WARR contributor Chris Pennant covers the Chicago Bulls and the NBA
Note: the Houston Rockets have yet to officially release any images of their “City Edition” jersey, but an image has been leaked. Still, we’ll refrain from keeping the Rockets gear in this list.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday has become a time of reflection and celebration on the NBA calendar due to the day being devoted to a man who’s life work made it possible for an international entity like the Association to be both culturally embedded and empowered by African-Americans.
Part of that cultural empowerment can be seen in the new designs put forth by new NBA apparel partner Nike, who has hit some rocks in its initial unveiling of traditionally-inspired “association,” “icon” and “statement” jerseys, but another initiative — the “City” jerseys — have been met with more positivity, although all jerseys can’t be created equal.
Certainly few of the “City” jerseys match the background of the Memphis jerseys, which were first unveiled this afternoon in the Grizzlies’ now traditional MLK Day afternoon contest, this time with the Los Angeles Lakers. Check the stark black and white design and see if it reminds you of any imaging from Memphis history, you may be surprised where it comes from.
Of course you can look below and see where the design ranks along with the other designs in the league. No matter what statement is being made by each of the jerseys, they were made to get attention and we just couldn’t help ourselves.
“You Take That Suit, and You Burn It.”
- Cleveland Cavaliers
Having “The Land” plastered on the front of these jerseys doesn’t help. The yellow in an otherwise muted color scheme makes it come off as garish, and the “sharp” serif on the number doesn’t serve a real purpose. At least you’ll probably be in the Finals again, Cavs fans.
- Boston Celtics
Gray jerseys are wack, no matter if you’re a road baseball team or a basketball team. For some reason, though, Nike and the Celtics thought going back to gray would work. It didn’t. The parquet floor design gets swallowed up in the gray, so it looks like the Celtics just removed the sleeves from those other jerseys. Take a hint, Nike: stick with green and white.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
Another attempt at using gray to be cool, and it still doesn’t work. The gradient here is supposed to remind you of a Great Plains thunderstorm and that’s respectable, but there’s nothing else adding to it. OKC has already missed the mark with their previous alternates. They need to get it together.
- Dallas Mavericks
I just visited Dallas for the first time a couple of years ago, and even though I didn’t get a chance to see the city proper, I saw some cool things I wish I’d had a chance to check out, like Reunion Tower. So seeing this jersey that looks like a mall fake is disappointing. Whereas the Cleveland jerseys jumped all the way off the cliff, it feels like the Dallas jerseys don’t take a chance at all.
- Atlanta Hawks
I partially blame the Hawks for the Dallas jerseys. They were the first to try this neon green on their uniforms. Hey, everyone, I’ll say it once: NEON DOESN’T WORK. They took a chance with the font, the triangle print and the stripe, but what does any of that have to do with Atlanta?
- Phoenix Suns
I have the same problem with this jersey as I do with the other “Noche Latina” jerseys: why isn’t the whole team name in Spanish? Nerd moment here: adding “Los” to an English team name is the least amount of effort you could put into showcasing a culture. Put “Soles” on the front and let everyone use Google Translator if they don’t know what it means. Also, having a Suns uniform without any orange on it is criminal.
“What are You Doing? Did You Not Get the Memo?”
- San Antonio Spurs
There are two reasons I don’t rock with these jerseys:
- I’m anti-war and anti-military, so I’m just never going to like a camouflage jersey. It’s just not a design I like.
- These are essentially the same alternate jerseys the Spurs have worn previously.
Again, there’s two avenues with alternate jerseys that will doom you from the start: lack of imagination or lack of restraint. Who’s going to buy a “new” jersey that looks the same as the old one?
- Los Angeles Clippers
I’ll give the Clippers’ marketing department credit for having a theme: the orange represents the original colors used when the team moved to San Diego from Buffalo in 1978. The powder blue is all Clips, too, but they didn’t change that horrible logo font they adopted this season. Things really won’t be better until that font goes away (and when the Clippers are back in contention).
