By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
Ed. note — Read last season’s rankings here.
Ever since the early-to-mid 1970s, when the majority of US televisions went to color, NBA fans have watched basketball games not just to absorb the sport, but in part to scrutinize what the players are wearing.
Though every retro styles seems to get its turn in the spotlight when it comes to sports apparel, we’ll still never be able to duplicate the era-perfect wonder of Walt Frazier’s Puma Clyde (one orange and one blue, according to legend), or Bird and Magic dueling in Converse Weapons in the ’80s.
However, with the magic of untold amounts of Nike money and its unheralded and overworked marketing and art departments, we can have NBA teams pay creative homage to past players, uniforms and color schemes through the “City Edition” series.
As with any risk-taking or attention-seeking ‘fit, some are brilliant, some are merely good and some are outright trash. To outline where each franchise’s latest fashion statements belong, here’s my ranking of this year’s City Edition unis.
San Antonio Spurs — Bleacher Report’s Game of Zones series loves to rib the Spurs for their boring team culture, and they took it to a new level on their episode “KD’s Summer Odyssey” two years ago.
I thought it was a little bogus then to call the Spurs soulless, but their City Edition jerseys make me believe otherwise. San Antonio has trotted these camo fits out time and again over the last decade and I’m tired of it.
Apparently, fans have designed jerseys with the “Fiesta” colors from the 90s, which would be awesome to see again. I’m guessing we won’t get anything that fresh or exotic until Pop retires.
Utah Jazz — Yeah, Utah, I’m comin’ for that ass! I wasn’t a big fan of these orange color gradient uniforms last season, but I could understand the meaning behind them. Plus, my feelings about them were in the minority. Oh, but now? Get your creativity up, Jazz, get your bars up. They might not be outright trash, but you can’t just trot out a repeat.
Sacramento Kings — Another one that was eliminated from consideration due to a repeat performance.
I can’t lie, I like the powder-blue color and the “royal lion” logo from last season, but the Kings replacing the logo with “SAC TOWN” feels like they procrastinated on a high school project, overslept the morning it was due and made one change before the bus came. In school you’d get an F for that, Kings, and you get an F from me. Hope you keep up that start to the season, at least.
Toronto Raptors — We’re taking no prisoners in this column. None. I dun keaaare ‘ow many bumbaclot shottas Jamaican Drake might have on decky, no repeats or minimal color changes allowed. Especially if you just changed the color from black to white. (Is that a Drake sub? No, that would be wrong.)
Portland Trail Blazers — Double points coming off here for essentially repeating last year’s “Rip City” alts and for removing the plaid Dr. Jack Ramsey pattern. I don’t care what everyone said last year, that was fire. “Rip City” in the old-school font with always be nice to see, but this is just middling, especially for a city that prides itself on being “weird.”
25. Philadelphia 76ers — Unlike my man Jordan, I am not a fan of the gray jerseys in the NBA. There’s nothing especially inventive about using that color. It’s safe, and that’s about it.
After putting out one of the coolest uniforms ever last season, Philly evidently ran out of creativity points and didn’t have enough XP to replenish them. The circular star pattern with the number in the middle is nice, but that’s about all I can say.
24. Indiana Pacers — I actually have a soft spot for these, with the lettering and road design paying tribute, as per usual, to the racing history of the city. The lines on the separating the colors on the front hearken back to the ’90s “Flo-Jo” threads Indiana wore. The Pacers incorporated navy blue in, so I can’t put them any lower than 24th, but there are principalities involved in this. No gray.
23. Memphis Grizzlies — The Grizzlies marketing department is one of the best in the league as they always seem to recall the history of Memphis while not overdoing things. This year, they decided to shout out Jerry Lawler and the city’s pro wrestling history, with the pattern on the side resembling a championship belt (Rasheed Wallace approves).
But the gray, though, man, come on! They could have kept the navy blue and that would have been better. Marks for creativity though.
22. Phoenix Suns — Shout out to the Ringer for asking the exact same question I asked last year: if the Suns want to really honor the Hispanic/Latinx heritage of Phoenix, why not completely translate their name?
I guess you could say you’re doing a Spanglish thing, but they’ve been doing the same thing since the Noche Latina jerseys, some of which were actually better than these! At least the team is watchable this season, because these unis aren’t.
21. Charlotte Hornets — The Hornets would have been at #22 if the Suns weren’t outright mundane. These black jerseys don’t have any fun hallmarks of the team incorporated.
A hexagonal pattern (except at the belt buckle), teal pinstripes, a Muggsy Bogues silhouette – any of these would have been more interesting than what they put out. “BUZZ CITY” is a decent logo, if a manufactured one, but there’s got to be more about Charlotte to pull from. What about some Ric Flair love?
20. Washington Wizards — Remember five years ago, when the Wizards were one of the up-and-coming teams in the league? Even as they were suffocating my Bulls in the playoffs, I was excited to see how John Wall and Bradley Beal would grow.
