Remembrance of Things Past: The NBA Returns to its Roots

June 1, 2011

LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. Now, Grant Jones is taking his talents to Instead of Texting to present his definitive retrospective on NBA fashion through the ages (with an assist from Jimmy).

The recent unveiling of the new Washington Wizards uniforms was further evidence of a growing trend among NBA franchises to re-brand themselves into the aesthetics of their own past. Golden State, Utah, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit and Minnesota have all rebuked the “upgrades” of the 1990s in favor of a return to the uniform styles of the 1970s and 80s. Looking back, this now seems only the inevitable conclusion of a decade-long obsession with throwback uniforms, which had begun as an occasional homage to a team’s history but quickly proved very popular with fans. Now those same teams that once rebuked these older styles as out-of-date are changing their minds. In fact, the only franchises which seem immune to this growing trend are those whose style have never (or seldom) deviated from their original incarnations. Teams such as Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, Chicago and San Antonio. It would appear that the same NBA marketing teams which, during the 1990s, ushered in one of the most comprehensive, unnecessary and unappealing style shifts in league history could finally realize what fans had long known: nostalgia sells.

Well, usually.

It seems odd that such a sweeping change in uniform styles would have taken place in the 1990s, when the league’s popularity was at an all-time high. Not only were logos updated but in many cases, entire color schemes—which had been associated with their respective teams for decades—were swapped out for new ones. Detroit went from blue and red to green and orange. Houston, which had always been red and gold, made navy blue its dominant color. Sacramento, Milwaukee and Utah each decided to drape themselves in purple despite no preceding association with that color. Cleveland ditched burgundy for sky blue and black. Denver, Philadelphia and Golden State all fell into the modernization trap, with Toronto, New Jersey and Dallas staggering into new designs by the early 2000s. In a few cases, these overhaul designs were met with positive critiques, while in most, such as Detroit’s odd choice, the changes were met by fan outrage. Undoubtedly, as The Gap recently realized, change for change’s sake is not always a good idea, especially if it uproots an identity fans came to regard as part of their own.

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