Posted February 13, 2014

Are sleeved jerseys the future of the NBA?

2014 All-Star Weekend, Adidas, Sleeved Jerseys

We’re talking about just a few inches of fabric, but sleeves on NBA jerseys have garnered immense attention around the league and — where NBA supplier adidas and the league most want — in retail outlets. Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans gives us another chance to gawk at those extra inches, this time in a fleur-de-lis motif.

While just 0.3 percent of NBA games have featured sleeved uniforms this season, the high-profile attention given to the new look on Christmas Day and the upcoming All-Star Game reminds us that the sleeves we see now could be a glimpse into the future.

“We’re still in the middle of rolling out what we think is a pretty big revolution in terms of short sleeves and a lot of people are reacting to it and getting used to it,” Chris Grancio, adidas’ head of global basketball, told SI.com. “It will take a couple of seasons to get where we want to be.”

And the NBA doesn’t plan to stand in the way of the sleeved revolution.

The idea originated with adidas three years ago. Players commonly wear short sleeves under their jerseys in high school, college and practices, so Grancio said putting sleeves on the NBA jersey was a “natural takeaway from how players choose to play today” and served as a “great opportunity for fans to embrace their favorite players or teams in a more authentic way.”

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Let’s face it, the tank top is a “challenging” piece of apparel to wear well for most fans. But to get sleeved uniforms on fans, adidas first needed to get the top — shall we start calling it a shirt? — on NBA players. The league was OK with the change, if the teams were, according to Sal LaRocca, the NBA’s president of global operations and merchandising. Because more people wear shirts with sleeves than without, the league wanted to explore the worldwide consumer potential of a new fashion piece, too.

“So far, the response has been good,” LaRocca said. “The consumer and fans have the final say when they decide to buy something or not, and we’ve been encouraged.”

The Warriors unveiled the look last season. But it wasn’t a one-time gimmick. After a 93 percent sales increase for Golden State jerseys following the launch of their short-sleeved option, the initial on-court experiment translated to more covered shoulders around the NBA.

By the end of this season, roughly half of the NBA’s teams will have sleeved jerseys in their rotating wardrobe, counting teams required to wear the sleeved big logo Christmas uniforms, which nearly sold out across multiple retail platforms.

“When you look at Christmas Day this year versus last year [the 'big color' uniforms],” Grancio said, “we’re really happy with the success. Those uniforms significantly exceeded expectations in retail.”

As part of its regular uniform set, Golden State now has a white option, while the Los Angeles Clippers offer up a light blue, the Phoenix Suns an orange and Minnesota Timberwolves a black look. The Brooklyn Nets recently unveiled a Dodger-themed sleeved uniform, too.

And there’s more on the way.

“As we look at rolling out sleeves, we expect it to continue,” Grancio said. “Quite a few teams will add to that number at the end of this season and into next season.”

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With teams on board, the next challenge is to get players’ full support, too.

“If the players as a general matter feel like they don’t want to wear short sleeves on a go-forward basis, the league would simply not do it,” LaRocca said.

Some players have admitted that they don’t like the look. LeBron James said before his Christmas Day sleeve debut that he was concerned teammates didn’t love the sleeves, as he doesn’t want shooters worrying about sleeves in the middle of the game. After the game, James said that if he were to wear sleeves again, he would get a larger size to ease the tugging sensation.

Also on Christmas, Knicks guard Beno Udrih tried to roll up his sleeves after missing a three-point attempt and was quoted later as saying that the sleeves bothered him. Blazers center Robin Lopez, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki and Heat forward Shane Battier also complained about the new look.

But even with negative reaction — and mainly from players on teams that don’t regularly wear sleeves — there hasn’t been a massive backlash, and plenty of other players compare them to wearing compression workout shirts. More important, LaRocca says players understand the revenue-generating ability of sleeves and support the NBA in those efforts. Revenue is split 50-50 between the players’ association and the owners, who split it equally among their 30 constituents.

“It doesn’t matter from a revenue perspective if the revenue is from a Golden State or a Knicks or a Clippers product, all the money is divided amongst the 30 owners regardless of the popularity,” said LaRocca.

