The Sleeved Jersey Apocalypse,
and 20 Other Thoughts on New Looks in the NBA

by on November 7, 2014

The NBA is going through a massive style change. After an embarrassing run of jersey designs and vector-y logos that lasted far too long into the 21st century, NBA teams are suddenly aware of their image and actually making smart moves to look cool again. A sudden influx of money tends to have that effect.

While most of the new designs for new jerseys, new courts and new-again logos are steps in the right direction for a good looking NBA, some of them are bad, and others are harbingers of very bad news.


On Wednesday night the Portland Trailblazers may have beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers at home in the Moda Center, but they did so in their new sleeved Rip City alternate jerseys. So while they won, we all lost. Let me be clear about two things: (1) the Blazers’ Rip City alternate was the single best alternate jersey in the NBA, and (2) sleeved jerseys are a fucking abomination.

Shoulders are a fundamental part of the NBA experience. This topic has been discussed a lot so I won’t bore you with another rant or disheartened plea to the people in NBA marketing departments, but let me be clear about one more thing: (3) we’re past the point of no return. Change is irreversible. Do we want to be the generation that could have prevented catastrophe, but did nothing? What are our grandkids going to think about us?

The time to act is now.



Related to sleeved jerseys: on Sunday night when the Clippers wore their baby blue sleeved jerseys in a home game against the Kings, Blake Griffin also sported a neat little mustache.

These sleeved jerseys are bringing us all to a bad place.



The Charlotte Hornets are back! Michael Jordan’s sorry ass Bobcats got a makeover and once again one of the most fun brands in the NBA is back and in its proper home. A great injustice in NBA identity theft has been resolved, MJ got really excited, and the Bobcats brand is dead.

The teal of the Hornets new alternates looked particularly striking against the Bucks' red alternates. A gorgeous mix of classic and contemporary style.

The teal of the Hornets new alternates looked particularly striking against the Bucks’ red alternates. A gorgeous mix of classic and contemporary style.

True to their roots, the Hornets wore their teal alternates on opening night and The Hive was alive, with memories of beleaguered Bobcats’ seasons faded firmly into the past. Their new addition Lance Stephenson has a lot of pride in the Hornets brand but is struggling to make an impact on the court, while the other member of the Hornets’ all-NYC back court, Kemba Walker, is emerging as a superstar. Their 1-3 record proves that looking good is not an immediate recipe for success on the court, but no team has ever looked better in losing.



The Hornets’ new honeycomb floor design deserves it’s own special mention. Because WOWZA.

Photo from hornets.com.

Photo from hornets.com.

Gimmicks tend to look gimmicky and NBA arenas are full of floors with fun ideas run wild and HUGE all over the court. A lot of other NBA teams have been experimenting with two-toned wood, inverting inside and outside the 3-point arc with lighter and darker tones, as well as getting cute with huge logos, paint colours and 3D effects. This floor design bucks all of those trends. Creating the honeycomb effect with two tones of hardwood was an ambitious project (because oh god it could have looked so bad!), yet the end result looks simplified and traditional. The designers did not go overboard with extras: the key and 3-point line are both as simple as possible, the (new, fantastic) Hornets logo at center court is a reasonable size, the baseline typography looks great and the Buzz City emblems actually fills in what would be a very reserved design. The deep purple complements both tones of wood, and the teal along the sidelines is sublime.

If this new court starts a trend in court design, let’s hope it is a trend for the quality of the design and craftmanship and not the gimmicky nature of the idea.



After announcing it this summer, the Atlanta Hawks finally got a chance to showoff their new-again Pac logo in their first home game of the regular season. Their new court featuring the logo is straightfoward with the logo front and center and nothing to distract from it.

Had a blast last night at the @atlhawks opener. New court, T.I., #HawksBros, and a W.