That growth stagnated about two years later, and it looks like the marketing department stagnated as well. I put these ‘fits a spot above Charlotte because the “District of Columbia” slogan is a total departure from team history, for the incorporation of the Washington Monument and the basketball dotting the “i” (a nod to the old Bullets jerseys), and the DC flag at the belt buckle.
19. Orlando Magic — I liked the “outer space” theme from last year. Apparently, Orlando did too, since all they did was reduce the pattern to the piping on the side and make everything else black. These even hit the same “boring alternate checklist” I knock Dallas on later in the list, and to top it off, Disney is sponsoring the Magic this season. I know it’s Orlando, but I’m not trying to see that logo here. ORLANDO TRAA-GIC! WHOAAAAAAOOOHHH!
18. Houston Rockets — Texas, for all its boasting, seems to suffer from a reluctance to change or step out of the norm. We already covered the Spurs and we’ll get to the Mavericks in a few paragraphs, but the Rockets have been holding onto this East Asian theme for years now.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool that they’re celebrating the city’s history and the cultural force that was Yao Ming, but Golden State manages to do something different each year while still playing up the Chinese influence in San Francisco and Oakland.
Houston does get points for the “Auspicious Clouds” pattern on the jersey, a very nice salute to the pre-socialist anthem of China, but as everyone said about the Rip City plaid last year, does it matter if you can’t see it on TV? (Yes, it actually does.)
“You’re Doin’ a Lot, Ma. You’re Doin’ a Lot.”
17. Dallas Mavericks — Remember what I said about Texas and a lack of creativity? Dallas didn’t do anything to change that sentiment. If there was a checklist for the most predictable alternate jersey designs, they hit most of the points:
- Oversized alternate team logo in the center
- Black jerseys with the main team color as the trim
- Shorting the city name to three letters (I’m looking at you too, Atlanta)
At least they put some thought behind these, unlike last season. The Mavericks ‘80s jerseys were pretty much Milwaukee’s in a different color, but you’re telling me you can’t do anything with that?
16. Los Angeles Lakers — Ooooh, black pinstripes? Really? It just doesn’t work. Okay, they’re supposed to be a tribute to Magic Johnson, with the text reading “3X5XSHOWTIME,” a reference to Magic’s MVP awards, championships and iconic Lakers team.
Unfortunately, this is where I agree with everyone else: if you can’t read it on TV (or inside the arena even), there’s no point to it. Plus, black pinstripes with a deep purple color is terrible.
15. Milwaukee Bucks — People have been flaming these jerseys for days, which is undeserved: Milwaukee in its Mecca days had one of the most iconic court designs in sports history and deciding to emulate that on their uniforms is audacious.
Sure, it doesn’t completely hit, and that Harley-Davidson logo sticks out like a sore thumb with the contrasting, but I respect their effort here. Besides, this means they’re bringing back the Mecca floor! Bets on whether Kyrie still thinks it’s the original wood?
14. New York Knicks — The skyline pipes on the side? It looks like a bar graph. It’s distracts from a pretty decent uniform, as the outfit was pretty minimalist otherwise.
The problem is that the blue and orange color stripes with the white team and name font basically make this the same as the jerseys the Knicks wore in the 1950s. I’m always a fan of throwbacks, but damn, those stock market bars on the side…ugh.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder — Last year’s Thunder unis were a big miss, but they redeemed themselves this season. The only thing I would ask is how much does the Thunder actually do for the local Native American population beyond celebrating the integrated pattern on the jersey and waistline?
The briiiiiight blue is a little much, but anything that’s not the dark navy ‘fits they had in the early part of the decade is good by me. Points to them for trying this time around.
“Missed It By THAT much.”
12. Detroit Pistons — All right, Detroit, you’re the Motor City. We know it. The twin gray stripes up the middle of the jersey would pound it into our heads if not for the reused “MOTOR CITY” on the chest. At some point, you’re going to have to pay the Gordys enough to do a Motown-themed jersey or something paying tribute to the Bad Boys.
(Come to think of it, this probably should’ve been lower on the list. Sorry, I’ve got a sinus infection and I’m tired.)
11. Brooklyn Nets — Minimalism is not easy to pull off, but the Nets actually did well this time around. People weren’t too enthused with last year’s ‘fit, so the Nets played it pretty safe: usual black-and-white color scheme with multicolor trim representing Biggie Smalls’ famous Coogi sweater (looks like the Bears’ Allen Robinson got the same memo).
They didn’t step out to the ledge, but they didn’t screw it up either, so they’re right in the middle of the pack.
10. Atlanta Hawks — These seem pretty pedestrian to me. The white and gold trim are pretty much what any teams uses to celebrate a storied history, which would be fine if the Hawks were actually celebrating their championship, which they won in St. Louis.
