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Tuesday, October 31, 2006
A new look for the NBA

By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Quick, what's the easiest way to change the look of every single basketball game?

Answer: Change the basketball, of course, which is just what the NBA has done for this season. But while the new ball has received mixed reviews from players, most observers have overlooked the potentially huge Uni Watch implications. To wit: 21 of the league's 30 teams have ball-inclusive logos, all of which are now outdated. Many teams also have a ball depicted on their uniforms, which means the uni ball and the game ball no longer match. And what about the O'Brien Trophy?

If you're worried that this portends a massive NBA face-lift (or if you're a graphic artist expecting to clean up on logo redesigns), calm down. For now, at least, none of these ball-related graphics will be changing. You can get the full scoop, as explained to Uni Watch by the NBA league office, here, and some additional info regarding the historical relationship between NBA logos and game balls is available here.

OK, now that that's out of the way, what's the second-easiest way to change the look of every basketball game? Answer: Change what the refs wear. That's on tap for this season too, because the league has a new apparel outfitter, which has put its graphic stamp on the officials' jerseys. And gee, you'll never guess who that outfitter is, because they're so subtle with their branding, which also extends to this year's new practice unis and warm-up pants and jackets. (Hint: rhymes with "adidas.")

In other league-wide news, remember those long tights everyone was wearing last season? They're banned this year, as are wristbands worn on the upper arm, waiting to check in at the scorer's table with your warm-up pants on and/or your jersey untucked, and several other nitpicky items that apparently kept David Stern awake at night.

As for team-specific changes, here's what to look for as the season gets underway:

• Uni Watch's long-running campaign against the world's most annoying color has gotten a big boost in Milwaukee, where the Bucks have traded in this and this for this and this. Some might question the Yuletide color combo, and Uni Watch is never thrilled by the sight of giant capital letters bookending the jersey insignia (never looks good, whether here, here or here), but this is still such a massive improvement over the team's previous look that we should all just keep such quibbles to ourselves.

• Chromatic sanity has also descended upon Toronto, where the Raptors have finally purged purple from their color scheme. The home uni has changed from this to this (here's a side view), while this monstrosity, which was relegated from road to alternate status last season, has now been jettisoned altogether (that noise you just heard was the sound of Uni Watch letting out a few whoops and hollers). The road uni is essentially unchanged, except that the side panel's stripes have changed from white to silver (and if you can detect that in a photo, your eyesight is better than Uni Watch's) and the logo on the shorts has changed from this to the team's standard claw graphic.

• The Celtics, who already had a shamrock on their waistband, have added two of them to their jersey (which should be very instructive for everyone who didn't realize that Paul Pierce, Al Jefferson and Rajon Rondo were Irish). The first one is on the back, just below the rear collar. The other one, just announced, is a memorial patch for Red Auerbach, which will be worn like so.

• Lots of new alternate road unis this season. Uni Watch loves the Bobcats in navy, hates the Nets in red, and pleads indifference to the Jazz in light blue. By far the most interesting design -- and likely the most controversial one too, once more people see it -- is in Washington, where the Wizards recently unveiled this. The shoulder striping and contrasting shorts are sure to invite ridicule from some quarters, but Uni Watch likes how the stars and stripes echo the franchise's old Bullets-era design. It remains to be seen how this will look on the court (you can get a rough idea from these "NBA Live 07" screen grabs -- note that these shots also show Utah's new alternate design), but for now Uni Watch is inclined to treat this as a gutsy experiment that deserves to be given a chance. And let's face it, it's way better than some of the league's other alternate unis.

• Speaking of alt designs, the Bulls' black alternate uni, which used to look like this, has been revised to bring it more in line with the team's home and road uniforms. The new version has a more traditional collar and armholes (the latter of which now have matching trim), and the shorts now have the team's standard diamond-shaped trim pattern.

