Shabazz Muhammad spent the first three games of UCLA's season—and his college career—sitting on the bench while the NCAA deliberated on whether he'd committed a minor infraction that he'd specifically been advised not to worry about when he committed it. When he was finally reinstated, he got back on the floor just in time for a rough patch in the Bruins' schedule, and pundits spent the next two weeks calling Muhammad overrated and out of shape while his team went 2-3. As of late, though, things had been looking up: UCLA put together a winning streak, and Muhammad has had eight 20-point games since his return.
Then he wore the wrong backpack. From a (since edited) ESPN post:
UCLA's compliance department is looking into the designer backpack star freshman Shabazz Muhammad wore during postgame interviews Thursday night after he scored 23 points in the Bruins' 84-73 upset of No. 6 Arizona.
Most UCLA athletes use school-issued backpacks that include the school logo, the sport they play and their uniform number. Muhammad, however, was sporting what appeared to be a Gucci backpack. The Gucci website shows men's backpacks ranging in price from $990 to $2,370.
Nobody asked Muhammad about the backpack during the interview session, so it's unclear if it's real or a knockoff or how a college student came about owning such a pricey bag. Howland declined to say whether the issue was being overblown.
It's unclear if it's real or a knockoff or how a college student came about owning such a pricey bag. College athletes are literally not allowed to have nice things, lest an enterprising journalist notice those things and declare them suspicious. UCLA's compliance department has already investigated the issue and declared it within bounds, but it's still worth looking at Pat Forde's original, breathtakingly smarmy column mentioning Muhammad's backpack, if only for a perfect example of the point at which carrying water for the NCAA devolves into absurdity. After a response from Muhammad's sister, he amended the relevant portion to read as follows:
After putting the Bruins on his back with a game-high 23 points, Muhammad put something else on his back before leaving the arena – a black Gucci backpack.
It was a nice look.
Nice enough that I checked Gucci.com Thursday night and found 18 backpacks, with the cheapest going for $990 retail. But, hey, I'm sure these things can be found on sale, right?
I'm not saying there's something fishy about Muhammad's designer backpack, even though most of his teammates were sporting more modest, UCLA-issue models. (Fellow freshman Kyle Anderson also had a designer model.) Asia Muhammad, Shabazz's sister, tweeted an explanation for the backpack, saying she and her mother had purchased it for Shabazz as a gift. (She later deleted the tweets). I'm just saying a college kid wearing Gucci catches the eye – especially when the college kid is Muhammad.
Pat Forde declining to ask any questions about the backpack and then running home to Google "Gucci.com" is the saddest example of "gotcha" journalism we've seen in some time. Even if he hadn't been misguided in his motives, he had his facts wrong: UCLA cleared Muhammad in less than a day.
Luckily for us, Forde was wrong about something else, too: Asia Muhammad never deleted the tweets.
If there's one thing we understand, it's fighting smarm with smarm. Well played.