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Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The Great Jersey Crisis: Averted


When I was a young Blazer fan, one of my favorite players was center Caldwell Jones. He had been playing forever, including for the Sixers in the 1977 NBA Finals against the Blazers, and exuded a certain kind of class. He was skinny, even-keeled and goateed.

Once as a young child, thanks to a weird coincidence (that got a journalist friend yelled at by the team P.R. people) I got to sit courtside on press row for a few minutes of an actual game. Jones stood right in front of me while inbounding the ball.

In 1987, the Blazers added a role player called Charles Jones.

Problem.

Oh, Charles Jones was, I'm sure, a perfectly good guy, but let's think about clothing here for a second.

Josh Smith
Now that Joe Smith is a Hawk, what will it say on the back of the his jersey? Yes, it matters.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

If NBA teammates have the same last name, a common solution is to add a first initial to one or both jerseys.

How's that going to work this time, smart guy?

Charles, as it happens, was 12 years younger, three inches shorter, not as decidely skinny and lacking distinctive facial hair. If you were paying attention, there was little worry he'd be confused with Caldwell.

Nevertheless, somehow (there should be an inquiry) it was decided that while Caldwell's jersey would continue to say "Jones," Charles would play with "C. Jones" on his back.

I'm hardly one of those O.C.D. people who likes everything symmetrical, tidy and just so. I can tolerate some randomness in life. (Exhibit A: my desk.)

Can you feel my pain a little when I tell you that this bothered me?

That "C," I lectured imaginary Blazer personnel in my mind, "doesn't do anything. 'Caldwell' starts with just as much of a 'C' as 'Charles' does. In what way does having one 'C' on one jersey clarify anything? The whole idea is to make the players easy to identify. We're still stuck where we were before: If you know what they look like, or their numbers, you know which is which. If not, you're sunk. Which is precisely where we'd be if both uniforms ... said simply 'Jones' which would at least have the advantage of being tidy, consistent and logical."

In any case, after a season, Charles Jones left the team, and I admit I had a small sense of relief.

It's in that context that this morning, I got an e-mail from TrueHoop reader Lionel. The subject line was "Joe/Josh Smith." He writes:

So what do their names of their jersey numbers read this upcoming season since they both play with ATL.

Smith?
J. Smith?

Since they both are Jo. Smith?

Will Joe Smith have his whole name on the jersey?

Oh crikey.

Little did Lionel know he had contacted the right guy. Within a minute I had called a Hawks' P.R. guy and gotten voicemail. So I called another, with the same result. I called the main switchboard and asked if anybody was around who could help me right now, and was connected to the voicemail of a third. So I forwarded Lionel's e-mail to the first two guys and said a little prayer. ...

Which was answered just about three hours later. A fantastic piece of news from the Hawks' brilliant Jon Steinberg:

Ha. Both guys will just have Smith on their backs! No first initials, etc.

And yet some people -- isn't it amazing? -- still long for the good old days.