A photo posted by J.E. Skeets (@jeskeets) on

The Hawks have had a well-publicized problem in attracting fans to their games, and their internal strife about ticket sales and home game demographics was symptomatic of how the Hawks have lacked a true team identity since the days of Dominique Wilkins and actual basketball success. So, the Hawks are building ‘Nique a statue, they brought back their best visual elements from the past, and the Hawks are playing some decent basketball. I can’t wait for exactly two games of playoff basketball to be played on this new court in May.



The Pelicans also have a new floor. Unlike the Hornets’ floor, opinion on this is mixed. Lots of people like it — and I hate it. The design is definitely bold, featuring a Pelican in a darkened tone spreading its wings within the 3-point arc. It looks fine as very pelican-like from above, but in context it usually looks like a mix of weird lines.

Could they not have just superimposed Pierre the Pelican’s face over the entire court? If the Pellies could get used the overwhelming terror, it seems like that could be a substantial home court advantage.



The Antony Davises Pelicans also debuted their new red alternate uniform on opening night. Luckily, these new uniforms are not watermarked with any water fowl and the typography is clean and consistent with their brand’s French colonial lettering they adopted upon moving to Louisiana. After transitioning to the Pelicans in 2013, it seems the new name is finally coming into its own.



The Toronto Raptors are sporting a new 20th Anniversary patch throughout the season. More importantly, they will also be wearing the “Dino” throwbacks at some point this season tonight!

The Raptors are celebrating their anniversary by soaking themselves in the nostalgia of those early Raptors seasons in the SkyDome. I’ve written before how a purple dinosaur was a weird choice for a basketball team, but that jersey has become a beloved icon of Toronto basketball culture. There may not be a more revered and loved throwback to any fanbase than this hideously-perfect purple dinosaur is to Raptors fans. Coming off of the frenzy of the #WeTheNorth community following last year’s first round playoff exit, both the team and its fans are realizing how truly deep their relationship runs. Those purple jerseys are going to ignite the insanity of those Raps fans like no Drake song ever can.



LeBron is back in town, so the Cavs upgraded the Quicken Loans Center to accommodate their returning King and his court with a new floor and a giganto new scoreboard. Both new additions are prime examples of the American corporate design world’s obsession with HUGE just as everything associated with LeBron’s return has been grandiose, self-important and lacking in subtlety. The new court preaches the same overamped sensibility: the giant ‘C’ logo almost touches both 3-point lines, and the very generic Cleveland skyline is jammed onto one sideline.

At some point people are going to get tired of hearing about Cleveland civic pride all the time, and when the hangover of LeBron’s return wears off, the Cavs will be stuck with an ugly skyline and a gigantic stupid logo on the court. Hopefully winning, whenever that happens, is a good sacrifice for being ugly and tacky.



While still on the Cavs: They wore their blue alternates for their season opener and LeBron’s return. It’s a good look for the Cavs, especially when paired with yellow accessories. Or maybe I just hate maroon.



The Boston Celtics know when not to fuck with something that works. They also know that when you make a change, tradition is the best design inspiration for the most historic and legendary brand in basketball.


Their new “lucky alternate” logo is directly inspired by the original illustration created in the 1960s by Zang Auerback, a sports and editorial artist who also happened to be Red Auerbach’s brother. In another nod to the Auerbach and Bill Russell era of the Celtics, the front of their away jersey will now say “Boston” just as it had from 1946 to 1972 before it was changed to say “Celtics”.

Like everything in the Celts brand, they’ve kept things simple, restrained and paid respects to their history. (Let’s just look past this atrocious sleeveless version, okay? It doesn’t exist.)



The Mavericks also have a new alternate jersey and it is not good. Not only was this the result of a design competition (because Marc Cuban couldn’t afford to hire a designer?!), but it also suffers from the same “look at our skyline!” sickness as Cleveland. Unless you’re New York, Chicago, Toronto, Dubai, Kuala Lampur or Rio de Janeiro, no one knows or cares what your skyline looks like. When the Mavs wear this jersey, I hope they lose.


The reigning NBA champion Spurs now have the distinction of sporting a patch of the Larry O’Brien trophy to commemorate their championship all season long. It is very fetching looking, and just as I like the idea of gilding jerseys of franchises with past championships, I like that the reigning champs get to wear a fetching gold patch all season long.