• When researchers look back on NBA history, there's a good chance that this will go down as the Season of Small and Inexplicable Tweaks to Shorts Designs (which really rolls right off the tongue, no?). In addition to the Toronto and Chicago shorts revisions mentioned above, here's the rundown: The Suns, who previously wore the team's sunburst logo on the right leg and uniform numbers on the left, now have the sunburst logo on both legs. Similar situation with the Sonics, who previously went with the logo on the right and uni number on the left but are now wearing the logo on both sides. The Knicks have moved their logo from the right leg to the left. And the Kings, who previously wore their logo on the right leg but not on the left, are now showcasing it on both.

• As you may recall, some of last season's throwback outfits were a bit, shall we say, out there. Uni Watch is happy to report that the retro getups are a bit more sedate this time around (sorry, no photos yet, but trust Uni Watch on this one). Best news of all: another go-round for history's greatest basketball uni.

• The Cavs, Rockets, Sonics and Pacers have new commemorative patches, but only for their warm-ups and shooting shirts -- not for their game unis. (Incidentally, there's a free Uni Watch T-shirt waiting for the first person who can explain exactly what it is that the Cavs are celebrating. Please note that submissions employing the term "ironic" will be disqualified.)

• One of the league's most recognizable players will be a bit tougher to recognize this season, because he's got a new uni number.

• And finally, for textile geeks only (you know who you are), the Cavs have changed their uni fabric from an open-hole mesh to a closed-hole mesh.

"D"efeated
Last week's examination of the various versions of the Tigers' old English D logo prompted a great response from Steve Diamond, a designer at Nike who's also done lots of design work for MLB. His communiqué, which explains a lot of the background behind MLB's various logo discrepancies, is available here.

Lots of other readers had good responses, too. Here's a sampling:

• From Chuck Dijak (who makes his living painting logos on fields): "Nice mention of the painted version of the 'cap D' behind home plate at Comerica Park. A family asked me to deliver the same thing for their World Series party on [Oct. 21] -- check it out. I like orange, so that's the explanation for the outline (which is thicker than the Comerica version)."

• From Daniel Clement: "Growing up in Detroit, I heard numerous times that one can actually spell D-E-T-R-O-I-T within the old English D. After reading your article, I researched this and couldn't come up with anything, but looking at the logo itself, it is quite easy to spell Detroit in it." Uni Watch has never heard this one before -- anyone else know anything about it?

• And several readers pointed out that yet another version of the D has appeared this Halloween season.

Meanwhile, Uni Watch's assertion that the Cardinals are the only team to chain-stitch their logo directly onto their jersey drew a rebuke from long-time Uni Watch contributor Kevin Gee, who provided photographic proof that the Astros are also in the direct-embroidered camp. This in turn prompted a chain-stitching tutorial from Uni Watch Design Director Scott M.X. Turner, all of which resulted in an arts and crafts geek-o-rama over on the Uni Watch blog. Full details (assuming you can tear yourself away from your sewing circle) here.

Speaking of the Cardinals, uniform designer and historian Todd Radom recently stumbled across an old AP photo that shows Stan Musial holding an "StL"-emblazoned road uni, which was apparently slated to be used in 1956 but never made it onto the field. (The team's actual '56 uniforms looked like this.) For further details on this newly uncovered addition to Redbirds history, look here.

And in one last bit of Cardinals arcana, Cardinals Hall of Fame assistant curator Brian Finch helped clarify the tail-feather chronology of the team's script jersey insignia. Contrary to what Uni Watch reported last time around, the logo's modern era, which began in 1957, has had three primary epochs, not two: From 1957 through '65, the bird on the left's tail hung behind the bat, while the bird on the right's tail hung in front; in 1966, when the team moved into a new stadium, this arrangement was reversed, so the bird on the left's tail was in front throughout the '70s, '80s and mid-'90s. So when the birds' posterior alignments were reversed again in 1998, that move actually restored the original format, which is still used today.

Paul Lukas has two cats, whose tails are constantly where they shouldn't be. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, his answers to Frequently Asked Questions are here, and archives of his columns are available here, here, and here. Got feedback for him, or want to be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted? Contact him here.