- Detroit Pistons
These are basically the “Motor City” alts in a midnight blue. The striping on the side does remind me of 1940s art deco design, like the California Zephyr train and vintage cars, so that adds to the Motor City nickname, but overall it’s pretty blah. Hey, Nike: some Motown-inspired wouldn’t have been amiss here. A nod to one of the most iconic NBA moments of all time, perhaps?
- Utah Jazz
I’ve never been to Utah, but you can bet any state west of the Rocky Mountains is going to have a lot of natural wonders in it. The design here is supposed to evoke a Utah sunset, and it’s a very beautiful jersey. The only problem? I don’t think it will look good on TV, and the idea behind this marketing scheme is the TV viewers buying the jersey. I like it, I’d probably frame it, but I wouldn’t wear it.
- Toronto Raptors
Don’t get me wrong here. The design incorporates the “We The North” slogan the Raps have been using and the chevron is supposed to represent the six boroughs of Toronto. This is inventive. However, the Raptors have been all too eager to make Drake their spokesperson, and while it’s a savvy business move for both sides, these jerseys basically rep Drake and OVO more than the Raptors or Toronto. A bolder choice would have been going for the Caribbean and West African culture of the city instead.
- Orlando Magic
These jerseys have been catching a lot of heat, which is unfair to me. The Magic logo has always been this shade of blue and has almost always incorporated stars, so why not? Plus, the Kennedy Space Center is only an hour away, so it’s natural for the Magic to go with a space theme. Where it goes wrong is that it’s too general. The University of Central Florida did space-themed football jerseys this year, and every single point of interest had a meaning. The Magic’s jerseys are just the logo and number against an outer space backdrop. Good attempt, just fell short.
- Brooklyn Nets
These are doper than people are saying. The black and white Nets jerseys have been cool since the team’s move to Kings County, and the Brooklyn Bridge motif here falls right in line. However, it was not necessary to put “Brooklyn Nets” on the front. When the type is in a circle or semicircle, it’s too long (shout out to the Pacers’ regular jerseys this year). “BKLYN” or even “BK” would have been as New York as it gets.
“Don’t Fake the Funk on a Nasty Dunk.”
- Golden State Warriors
This was difficult. The Warriors have always done well in paying tribute to the legacy of Chinese-American in San Francisco and Oakland, and this is not a bad attempt. The dragon over the Golden Gate Bridge is cool as well. It just feels like that part is squeezed into the circle in the middle. I don’t like the red on the numbers and the piping on the side of the jersey, either. These are good and I’d rock them, but I think they could have been better.
- New Orleans Pelicans
It’s good of the Pelicans to recall their design from when Chris Paul and David West were leading the New Orleans Hornets to first-round playoff exits, and there’s nothing at all wrong with using Mardi Gras at the theme for these. Like I said before though, originality gets points, and these are a straight retread. (Also, those Mardi Gras colors are so gaudy on a sports jersey. Sorry, 504.)
- New York Knicks
The Knicks’ city unis were a late release, and while they don’t top my list, they were worth the wait. The Knicks decided to highlight the Fire Department of New York and their heroism on and after September 11, and they nailed it. The cross, the ladder, the hydrant, the font – it’s all pretty much perfect. What works against it is what makes it authentic: the midsection stripe and the navy blue. These will most likely be a hit, but there are 13 jerseys better than this one.
- Minnesota Timberwolves
This is the only gray jersey not near the bottom of the list, and it makes the cut because it’s imaginative. The color is a soft gradient that effects the deep snow of the Minnesota north woods, and guess what thrives in snowy woods? Wolves! The accents on the side of the jerseys remind me of pine trees, which is keeping with the woods theme as well. Gray jerseys are usually a sign of “we have no better ideas,” but this is solid.
- Charlotte Hornets
The bright neon teal and purple stripes are all Hornets, as is the “Buzz City” moniker and the stingers on either end. The side design also looked like it could be a nod to hornet wings, if you look at it long enough and squint. The reason I’m docking points here is that black jerseys are the same as gray jerseys, but black is a better color. Do something with Ric Flair next time, Charlotte!
“Now THIS was an ELEVATION elevation.”
