September 18, 2017

New Threads (Sort Of)

If you visited the NBA Store's website any time in the last couple of months, you might have been greeted with flashy graphics advertising low low prices on jerseys with messages urging you to "Hurry! Get them while they last." Those sales included official Adidas player replica and swingman jerseys with discounts up to 30% off.

30% off NBA jerseys?!?!? Are you kidding me??? What a bargain, right?

Well...sort of.

True, you could have snagged yourself a brand new jersey at 30% off, as long as the player and team you wanted were available. But next month they won't be the current version. That's because next month Adidas is out as the NBA's jersey provider of choice and Nike is in. That might mean jerseys look a lot different or it might not. Depends on which team you are rooting for. And yes, what's happening at the NBA online store is a fire sale. There's going to be nothing the NBA can do with the old Adidas jerseys next month except to give them away.

Whether it's the league's doing or Nike's doing or a combination of both, the folks up at Nike are taking a little bit of a different approach to jerseys than did their predecessors at Adidas. Instead of a home (typically white) and away (typically a color) with one or more alternates, maybe a throwback and a sleeved jersey, Nike's going with what looks like four or five non-sleeved jerseys (thank GOD!) per team.

In August, Nike released the initial round of unis for each team, what they are referring to as the Association and Icon editions. According to both the league and Nike, the home team will no longer be required to wear the white uniforms at home but can instead select which uniform they prefer on any given night with the visiting team just required to wear a uniform of sufficiently contrasting color. I'll get back to this subject later but I thought it was already this way. The Wizards had plenty of blue nights at Verizon Center last year and even at least one red night, didn't they?

Beyond the Association and Icon jerseys, Nike will release some throwbacks for some franchises (the Wizards are apparently NOT one of the teams receiving a throwback) and then a couple of alternates, most likely without sleeves as things should be. Last Friday, Nike released each team's Statement jerseys, which for the Wizards are blue alternates they've sported the last couple of years (and STILL missing the red stripe that I want to make these things way better). And there is already some buzz about the as yet unveiled Wizards fourth kit: apparently the stars and stripes unis that most people loved last year are not in the cards this year.

For now, let's focus on the August release of the Association and Icon jerseys. I think the universal reaction from fans on Twitter to the Wizards Nike first release was something to the effect of "there's no difference from the Adidas jerseys from last year!" My response to that is yeah, what were you expecting?

I mean, sure, maybe this was a chance for a complete re-brand (and the Minnesota Timberwolves did just that - even though they probably shouldn't have) but Nike taking over the jersey contract for the NBA didn't mean they were going to redesign all the uniforms league-wide. In the case of the Wizards, the team just invested what I assume is a good chunk of change for a new look just six years ago. And they look gorgeous; I still believe the home whites are the best unis in the league. Why on Earth would we change? I'm thrilled with the status quo.

Having said all that, there are a couple of Nike implemented tweaks that bug me.

The first of these is the stripe down the side of the uniform. It stops at the waistband on the Nike version whereas it didn't in the Adidas kit. Sure, I know, it's such a minor detail that it probably doesn't matter (and let's face it, discussions about stripes on waistbands on NBA uniforms really DON'T matter in the grand scheme of things) but that continuity was important to me to maintain the vertical flow of the uniform. The waistband stops that motion and divides the uniform quite clearly into a jersey and a pair of shorts.

The other one, though, really does matter (not really; but it matters to me). One of the most clever details of the Adidas Wizards uniforms was the way the vee cut in the shorts worked with the star and the block of color (white on the red shorts; blue on the white) in that location to form a W in the negative space at the bottom of the shorts leg. It was such a clever detail in an overall well designed uniform. It's the easter egg in the uniform. The Washington Post even gave it a little praise in their initial review of the unis, although they also implied that neither John Wall or Jordan Crawford could find it (the Washington Times reported something similar). You can see the Adidas shorts in the photograph above on the left.

What Nike has done is make the Wizards uniform fit their template and that template has the vee cut in the shorts offset, which slides that feature out of the space below the star removing the cut in the underside of the W. You can see a portion of the new Nike shorts in the photograph above on the right. In the new shorts, the hidden surprise in the uniform is destroyed. And honestly, that sucks in my opinion.

So yes, the Nike uniforms are pretty much the same as their predecessors. But they are not exactly the same. They are, in my opinion, slightly worse than the Adidas version.

The Statement jerseys I think are fine, because they don't have the same hidden W on the shorts. The only complaint fans could have levied about these kits is just like the Association and Icon editions, they are pretty much exactly the same as last year's jerseys. See my rant about "what were you expecting?" above if you want to know how I feel about this. True, some teams like Golden State and Oklahoma City got something a bit new and different. Again, there was no reason for the Wizards to change. Besides, there's still one more jersey release to come. And we know it's not a stars and stripes or a throwback.

Now...about that whole Association and Icon thing and teams being able to pick which color they wear at home. There are traditions about uniforms. I'm not one of those stuck in the mud guys who can't keep up with the times and adapt to change. But I will say there's value in traditions. One tradition about uniforms in the NBA is that the home team wears white. I love our white uniforms. I think they are the best in basketball (and yes, I do mean even better than the stars and stripes unis). Honestly, I don't care if the Wizards wear red or white or blue at home or on the road. I think we should wear the whites as much as possible because they are works of art; that's just me. But I do care about another uniform tradition and wearing red or blue at home will mess that one up.

In American sports, there is a custom where the home team wears uniforms with their nicknames at home and the name of the city on the road. I guess the logic here is fans in their home arenas can identify where the visitor is from by the name of the city on their chest but can't necessarily do that if the nickname in on there. At home, it doesn't matter because everyone in the arena presumably knows what city they are in at the time.

Now, not every NBA team follows this custom. The New York Knicks wear uniforms with "New York" on them whether they are at home or on the road. The Los Angeles Lakers do the exact opposite, preferring to not identify that they are from L.A. but instead just use their nickname. I guess you can pull that sort of thing off when you have won 16 titles. Even teams like the Wizards have bucked the tradition: the team didn't wear Washington on their jerseys when they first changed their name from the Bullets. It took the 2011 rebrand to get us some road unis with Washington on them.
Which is sort of precisely my point. Now that you have fixed that issue, let's keep it fixed. So, criticsms of the shorts on the Nike uniforms aside, I'm imploring the Wizards to continue to wear white at home (the jerseys with Wizards on them) and a color, whether it be red or blue, on the road.
That's all I got to say about this re-issue or lack thereof for now. When the fourth jerseys are released, I expect I'll have some comments on those. Until then, I'll wallow in the lost W on the Association/Icons and the missing stripe on the Statements for a while. Wallow. Wallow. Wallow.

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