Hanging by a Thread
Eight franchises in need of different uniforms.
The art of NBA jerseys has always been a fascination, if not constant critique, of obsessed fans. Watching the Playoffs we’ve noticed the best and worst of sport fashion, and the Conference Finals were an interesting cross-section of tradition and progress.
The Lakers represent the old guard—their jerseys, though updated prior to their recent championship runs, are simple and run along the same lines as those worn by Magic and Kareem. The purple-and-gold runs deep, and they benefit from the tradition.
The Cavs and Magic series showcased the newest in design: Cleveland’s flashy threads were updated prior to the LeBron days, and Orlando’s were redone last year. Both jerseys were well-researched and executed, maintaining a classic, accessible style while taking new risks. They are damn good looking jerseys, and they have helped bring the teams from failure (both had a No. 1 pick in the past decade) to glory.
But the glaring exception in the Conference Finals was Denver’s bland uniform. Boring and plain, the Denver players seemed embarrassed by the excessively glossy powder blue trim. The jerseys especially make no use whatsoever of the team’s natural images: the mountain, snow and pickaxes are nowhere to be found (aside from the occasional and embarrassing “peak” on the butt of the shorts). Wouldn’t it be an improvement to have a simple mountaintop on the side of the shorts? Or crossing pickaxes on the underarm? But perhaps they are too late; the Nuggets have now built a new, winning culture with Chauncey Billups and are maybe too entrenched to change.
A jersey change, aside from changing the look of a team, may also change their attitude toward the game. How about the Tennessee Titans or Tampa Bay Rays? Though clearly not the only factor in team resurgence, a well-timed jersey update can catalyze progress. So, without further ado, here are the teams most in need of a new look on the court:
I grew up loving the Grizz of old, those of Shareef and Big Country, but aside from my own sentiment, I wouldn’t wish those teal wrecks on anyone. But the sad tradition continued in Memphis, and now the Grizzlies are left with odd jerseys and a bizarre mascot. This look served in the Pau days, but those are now long gone, and the prospect of O.J. Mayo paired with Ricky Rubio should be enough for the Memphis hierarchy to consider a change. They need to strive for a fiercer look, something to make the fans forget their losing past.
Fans may not love Warriors management, but they love the orange up there. The Warriors will keep trudging along in the middle of the West until they finally decide to purge the organization: Don Nelson’s non-defense, overpaid players and, ultimately, those frightening jerseys. The orange needs to be reconsidered, the outdated logo ousted, and the whole outfit toned down a bit. Golden State has excellent retro jerseys; perhaps they should consider a move back to tradition.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the Wizards’ jersey—I’ve got a Rod Strickland hanging in the closet. But, as with their current nucleus, it may be time to move on. Washington just fired their coach, and the Arenas-Jamison-Butler core is starting to age quickly. Their old look is very flashy, and they could perhaps use a more intimidating, powerful style with big bold letters. Maybe take the Magic’s recent jersey as an example for lettering, but still add the flair that marks their jerseys now. I would have suggested a change for next year had they won the Blake Griffin sweepstakes, but maybe another mediocre year or two will incite the Wizards to start anew, both with personnel and apparel.
Are these really the same jerseys that AI wore? The Sixers are a completely different team (no Larry Brown; no Eric Snow) with a new outlook, and they need to let their fans know it. There is a long tradition of excellence in the 76ers organization, and it’s time to hark back to it. Allow the fans to believe Andre Iguodala is the second coming of Dr. J, at least you’ll sell more tickets. The Sixers have a very strong foundation and some excellent young players, and they would benefit from a new look to go with their new coach.
At least they tried. Both in play and fashion, the Bobcats may have looked awful from the start, but they always tried it a different way. But, as with their roster, the Bobcats need to try something new. Toning down the overbearing orange and going in another direction will serve Charlotte as they try to become a serviceable NBA team.
Phoenix has always been at the forefront of progressive jerseys in the NBA. Their bold slanted look of the Majerle days transitioned well to the slicker new trimmed look that served them during Mike D’Antoni’s career in Phoenix. D’Antoni is gone, however, Steve Nash is not an MVP, and the Suns failed to make the Playoffs for the first time in five years. An update to their jerseys, going more bold and less grey, could help the team move on once their core players have left.
These are good looking jerseys that have made the Mavs a unique for many years. But Nowitzki is getting old, Jason Kidd may not be back, and Rick Carlisle doesn’t seem a good fit for the long-term. This move may seem preemptive, and would be more powerful in a few years, but eventually the Mavs will fall off, and when they do, they will fall hard. Another look would help them start a new culture, removed from Playoff failure.
The Thunder changed their entire organization and are doing an excellent job rebuilding. But it will be sad to see the excellent young core wearing those ugly wrecks for years to come. The Thunder couldn’t have made a poorer choice in their boring jerseys, and I’m just glad I’m not an OKC fan. I never thought I’d say this, but they need to take a lesson from the Warriors. As a friend quipped, “I’d rather wear a WNBA jersey.”
In short, teams need to find things that make their jersey unique. Logos (aside from the ridiculous chest-symbol fad of the 90s) are entirely underused, a tool which recognizes to a team’s link to its city. The Jazz’s mountains, the Wolves’ trees, and the Heat’s flames have added a spark of distinction and flair to their uniforms. Some teams have had varied success with jersey design, most markedly (and in my mind, triumphantly) in New Orleans recent bold threads.
As long as there is constant progress and a resolve to not stick to tired conventions, it’s easy for the basketball fan to envision a bright future of impressive NBA jersey design.