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Nike takes over the NBA – A look at the History of NBA Jerseys

KICKZ is currently on a field trip in the US, because Nike has just launched their all new NBA jersey collection for the upcoming season in Los Angeles, California. And by “all new”, I literally mean all new. They have totally refurbished the NBA jersey as we know it, using new materials, applying new cuts and creating new designs for a whole bunch of teams. But before diving deeper into the matter, let’s take a look at the long history of NBA jerseys…


Back in the days, things used to be so simple. This does not apply to basketball jerseys though. Take a look at these beauties the St. Louis Bombers wore in 1947 for example. What are those?! Satin short shorts with belts around the waist, contrasting the jersey, a simple white T-shirt with the team’s name across the chest. This outfit would be a major fashion statement nowadays!

This design remained popular throughout the 1950s however, and the belt, as odd as that may seem today, was a regular feature of professional basketball jerseys. Local vendors manufactured each NBA team’s uniforms. Starting in that decade and continuing into the 1960s, the jerseys have transformed into what we’ve grown accustomed to today. Basketball jerseys became sleeveless. In the beginning, these jerseys looked like simple tank tops and that’s also what they were. Performance fabrics had yet to be developed and polyester was the state of the art material. The awkward belts were replaced with elastic waist bands during that time and the overall look of basketball uniforms started to develop into the style we know today. Thank goodness!

1960s – 1970s

In the 1960s, teams began adding players’ names to jerseys and using a common vendor to produce uniforms, guaranteeing a more consistent look. This marks an important step in the evolution of NBA jerseys, as the marketability of players is an integral part of todays game. Concerning functionality however, it took another 20 years until the jersey reached the next level. The early 1980s saw a major leap in the technology of NBA jerseys. MacGregor Sand-Knit became the exclusive outfitter during this period, introducing a new cotton/polyester blend, which allowed for better moisture management and the phasing out of non-breathable satin shorts. Manufacturers introduced an open-holed uniform material to allow for breathability. Players during this period were offered only standard sizes.


1989 can be considered as the most important year in the history of NBA jerseys. When Champion took over as the official partner of the NBA, Alexander Julian laid hands on the then newly founded Charlotte Hornets’ jersey and made it the first jersey in all major American sports which was created by a fashion designer. Thereby he did not only create a performance shirt, but also started the transition from performance to lifestyle. Jerseys became one of the most popular items among fans, which helped the NBA and its teams become iconic global brands in popular culture. Pinstripes and crazy graphics started to adorn the chests of NBA players as the jersey designs became louder and thus more street style each season. You got to love the late 1980s and mid 1990s jerseys!


The shorts remained as they were, but thanks to a certain Michael Jordan things changed. MJ was constantly tugging down his shorts to make them longer which led to NBA uniforms becoming customizable. This allowed players to decide how their jerseys and shorts should fit and as a result shorts became longer and short-shorts were a thing of the past, as long as your name wasn’t John Stockton that is. When two new Canadian teams joined the league in 1995, namely the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies, wild jersey designs reached their absolute climax. Both teams featured huge versions of their logos on their uniforms, a gigantic red dinosaur on the chest and a massive grizzly bear on the shorts, respectively. And both uniforms became instant icons!

2000 up until now!

Nike and Starter joined Champion as manufacturers of NBA jerseys in 1997. The companies developed new fabric technology that improved moisture management and reduced the overall weight of the jersey. Design didn’t play as big a role as it used to, but performance and technology became the main focal points. Even more so when Reebok took over as the official outfitter and expanded fabric options and design applications, offering teams multiple fabrications for their uniforms. In terms of design and experimenting, the last 10 years  were quite wild to say the least… adidas became the official uniform supplier of the NBA in 2006 and had more misses than makes during its reign. While some of the themed jerseys like the Noche Latina or Christmas jerseys were real nice alternatives to the regular team uniforms, the introduction of sleeved jerseys in 2013 was an absolutely horrible move. When the Golden State Warriors debuted their sleeved alternate jerseys, fans worldwide were disgusted by its looks, and rightfully so. Two different tones of yellow on jersey and shorts plus blue pinstripes on the shorts, whoever came up with this terrible combo definitely designed the worst jerseys in modern NBA history. The 2016 sleeved jerseys the Cavs wore in the 2016 Finals can be considered the lone exception when it comes to sleeved jerseys, as the combo of black jerseys and the giant Cavs C was an absolute slam-dunk!

And now the curtain rises for Nike…

Starting this NBA season, Nike will be the official endorsement partner of the NBA!

And that’s where literally everything becomes new. Informed by more than 25 years of research on all levels of basketball and insight from current NBA players, the uniform is built on a refined version of the Nike Aeroswift basketball chassis. The players’ influence helped Nike refurbishing the NBA uniforms in areas like the armhole, neck and side seams. Therefore 3D-body maps of players, including heat and sweat maps were employed and as a result, the new uniforms are lighter, have a different fit and the overall construction of them has changed.

Members of Team USA have helped developing the jerseys by testing them and giving their opinion on certain aspects and as Kyrie Irving put it, “The fact that Nike listened to all of our feedback while developing the new NBA uniforms speaks volumes. I’m excited for the new fit and feel.”

The uniform is comprised of a combination of so-called Alpha Yarns and recycled polyester (each athlete uniform represents approximately 20 recycled PET bottles). According to Nike this yarn blend removes moisture more quickly than previous NBA uniforms, wicking sweat 30-percent faster than current NBA uniforms. Plus there’s a chip in each jersey, Nike Connectivity, that lets fans get closer to their jersey’s player with the help of an app which provides exclusive NBA content. Talk about high-tech.

Another all new approach comes via the naming of the jerseys. There are no more Home and Away uniforms, but home teams will pick which of their uniforms will be worn at all home games and visiting teams will choose a contrasting uniform within their own assortment. Therefore Nike and the NBA worked together to create four core uniforms for each team, classified as “editions,” which draw from the rich heritage of the NBA and its respective franchises.

The first two editions, the old Home and Away, were already revealed in July. They are called “Association” and “Icon”. The Association Edition, the traditional home white uniform that all 30 teams will have in their assortment, links them as members of the most exclusive basketball club in the world, the National Basketball Association. The Icon Edition represents the rich heritage and iconic identity that exists within each franchise and utilizes the team’s primary color, a color that dominates the closets of the most diehard fans.

The Statement Edition uniform sets the tone for big games or rivalries and is inspired by the team’s desire to make a bold statement every time they step on the court. For each team, the aesthetic expresses the specific spirit of the current roster.

Complementing the new uniform editions, Nike also unveiled a new on-court collection, including never seen before hooded warm-up jackets, tights and socks, that provide a seamless look for the greatest athletes in the world when they play on the game’s biggest stages.

Get the new gear starting September 29 on KICKZ.com and in our stores! (Statement jerseys November 20).


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