In discussions with players, LaRocca said he’s had one tell him there is a benefit in keeping shoulders warm, another say he doesn’t care either way and a third who wasn’t a fan of the sleeves but still wanted to back the idea. LaRocca believes most of the negative reaction centers on the backlash against the logos, such as the giant Christmas Day logos and the distinct All-Star aesthetic.

To get the sleeved look, adidas uses the exact same construction as the NBA’s Revolution 30 Tank uniform through the chest and body and even down the sleeve. The new technology is found in a four-way stretch material that “essentially sits over the shoulder right where a traditional jersey ends,” Grancio said.

Most of the world already plays hoops in sleeves — “It is not like we decided to put players in tuxedos,” LaRocca said. “It is not such a radical departure from what they have worn on a regular basis” — so the translation to retail proves obvious. Wearing a jersey, though, isn’t the same as sporting a cotton shirt. Just as with the traditional-cut jerseys, adidas offers three different tiers of the sleeved jerseys at retail.

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The “authentic” style is identical to the version worn by the players. The next tier down, the “swingman,” the most popular at retail, fits more generously, because most fans aren’t elite-level athletes. The third tier, the replica, offers a more generous style of cut, with even more space for the non-athlete, and a different quality of materials for the embellishments.

For the players, Grancio says he’s seen some size their sleeved jersey up and other down, all based on personal preference.

While the NBA hasn’t made any decisions on next year’s Christmas Day or All-Star looks yet, LaRocca agrees with Grancio that as fans continue to show interest, we’ll see new teams in sleeves. There’s no goal for how many jerseys eventually go sleeved, but there also wasn’t a plan in the mid-’80s to overhaul basketball shorts.

“I don’t think anyone had a hope for making longer shorts,” LaRocca said. “It just organically happened. This is very similar. Maybe [the NBA] will wear both or only short sleeves or only tank tops. We’ll be there to react accordingly.”

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and technology for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb

45 comments
rickyC
rickyC

NBA, ditch the goofy "pajamas"!!!

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

these sleeved jerseys are wack, if they want to sell them to the teens that's fine but making the players wear them as a permanent uniform, I'm not with it

RCH
RCH

now just add the those old school tight fitting short shorts and you're good to go. 

ryanaammess
ryanaammess

money money money. money money money money.  I keep waiting for the players to bring back the barnstorming leagues. At least the money will go to guys that can run and jump.

ekyanks
ekyanks

Nothing says great for the common fan like a tight fitting undershirt!  The NBA seems to think that everyman has the physical structure of an elite athlete.  The arenas will be filled with guts hanging out of these rubber bands!

David102
David102

"While just 0.3 percent of NBA games have featured sleeved uniforms this season ..."


As soon as I saw that, I knew this was going to be an exercise in BS -- a shill piece for the latest didn't-ask-for-it news topic, a money grab that is David Stern's final follow-up to the synthetic basketball.

PacochoTapias
PacochoTapias

This is about money. Don´t try to piss over us an tell us is raining. The fact that a few guys like to play in a (cotton) t-shirt under the jersey is hardly a reason to force EVERYBODY to play in those ugly tight things. Is the same thing that happened a few years back when they thought they could change leather balls for those ugly synthetic things. Money graving over the integrity of the game.    


Yeah, I can see that fans would wear sleeved jerseys more than they do now, but is obvious that the wall street bean counter who thought  this has not played ball EVER. 


What would be coming after this? lowering the rims to promote dunking?

MaurícioStunitzCruz
MaurícioStunitzCruz

I think NBA and Adidas are paving the way to put ads on jerseys. Sleeves are just a way to get more space.

MisiaEmme
MisiaEmme

Nobody asked them those, nobody wants those, end of story. Do they really want to go sleeved and try and shove those down our throats? Cool, that means I'll start buying counterfeit jerseys like those you find in Taiwan. I don't wear ugly things, those uniforms are ugly and some fat corporate rednecks from Missoula sure won't change my mind. Thanks and goodnight.