The AT&T Center also has a new court this season. Replacing the primary logo at center court with their secondary logo, the ‘u’ from their wordmark formed in the shape of a spur, this new court retains the stark minimalism associated with San Antonio basketball. Going with a simpler secondary logo is a more distinguished look for such a successful franchise — it looks hard and imposing, fundamental and without celebration, all of which is very on-brand for the Spurs.



There will come a day when NBA teams have ads on their jerseys, and that time may be sooner than we think. This season the league switched the position of the NBA logo from the front left shoulder to the top center middle, opening highly-visible real estate to establish what Adam Silver calls “more of an opportunity for our marketing partners to get that much closer to our fans and to our players” and “deeper integration” with league sponsors.

Now, I’m happy that the league isn’t going to (immediately) sell the ad space on the front middle of the jersey, but the left shoulder also sucks. Because anywhere sucks. Boo!



We’re set to see a lot more teams in sleeved jerseys this season. This is bad, getting worse, and will probably end up in some sort of apocalypse. Your next piece of evidence that will make you think we’re crawling into a hole we won’t get out of: this ‘slate’ Warriors jersey, and it is hideous. I’ve thought for a while that the Warriors brand has looked student project-y and lacks refinement, but this is starting to really feel like interns are pumping out gimmicks and putting them on NBA players.



Here’s something to like: the new shooting shirts. Here’s Kobe, Timmy and Dame. The striped shoulders and city initials are very ABA-like but also in keeping with these teams individual looks. An under-rated design gem of the 2014-15 NBA season.



Kawhi Leonard is the newest athlete to get a custom logo from Jordan Brand. Opinions are divided here at F.F., but besides critiquing the specifics of the design, this is much deserved recognition for the youngest Finals MVP in history and one of the most exciting young stars in the NBA.

Perhaps it’s not so coincidental that news of Leonard and the Spurs not seeing eye-to-eye about max money broke right at a time when his profile at Jordan Brand is growing. Historically, players under the Holtz/Buford/Popovich empire have not been signed to high profile endorsement deals, especially with Nike/Jordan. Leonard wants max money and the Spurs organization has found unrivaled success in asking their players to sacrifice. The Spurs are a principled team like none other in the NBA — they stress a team-first identity, one that seems ideologically opposed to sneaker endorsements.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is some of the cause to call in question whether Leonard is going to be one of the future cornerstones of the Spurs franchise. I also wouldn’t be surprised if this same issue (money, sneaker endorsements, lifestyle) brings Leonard to major media market in free agency.



The Sacramento Kings are bringing back their new/old lettering to replace the confusing mess they had previously. The old mismatch of ‘Sacramento’ and ‘Kings’ is replaced with a single ‘Kings’ on both the home and away in their 90s-style of lettering. It’s definitely an improvement.

Now let’s take this chance to look at some photos of Boogie Cousins!




On Halloween night, the Suns went orange-on-orange with jerseys to match their floor. I usually wouldn’t approve of such things, but the Spurs were clad in black and it all looked very appropriate for Halloween night.



The Washington Wizards are one of the most sartorially successful NBA teams after being the ugliest for so long. Their team colours might be obvious for a team situated in their nation’s capital but to their credit the Wizards use those colours boldly and effectively, and it wasn’t always that easy. This new blue alternate keeps in the same fashion, finally giving them options dominant in each of red, white and blue.

and finally…

Shut ya player hatin ass up & watch the Wave God shift the culture of the NBA. #MediaDay #Clippers #DCTG

A photo posted by WAVE GOD (CDR) (@montecristo_ritchie) on


Chris-Douglas Roberts is bringing back short-shorts. I can’t start the moral panic about this fast enough! Hike up them shorts, boys! Last time I checked, this was basketball, so it means we keep thighs out of it. Shoulders are good. Thighs are bad.

is the founder, editor and designer of Flagrant Fowl.

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