Instead, the gold is for the 50th anniversary of the Hawks’ move to Atlanta, where they’ve had a lot of memorable years, great players and one conference finals appearance since 1971. The sharp feather pattern in the side panels add some variety to these, but I think red, yellow and orange fit the Hawks better.
9. Boston Celtics — This is a difficult call. The Celtics haven’t really varied from the threads they donned since the beginning of their history, but that’s because they haven’t needed to do so. When you win 17 championships, change isn’t really necessary.
So even though Boston might not have changed up too much with these white and gold-trim unis, they still look pretty cool. One suggestion: if you really wanted to reference the ‘80s warm-up jackets, why not put the player name in a white rectangular block on the back of the jersey?
8. Miami Heat — I cheated. I’ll admit it. Go ahead and flame your boy in the comments. All I know is that these were top five last year and black actually works when your other colors are neon pink and blue. Plus this is one of the greatest reveal videos of all-time.
I write the column, I can do what I want. So there!
7. Chicago Bulls — I kept trying to put these lower, but other than the fact they jacked my roller derby team for the idea (yeah, Bulls, we see it and we told EVERYBODY), these hit pretty hard. It’s hard to screw up using the Chicago flag in a jersey, and the blue theme doesn’t stop at the chest stripes. I docked points because of the dominant black color and because last year’s were better. Still, good work.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers — A lot of people don’t really like these, and I have no idea why. Freed from the clutches of LeBron’s design, the Cavs’ marketing department put a dope spin on the blue, orange and black theme from the days of Terrell Brandon, Bob Sura and overweight Shawn Kemp. (Those were definitely unfair shots. I’m sorry, Cleveland.)
The script font and the bright orange and blue make these a real standout. Too bad no one will want to remember this season of Cavaliers basketball. Whew, that team is bad.
5. Golden State Warriors — I wonder if the Warriors’ design team also runs off analytics. They use some variation of a nickname for the Bay Area every year, and they always pay homage to the Chinese heritage of the area. However, they somehow vary it enough to make it look new each time around.
Whereas the Celtics decided not to change their logo in the past 70 years, the Warriors have always seen fit to embrace change, yielding some of the coolest uniforms in league history.
I like the undulating pattern around the edge of the center logo and the side piping, and even though the center logo is busy as usual, having “THE BAY” split between the top and bottom gives these jerseys a memorable quality. I deducted points for the navy blue, but that’s personal.
4. LA Clippers — The Clip Show have the sleeper hit of the season here. Most NBA fans are probably too young to remember the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, so let me refresh your memory a bit:
- This was the first Olympics using John Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare and Theme.” You know, the song they’ve used for every Olympic games since then.
- A dude flew on a jet pack at the opening ceremony.
- Carl Lewis made his debut appearance here, Edwin Moses won the 400 m hurdles eight years after winning in Montreal, and Nawal El Moutawakel became the first Muslim and first Muslim woman from Africa to win a gold medal. (If you doubt that significance, the King of Morocco called her right after and declared every girl born the day of her victory was to be named after her. You got anything named after you for winning something? I didn’t think so.)
- Did I mention the dude on the jet pack?
The “LA” logo is a faithful imitation of the Olympics’ logo from that year, but more than that, it symbolizes a team moving forward. The Clippers desperately need to discard memories of their “Lob City” near-misses, and even though their roster is in a transitional period, they won’t be a doormat this season. (Shout out to Bradley alum Ralph Lawler in his final season broadcasting Clips basketball, too. BIIIIINGO!)
3. New Orleans Pelicans — Real talk, I’m not a huge fan of the Mardi Gras color scheme. I think it’s a little too wild. (Maybe that’s why I’ve never gone to Mardi Gras. Shoot, am I a square already?) Good thing I’m not in the majority on that, as these Pels ‘fits are a good fit for the team and the city.
The “NOLA” font is perfect and the number placement is even better. These are ready-made to rake in money, and if the Pelicans can right the ship and get to the postseason, these will sell for years.
2. Denver Nuggets — It’s great when you have an iconic jersey paired with a winning team, which makes it easy for fans to fawn over an alternate jersey design. For the Nuggets, the Rainbow Skyline jerseys not only remind people of Alex English and Chris Jackson, but also the historic triumph of the eighth-seeded Nuggets over the top-seeded Sonics in 1994.
For the update, the Nuggets went completely away from their traditional blue-and-gold color scheme and an even brighter rainbow against an all-white background. Chances are fans will have some fond memories to attach to these jerseys soon – this year’s Nuggets squad is almost certainly playoff-bound.
Minnesota Timberwolves — This is almost unfair. The T’Wolves had an easy road to design the top “City Edition” jersey: an icon synonymous with the city (Prince), a natural connection (his basketball acumen), and nostalgia (his untimely death).
Any “Prince” theme would likely have landed them in my top-10, but to go full on “Purple Rain,” with the shoulder pad design to boot? Done. Number 1. They even would have had the best reveal video had Miami not snaked that spot.
Chris Pennant covers the Chicago Bulls and basketball in general for WARR