SukMadiq
SukMadiq

Nobody wants to see under arm afrros!

reinhardtawas
reinhardtawas

I am an NBA analyst in Indonesia. In April 2012 I sent a regular letter to David Stern proposing that NBA players wear short-sleeved jersey. I got a reply. I am happy it worked. Most of NBA fans outside US are soccer fans, too. They wear soccer jerseys because they are wearable everywhere. Now we can alternately wear NBA jerseys. Thank god and David Stern.:)

parkbrav
parkbrav

I like the idea of longer sleeves but I'm not sold on the designs on many of them.

FOOLKILLER
FOOLKILLER

They should all be forced to wear long sleeves to cover up this new trend of tattoos the sign of losers.

2001mark
2001mark

Couple thoughts...


- There are enough NBA players, stars mind you like Melo & Dwight for example, already wearing full stretch wear for their health & performance.  To think that these T's are omg too much is ridiculous... guys have proven to already cover their full limbs, the NBA might as well get more money.  Any player complaining that the league gets more money is a little slow to realize the PA would probably get their fair share, not least their name jersey cut of the money.


- On the other hand, I'm not sure too many casual fans will be rockin' those slim fits unless they're at the gym or running on the boardwalk.  I mean look at those things... at least the classic tanks can drape over the Walmart era body lols.  Now the NBA wants its casual fans to dress like world class athletes?  lols


Anyways, I'm on the fence.  I neither mind them as permanent alternatives nor do I wish the league fully adopt them as the sole game uni.  

PackersFanNumeroUno
PackersFanNumeroUno

Everything changes, i remember when I used to enter bench contests in my Lofton jersey. Now you got a wear a bench shirt to be competitive.

flutterby
flutterby

Please no.

The baggy shorts already ruined the uniforms. Then they started wearing t-shirts under their jerseys. Now they will be wearing baggy shirts too.

No no no.


Marchoir
Marchoir

Somebody posted that the jerseys "...are the ugliest ever, and look like pajamas". Really? Have you looked at the skorts that they wear now? What the hell do those look like? Pajamas. The basketball skorts are the most ridiculous uniform change in sports history. They're absurd. If they serve any purpose to enhance performance, why haven't track and field athletes followed suit? The reason the baggy bloomers came into existence is because urban players thought normal trunks looked effeminate, and were too revealing. Nowhere to hide the skinny legs. The baggy bloomers are supposed to make the player "appear" to be more thicker, shorter, and more masculine by covering the legs. Exactly the same reason the traditional jerseys were altered, and the arm holes were made smaller and more form fitting. The idea was to make the player "appear" to be thicker in the upper body, and to enhance the shoulders and arms. Makes the players look more masculine and intimidating. Once again, it's all smoke and mirrors. You are what you are. Clothing is just a mask. The new sleeved jerseys are being rejected by the players because they don't exaggerate the shoulders and arms, and cover up all those great tattoos on the shoulders. It's all about being 6'6", weighing 195 lbs. soaking wet, with a 32 inch waist, and trying to look like you're a tough guy. It's basketball, not the octagon. Tough guys don't live here. You're wearing rubber sneakers, and what amounts to underwear, playing in a perfectly air conditioned environment, on a pristine, squeaky clean floor. The object of the game is to bounce an inflated leather sphere, and toss it into a metal ring suspended ten feet off the floor. Players are not permitted to tackle, hit, or deliver blows to opponents. There are no broken bones, lacerations, and stitches going on here. The uniform can't change what it is, or who you really are.

DavidSyrie
DavidSyrie

“It will take a couple of seasons to get where we want to be”? Argh! When does adidas' contract run out? These cats are terrible with style, design, and marketing (ie. "All in" Why is that slogan not "alll in" to accentuate the 3 stripe logo and word-play? They're short sighted and lack creativity is why. And have they EVER had a memorable commercial that sticks in your mind? I can't recall one). 

Their uniform ideas are awfully hideous, whether we're talking the pro or college game. It's not like they just started making hideous looking uniforms - they've been making a lot of pro and college teams look awful for years now. 

Hey Stripes, stick to your Crazyquick's.

