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History of Basketball Jerseys

We enjoyed digging back through the archives as the history of basketball jerseys is an exciting journey full of both good and awful designs. At the start, men played it in trousers, eventually upgrading to the shorts and jerseys that we know and see on the court today. However what you’re probably not familiar with is everything in between…

Historically – How did Basketball Jerseys Evolve

At the beginning, style in basketball was like that of a street fighter: anything went. In 1891, the sport began to develop but men played in their yards wearing anything handy, even trousers.

1900: A sense of uniform emerged for the first time as professional designers worked with teams to abandon trousers, knitting woolen tees plus moderately long shorts that just went below the knee. This design apparently stole some ideas from soccer with its equally moderately long short.

By 1920: the long tight shorts were becoming a nuisance. Players could make a fool of themselves in the pitch when their uniforms literally helped their adversaries win when they tripped. This is why early basketball associations came up with a new design that would go into full use in the middle of the 1930s: a shortened short and a loose tee.

By mid-1930s: Thanks to lobbying by college kids and other sports outfits, basketball uniform took another important leap. Like the leapfrog, however, this was a ridiculous though more efficient move than earlier designs. It was a precursor to what we have at Plus2Clothing today including loose, easy to stretch material uniform. The shorts went just a wee bit shorter than previously to reach below the thigh but the shirts got longer. The new material in town was wool, which allowed more porous garment and a relaxed swing of the body. The ridiculous aspect of this uniform is that a player had to use buttons on the groin area to help keep the short-sleeved jersey tucked in!

As of 1940 through 1950s, another less laughable push to better basketball jerseys came to be. This was the age of ditching wool in favor of man-made material. Teams began to acquire very small shorts, a wholly sleeveless jersey that showed their muscular shoulders, which they tucked with belts in their impressive shorts. Numbers like you see in team uniforms became commonplace on those jerseys. If you could have seen team Lakers of the ‘50s, it had this pin-up girl look bouncing off the ball in front of the cameraman.

history of basketball jerseys nba

This was an important age in the development of basketball jerseys. Though it was still a long shot before opting for the tall clothing designs that Plus2Clothing provides today, the era surfaced the polyester-nylon combination. This brought in two aspects: shiny and colorful jerseys to die for. However, it seemed like the uniform was getting tighter and shorter than ever before as the years knocked each design down.

Short and tight was still the in-thing in the ‘60s through the 1980’s,. Unimaginable for the 1990s or 21st century newbie, who has seen the best pros wear it long and flashy, short and tight was the case then. There were now more designers in the scene who made fitting uniforms and also added long tube-design socks into the scheme of things. There was also the important development of introducing the sweat shirt from a cotton and polyester blend. The whiff of sweat-soaked jerseys made of wool in earlier days was now over. While saying hooray to the flashy, fashionable yet short basketball jerseys of the sixties, what did the eighties have in store?

…and the ‘80s changed it all. It was Michael Jordan who revolutionized basketball jersey design, when he asked his designer for loose, relaxed, tall shorts. 1984 marked the end of the tight short.

basketball nba short history

The idea was to make the pros feel at ease, have plenty of leg room and be able to jump the hoop without any restriction. It turns out that Jordan’s request has single-handedly changed the NBA fashion. Stars no longer dribble the ball mistakenly into the hands of their adversaries like they used to do in the tender 1900s!

The 1990s: This is the official age of the long short that falls well over the knee when the player is bent. In hip-hop, you could see celebrities and dandies walking in loose baggy shorts and equally long sleeveless tees. These designs almost eclipsed the game itself and became a part of the hippie culture out there. Luckily, rap was not all there was in ingenuity. As hippies spat their words in stereo in these loose shorts, designers were making unique changes to the uniforms.

In mid 2000s the stars began to wear very long jerseys and shorts that made them appear like sacks of corn! Indeed, Jameer Nelson together with Jamaal Tinsley suffered penalties from the league for wearing shorts that went far below the knees.


Designers imprinted numbers of players that passed the uniforms as original. They also imprinted team colors, making them flashy, colorful and inviting. It was also during this time that major online clothing brands started providing fans with ‘original’ jerseys. The longer it was, and the more it bore names like Ainge, Magic Johnson or O’Neal on it, the more original it was perceived to be.

Here is a picture of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in early 2000s.


Next is a look at the giants of the fashion. Which jerseys were the most popular then and now?

The Most Famous NBA Jerseys

LeBron-Jersey number 6 of LeBron James, currently the most popular player in the NBA, has no match. LeBron has become the heir-apparent for the hippie culture who will flaunt his recognizable jersey in any place, village, urban center or a sleepy little hometown in any part of the globe.

Kobe Bryant- Kobe Bryant’s jersey has always been famous. He easily passes as the most recognizable player in basketball. You will see his jersey from his American days and in his Chinese heyday on malls, and popular sportswear boutiques anywhere.

Shaq Daddy- You always get a run for the money when you are playing for the Celtics. It seems like Shaq Daddy’s bargained for more than wads of dollars; his jersey is awash on every street you go to in any part of the globe. Funny enough, statistics place him as having a number of jerseys to his name equal to a fifth of all teams in the NBA that he has played for. In other words, he has gone from team to team gaining more and more fame even as his jersey gets more popular with each swap.

Michael Jordan-It makes sense to include the father of the modern long clothing fashion of basketball, Michael Jordan. Though his jersey date as way back as 1988, it is still worth the bucks as it has redefined the fashion of the game.

