres. Alas, the spray-on product is flammable, and one hopes
that Bill's beard, should he ever smoke at a hockey game, is not
set alight like the Hindenburg.

Not far from the Girtons' booth stood Brad Templeton, a
boxer-shorts salesman from Hartland, Wis. "Yankees fans are head
and shoulders above others," he said, choosing an odd phrase to
describe the most prolific buyers of licensed underwear in
sports. Notre Dame, said Templeton, moves the next most boxers,
a fact that should surely be factored into the BCS rankings.
(Cubs fans are third, and Raiders fans--well, they're believed
to go commando.)

The Super Show is a fascinating fetishizing of sports, with
catcher's mitts rotating on motorized platforms, as if they're
cars of the future at an auto expo. Footballs soak in pickle
brine, demonstrating the toughness of their hides (should an NFL
game ever be played in a Vlasic jar). Everywhere, half-dressed
babes run the backs of their hands over volleyballs and Hacky
Sacks, as Vanna White does to a letter after turning it.

Everyone--from the inventor of the shvitz-in-a-box, a personal
steam bath, to the sellers of officially licensed sports
coffins--thinks his or her business is the next Nike, a prospect
that grows wearying after a week. "Pssst! You with the press?" a
man asked after popping from behind a pillar, mugger-style, on
the floor of the Super Show. "This is my invention, the Autograph
Cap." He bowed his head to reveal a baseball hat with an easily
signed, slick-fabric bill bearing the still-wet signature of Fred
Lynn. The journalist ambushed by this inventor simply nodded,
backed away slowly from the apparel row and then fled the Sands
Expo Center, thus concluding his surreal week among the
sporting-goods set: Fear and Clothing in Las Vegas.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)