Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Thursday, December 26, 2013
Grading the Christmas Day uniforms

By Paul Lukas
ESPN

See if this sounds familiar: At some point on Christmas Day, between unwrapping the presents, polishing off another glass of eggnog, sitting down for dinner and arguing with your relatives, you glanced up at the TV and saw one of the five NBA games that were taking place. For a second or two you stared blankly at the screen, because something didn't quite compute. Then you figured out what it was.

The uniforms.

Uni Watch
All 10 NBA teams playing Wednesday wore sleeved jerseys with big chest logos (instead of the more typical insignia-with-number chest design). How did they look? Let's go element by element:

 1. The sleeves. Lots of NBA teams have been experimenting with sleeves over the past 10 months, so the sleeved look is no longer so unusual. The feeling here is that sleeves are fine as an alternate look, and the Christmas Day sleeves were the best ones we've seen so far, because players wore their uniform numbers on the left sleeve, which added visual interest.

But some players have claimed that the sleeves restrict their game. LeBron James spoke out against the sleeved format a few days before Christmas, which probably explains why his team, the Heat, studied for the test by wearing sleeved practice jerseys earlier this week.

Too bad the Knicks didn't have the foresight to do that. Point guard Beno Udrih, who had a brutal game Wednesday, bricked several 3-pointers and could be seen trying to roll up his sleeves after one of them:

After the game, Udrih said, "Personally it bothered me and my shot. On a normal shot, I'm used to getting my shoulder and elbow up [unhindered]. That was my personal feeling. ... Maybe we should practice wearing them for a few weeks to get used to it."

A few other players from around the league had similar concerns, and LeBron wasn't won over in the end:

LeBron didn't like jerseys: "It was definitely a different feeling." Felt a tug. Says he would wear bigger one next time.

— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) December 26, 2013

Nick Young is pantomiming jump shots in the locker room wearing the sleeved jersey: "They're trying to set me up for failure"

— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 25, 2013

Battier said that when the shirts got wet, they got heavy. The NBA should end this experiment.

— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) December 26, 2013

Bottom line: Everyone knows the sleeves are just a retail gimmick, because there's a big group of potential customers who won't buy or wear a tank top. It doesn't look awful, especially with the numbers on one sleeve, but it's not worth it if it compromises some of the players' performance. Grade: B-

2. The big chest logos. You've heard (or maybe made) all the jokes: They look like T-shirts; they look like rec league soccer jerseys; they look like practice shirts; they look pajama tops. And the reason you've heard all these jokes is that they're accurate. Even a great logo, like the Heat's, just doesn't feel right as the only visual element on the front of an NBA jersey. An interesting experiment, but a failed one. Grade: D

3. The colors. Except for the Lakers, who wore white, all the teams playing on Christmas Day wore colored uniforms, which means four of Wednesday's five games were color-against-color matchups. It's a great look, one the NBA should allow more of (the NFL and NHL, too, for that matter). The rule requiring one team to wear white is an outdated stricture based on the days when people still had black-and-white TVs, so sports leagues wanted to ensure that there was enough contrast between the two teams in a given game. Obviously, there's no need for that in the color-TV era. Sure, you still need to avoid sending the teams out there in colored uniforms that don't contrast enough, and white uniforms can still be part of the mix. But the idea of requiring each game to include a white-uniformed team is obsolete, and Wednesday's games drove that point home. Grade: A

Dwight Howard
The candy cane socks were too much and gave teams a hokey look on Christmas.
4. The socks. Although the Christmas Day jerseys were unveiled about a month ago, the NBA kept one surprise under wraps: Players had the option of wearing candy-striped socks (although in some cases the striping was harder to see). The last and maybe only time something like this has been seen on a major-level professional athlete was in 2009, when the NFL's Denver Broncos wore throwback uniforms that featured vertically striped socks, which some players chose to twist into a candy-stripe pattern.

OK, we get it -- Christmas, candy canes, the whole bit. If the special socks had been worn with the teams' regular uniforms, that would have been a nice holiday touch. But wearing them with the experimental uniforms was too much. It made the whole thing feel like an exhibition. The underlying message from the league was, "We're not taking these games very seriously." And if they're not, why should anyone else? Grade: D

5. The uniformity. This was the second consecutive year that the NBA imposed a uniform template on all the teams playing on Christmas. This has the effect of diminishing the teams' individual identities and making them all feel like members of Team NBA (or, worse, Team adidas). That's a major problem -- fans like to think that their teams can have some individuality, some visual quirks, some design signatures, instead of being cut from the same cookie-cutter template. Let's hope they don't have something similar in the works for next year. Grade: F

Want to see more and decide for yourself? Here are photo galleries from all of Wednesday's games: Heat-Lakers, Nets-Bulls, Knicks-Thunder, Clippers-Warriors and Rockets-Spurs.

Paul Lukas wishes everyone a happy Boxing Day. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted or just ask him a question? Contact him here.