- Milwaukee Bucks
That Bucks logo, with the zombie deer and the implied “M”? Keep that around forever. The cream color? That’s flames too. The throwback “BUCKS” logo on the faux-belt buckle? Also raw. The color scheme on the striping? Fire as well. My down votes are the motto above the jersey label (I have never ever heard anyone refer to Milwaukee as “Cream City”) and the miniature stripes on the shorts. Otherwise, these are great.
- Los Angeles Lakers
Honestly, these should be lower on the list. It’s a black jersey with the same Lakers logo and gold trim. So why are these so high on the list? IT’S A SNAKESKIN JERSEY! Do you realize how cool that is? The stars on the side representing the Lakers’ championship and a nod to the Hollywood Walk of Fame are good, too. But still, bro. Snakeskin. If you’re not down with that, I’ve got two words for ya: stop hating.
- Denver Nuggets
That pickaxe logo will never not look good, even if the Nuggets are struggling. The dark blue here is different than the usual shade Denver uses, but it still works. The Nuggets have used the pickaxes in a recent design, and the numbers are off in space a little, which is why this design didn’t crack the top 10, but Nuggets fans should enjoy this look.
- Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have a bit of a history when it comes to bold uniform choices. The uniforms they had in the late-80s were very futuristic, and I even learned today that their classic 90s uniforms were designed by the legendary FloJo (Florence Griffith-Joyner to you youngsters). So it’s not a surprise that the Pacers didn’t go halfway on these uniforms. The checkered stripe and circled number are both representative of Indianapolis’ auto-racing history. The circle around the number makes it very similar to the regular Pacers jerseys this year, but I still dig it.
- Sacramento Kings
The lion logo, the simple color scheme, and the nod to the franchise’s history all work well. I think the line of division between the blue and the white is little off, but it’s still not bad. Low-key, these are better than the Kings’ regular jerseys.
“Knocked away, Crawford! Lets it go for threeeeee…OHHHHHHH!!!”
- Washington Wizards
It’s a nice change to see a DC team use something other than “Washington” for their jersey. The “District of Columbia,” the Washington Monument in the “d,” the basketball over the “i” that’s a throwback to the Bullets logo – it’s all great without being too busy. Can’t wait to see these.
- Portland Trail Blazers
This is how you do a black jersey. The plaid background is a great homage to Dr. Jack Ramsay, and “Rip City” is one of the coolest nicknames in sports. I’d wear this in a heartbeat.
- Chicago Bulls
Am I a little biased here? Yes. Is this jersey still dope? Yes. The use of the Chicago flag is prominent without being grandiose, and the angled script “Chicago” is forever dear to me. I would have used “Windy City” instead of “Sweet Home” for the motto, but these are still great.
- Miami Heat
In the 1980s, “Miami Vice” was the coolest thing on Earth. Shoot, it’s still cool. Why do you think GTA: Vice City was such a hit? For that reason, these Heat jerseys are in the top three. It’s simple, the color scheme is perfect, and the Miami logo is the same as the one that was on the façade of the Miami Arena, where the Heat played until 1999. You can bet cats will be wearing these on playground courts all summer long.
- Philadelphia 76ers
The only reason the Sixers didn’t get the top spot is because Memphis’ marketing department went bananas again. The off-white color to represent the Declaration of Independence and the script “Phila” are incredible, the “Unite or Die” motto goes hard, and the Philly blue and red is a staple of Sixers gear.
- Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis typically takes a lead role in any MLK Day celebration in the NBA, as Dr. King was assassinated in that city in 1968. It’s hard to top what they did last year, but this might be even better. The simple black-and-white jersey is a beautiful tribute to the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers strike and the “I AM A MAN” signs used by picketing workers.
The strike is what brought Dr. King to Memphis that April, as he delivered his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the night before his assassination. The other jerseys in the top three are excellent, but this jersey considers the real meaning behind this holiday. It deserves the top spot.
Chris Pennant is a Chicago-based sports writer and freelance announcer. In his spare time, he coaches roller derby and searches for good sneakers and good music. Follow him on Twitter @kwandarykitten; Follow We Are Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under We Are Regal Radio