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Basketball gives the vest trade a bounce

BRITAIN ranks among the world powers in basketball - but only in selling vests.

Replica basketball vests - some costing as much as pounds 45 - are selling out in leading department stores as teenagers step up their demand for this latest item of Americana. 'Basketball has become an exciting, professionally packaged marketing ploy,' Andrew Robinson, marketing manager for a clothing distributor, said. 'Three years ago we sold fewer than 100 replica vests. This year we have sold 8,000.'

Lillywhite's, Britain's largest sports store, was out of Michael Jordan vests this week. 'Since basketball has been moved to the afternoon slot on Saturdays it has really taken off. We can hardly keep up with the demand,' a spokeswoman said.

Not put off by England's low ranking among Europe's basketball teams - no longer in the top 20 - basketball enthusiasts say that the popularity of the merchandise is the first step to basketball becoming Britain's 'number one indoor sports game' by 2000

'There has been a massive groundswell in the interest shown to basketball,' David Ransom, chief executive of English Basketball Association, said. 'More than 2 million kids are being introduced to the sport each year. Another 750,000 play regularly.'

Brian Aldred is a youth coach. He described basketball as a game where everybody does everything. 'There are no fixed roles in basketball. There are plenty of chances to express yourself.

'It is also a cheap sport. It is easy to play in terms of gear and equipment - all that is needed is a backyard and a hoop,' he said.

The merchandise has a particular appeal even to non-players because teenagers love glamour, he went on. 'Kids like to emulate their heroes. Go to a match and you won't see any kids. They spend the whole time practising their shooting and dribbling beside the court. They just want to copy their heroes.'

Hannah Martin, 20, plays in the national women's league. 'Basketball is very addictive. I've been playing for eight years, since school. I like the competition. It is very physical. It is also easy to pick up.'