The NBA uniform has come a long way from the short-shorts that rode up Larry Bird’s pelvic bone (sorry for the imagery), but we’re still talking about the same old league that used to fine icons like Michael Jordan for the length of his shorts and the colour of his sneakers. We’re talking about a league that had to implement a dress code because everyone was imitating Allen Iverson, simultaneously scaring away sponsors. But the league may have finally struck a balance. Tonight’s upcoming game between the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets will set a new precedent: for the first time, NBA players’ nicknames will appear on the backs of their jerseys, in all their recognizable glory.
The NBA has often attempted to suppress individual expression on the hardwood. While modern NBA players do enjoy the privilege of customizing their look with various styles of sneakers, headbands, sleeves, or shoulder pads, they can only do so in the context of “functional” purposes. But let’s be honest, for a guy who wears as much gear as Mike Miller, is that really the case?
It’s been a long road to get to where we the uniform currently finds itself, and it’s certainly not the final destination. The NBA uniform in 2014 is an evolution of successful concepts such as the throwback Hardwood Classic lines, alternate-coloured home and road uniforms, the Noche Latina unis, various military and holiday tributes and, of course, last year’s Golden State uniform that threw short sleeves into the mix.
This season, the NBA started off strong with a revamped sleeved jersey introduced during its slate of Christmas games. The sleeved jersey seems more functional, even when playing pick up basketball (stop pretending like you don’t wear a t-shirt under your jersey), helping to avoid the various scrapes and scratches professional players receive when they drive down the lane while massive, 6’10” wingspans swipe at the ball.
There’s also an opportunity—should the NBA choose pursue it—to add small advertising logos on the sleeves for additional revenue. Don’t roll your eyes, you know they’re thinking about it—they already sell arena names to the highest bidding company, after all. The NBA’s track record has also demonstrated that most uniform changes are purely revenue-driven, though in the most boring way possible: living up to clean cut sponsorship images. As long as they keep the front of the jersey clean, however, we’d probably be okay with it.
But throwing street nicknames on there—such as J. Shuttlesworth or The Truth—shows that the NBA is finally giving recognition to the culture that has developed their product. Naturally, the jerseys will also be fast sellers and hot items in the marketplace, but beyond that, the league is also fulfilling the dream of many kids that are grown men in the NBA today: having their personalities recognized beyond their team culture.