Dear Mr Silver, please drop these cats from your corporate portfolio already. For everybody's sake.

BestTampaSportsFan
BestTampaSportsFan

Remembering the shorts of the 70's and 80's makes this look mild. I guess it will hide some Tats and make some players mad.

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

what are the three most important rules of running an american pro sport?


revenue, revenue, revenue…


this article talks about nba players being vested in the revenue earned by teams so their happy to wear these abominations for the .0000001 pct extra income their going to see out of it… sure...



it doesn't matter if the 3-point shot is currently in the midst of ruining the game as four guys play pop a shot around the perimeter and one guy rebounds… nba players no longer even know how to play basketball inside the the 3-pt line…


hell, the new commissioner has already said his biggest goal is to "grow the game", and get into europe… he never once mentioned anything about the quality of the game… one of the problems with the amazing growth in revenue under david stern means new owners are now paying nearly $1 billion for NBA teams, over 50 times as much as they paid thirty years ago… meaning teams now have to generate FIFTY TIMES as much revenue just to realize the same ratio of return on their investment…


which in turn means, the nba could never reduce the season to increase the quality of games, and it also means that $50 or 100 million of extra revenue, which would've been a ton in the 80's is almost nothing for the league as a whole (100/3 = 3 mill per team) , teams which are worth 500-1 billion dollars, meaning $100 milliion of revenue for the league is less than one third of one percent additional revenue for each team…


jerry buss bought the lakers for $20 million in 1979, 3 million would've been a monster cash injection.. but last year forbes valued the lakers at $1.35 billion.. it's great news for the lakers, but it also means they have to earn 70 times as much revenue ($210 million) just to find the same return on  their commodity...


the nba has to come up with 50 different t-shirt ideas just to make any dent financially… and with all successful leagues/companies they've become slaves to constantly trying to pursue larger and larger new sources of revenue because the impact on their earnings is less and less…


it's the same thing that happens when a hot company goes public, their products almost always get worse because they have to generate  so much more revenue just to show their shareholders a modest return… you quickly come to a place, like where the nba is now, when every single decision is based almost entirely on revenue, chasing every little crumb of revenue, or expanding stupidly (hello nba europe) just to make a dent…



owners don't see ugly jerseys, they see .000002 pct extra revenue, now all they need is just 300 more stupid/profitable ideas per year like that, every year…


it doesn't matter, teams have finally realized the 3-pt shot is way too easy to be worth 50 percent more points, and the destruction that's wreaking on the quality of play in the league has almost reached the tipping point anyway,… soon every team will look like the rockets or the blazers, and no kids will ever learn to actually play basketball… it'll be drive or shoot threes, "ball movement" will be the term people use to describe four guys who can make 40 pct from three passing it around the perimeter , guys who can't even shoot/pass or dribble inside the stripe…



but hey, at least they'll look good in those "beautiful" sleeved jerseys...

PackersFanNumeroUno
PackersFanNumeroUno

This is something seattle fans would like.....oh wait they don't have a team lmao

x72
x72

Laaaaaame

mike11machine
mike11machine

"And the NBA doesn’t plan to stand in the way of the sleeved revolution."


Yeah, and McDonald's doesn't discourage people from eating french fries. 


This is all about apparel sales.   Shirts with sleeves can be worn in more situations and look better on the people wearing them.  

DavidosaurusCawston
DavidosaurusCawston

Absolutely. "... A lot of people are reacting to it and getting used to it". Here comes the advertising

JimPenner
JimPenner

@Marchoir yeah sure whatever, what level of Basketball did you play, or were you not good enough.  Sounds like someone that was cut from their Junior High team, who then went off sticking pins in their homemade voodoo dolls of their former "school mates"who were better than you.  Shall we call you Richie Incognito.  No broken bones hey, how's your buddy Kevin Ware going!  Stick to what you know, which seems to be fashion, and looking at guys bodies!!

newshamg
newshamg

@PackersFanNumeroUno


As the other guy said - why would anyone give a f*** what a guy in his upper 50's who can hardly move by the way (hence MJ would kill him one on one).