Dwight Howard: Though he is yet to make it to the Most Valuable Player accolade, the thing about Dwight is that he is always the talk of town in the sport’s circles. Perhaps this is why many rookies go for his jerseys just to feel as confident. There is also some indications that should he go to a bigger team probably on the West Coast, he will be in for big bucks from the revenue of his jersey being on the market.

Team jerseys have also made it to the front-line teams, including:

LA Lakers: Their jerseys have as of now been at the top of the world in terms of popularity. This is because they have a distinctive look in their purple-gold design. Some of the appeal lies in the fact that the NBA side has always changed its colors regularly. In the ‘60s, they wore blue-white stripes. Now, they have changed to black, purple and golden choices.

The Celtics: Their uniform remains the next most popular and it is not hard to find out why. They are your usual virtuosos in the design department, always runners-up in jersey hall of fame for the last seven seasons.


Oklahoma City Thunder: Though officially at position six of the current teams in terms of jersey and merchandise popularity, this team has never seen the inside of the most popular 10 NBA sides in their history till now. They have the blue uniform that has also a well defined hemline that will always make you opt to see more of such tall clothing in the pitch.

There are other NBA sides that have not made it to the list above but have always been famous in previous decades. These range from The Heat to the Miami Suns, among others.

There you have it, the most famous jerseys around in basketball. However, as history always has it, there are always bad eggs. Whilst it definitely is subjective we’re going to take a look at what we think are some of the…

Ugliest Basketball Jersey Designs

#1: The 1990 Uniform of New Jersey Nets- This jersey looked like an American flag worn by WWE star Kurt Angle only that this had a demarcation right through the side of the player. On one side was the star-studded design and on the other the navy blue look of the jersey. Donning it made it look like a boxing match was taking place only that boys who shot the ball high on to the hoop were doing the contest.

#2: Cleveland Cavaliers’ late-decade look- When the Ohio pros went out on a 2008 reminder of how their starting team looked like in the ‘70s, they hit the tip of the iceberg into ugliness. The curious thing with the New Jersey side is that it altered the golden red look of their past uniform into that of more pronounced red. It was like swapping the original design of a baseball and making it look rounder than oval. It simply lost its grit. To add on that, the numbering on the overdone color did not just make you want to see more, it was illegible.

#3: New York Knicks’ December 25 Jersey- It is all right to have teams having a home and away look that is assorted differently, but when it comes to the choice of colors, some teams just overdo it. The particular design that the Knicks wore on December 25 are a far cry from their official ones. For example, at face value you would not notice anything wrong in the orange. But when it comes to an aired show, the shade turned a little more to the brighter side and the navy separation just made the imprints swim before the eyes.

#4: San Antonio Spurs’ alternate jerseys: There appears a time of real inspiration in any team’s long tees culture and this is no different from the San Antonio Spurs and their jerseys. One of their alternate designs featured all their details in front, thus creating design havoc. Though very impressive, this design appeared extraordinary and overboard.

#5: Milwaukee Bucks 2007 Design: The Milwaukee Bucks did introduce a monster of a design in their 2007 campaign. They featured an overly purplish look for the sleeveless tees and an ungainly green background for the shorts. This is what made their appearance look a little more than monstrous. There was no connection between the different lettering on the shirt and that on the shorts.

Overall, there have been more bad designs since the era of basketball jerseys began well into the late 19th century. These extend to much more than teams washing their dirty linen in public. Some of these hopeless yet innocent designs include the aforementioned one of 1930s when teams put on a shirt with buttons at the tail for fastening inside their shorts. You can imagine a pro like Bryant stopping every now and then to put back the shirt-tail in its cradle.

There were also the woolen jerseys of the forties that did not help absorb sweat too well. Sometimes they became too hot that the sportsmen had to look for more woolen sweatshirts to help. Then came the problem of the too tight designs of the sixties. Though flashier than any before them, they did not allow your hand to pitch the ball high into the basket.

Some of the tallest players who currently wear Tall Jerseys

It might appear as tongue in cheek but believe it still that your average NBA star is about 6 ft 7. Height is essential in order to get a grip at the hoops that are just three or more feet above that player’s head. It is not a surprise then that this seven-foot player will want an equally tall jersey.

Here are two current players who are wearing very high jerseys;

Andrea Bargnani at exactly 7 feet is representing the Knicks quite well. He is thus always easy to find in the Big Apple’s side with his long jersey showing his muscles on the sleeveless shoulder of the tee.

Joel Przybilla stands just an inch taller than his peer above. He fully represents the Houston Rockets in showcasing their tall clothing in the pitch. He has both American and European heritage having been brought up in the States after emigrating from Germany.

There are more great players who also have been representing their sides with tall jerseys. These greats range from Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan to Shaquille O’Neal and still playing legends like LeBron James.

These tall guys always rush to the wardrobe like any other star out there to make their jerseys stand out. Some of them like Jordan have done it actively by changing the original look of basketball jerseys to their current tall, baggy look that always inspired the teenage culture.

It has been a long walk in the park for basketball jerseys. They have historically come up with new designs, eased out of short ones and welcomed the current tall, baggy look. Each decade has always shown its outstanding quality jersey.

In the 1900s, it was the long short that was just making its way. In the ‘20s and thirties, the woolen jersey with short sleeves came up. Through the follow-up decades, material took prominence with polyester and cotton finally denying the sweaty and overheated wool its former clout.

Beginning late 1980s, long jerseys and baggy synthetic shorts are all the rage. You cannot walk in any part of the world without coming across a young man or girl sporting one of these. Particularly for women, the jersey has evolved in such a way that it has kept pace with the same design of tall clothing as that of men, but has ensured that the arm hole is short but yet broad enough to showcase the bra.

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