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When the Cavaliers chose LeBron James with the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft, they marked the occasion by unveiling a new uniform set for that fall. From a uni standpoint, it was a win-win-win: The new design served as a benchmark for the LeBron era, plus the Cavs were desperately in need of a fresh look (remember all their miserable pre-LeBron uniforms?), and the new design instantly became one of the NBA's best.
There's no indication that the Clippers will mark the Blake Griffin era with a new uni design, but they ought to. Their uniform isn't as bad as those old Cavs designs, but it's stale, tired, boring. Plus it's become a symbol of the franchise's mediocrity. This team needs a makeover, like, yesterday.
And they're not the only ones. If you look around the pro sports landscape, you'll find lots of teams that are overdue for a uniform revision -- in some cases, way overdue. Too bad we can't just plug every uniform into a formula that would instantly determine how desperately it needs to be overhauled.
Or can we?
After significant research and development, Uni Watch Laboratories is proud to present the S.U.C.K. Index. The four letters stand for the four variables used to assess a team's need for a design facelift, as follows:
Stale: Are we all sick of looking at this design? Does the mere thought of it put you to sleep? Does it lack zip, pizzazz, juice?
Ugly: Does this uniform have, as they say, a face made for radio?
Calendar: Is the uniform dated? Can you take one look at it and know when it was designed? (Note that dated and stale are not the same thing. The Edmonton Oilers' uniform, for example, is super dated but not yet stale, while the Tampa Bay Rays' uni is brand new but was stale right from the day it was unveiled. Also, just because a design is old, that doesn't necessarily mean it's either stale or dated, because some old designs have aged quite gracefully.)
Karma: How has the team performed in this design? Is there some aspect of the uniform that makes no sense? Are there any other intangibles to consider?
If we rate each component on a scale of 1 to 10 and then add up the numbers, we get the uniform's S.U.C.K. rating. Let's look at the Clippers, since we were already talking about them: Their look is incredibly stale (10 points), not particularly ugly (3), fairly dated (7), and loaded with bad karma (10; in fact, we might give them some bonus bad-karma points because their logo looks like a cheap knockoff of that other L.A. team's logo).
Add it up and the Clippers score 30 out of a possible 40 points -- pretty S.U.C.K.ish. But how does that rank among all the pro teams out there? Here are Uni Watch's picks for the 10 S.U.C.K.iest pro uniforms out there. At the end of the column, you'll have a chance to vote for the one you think is most in need of an overhaul, plus you designers out there will be able to submit your own new designs for these teams.
10. New Jersey Nets
Once upon a time, this franchise had the game's greatest player and one of its greatest uniforms, but it's been all downhill since then. Let's start with the team logo, which shows a ball going through a hoop -- without a net. Hello, what was your team name again? Then there's the chest insignia, which doesn't look classic or understated, it's just dull. And no, those zigzag side panels don't look like netting, they look like argyle socks. And why use classic-style lettering on the road jersey when the rest of your graphics program is so cartoonish? It's not so much that the Nets are unsightly (especially compared with some of their previous looks -- remember the tie-dye/stonewashed uni?), but their look doesn't make any sense. Blow it up and start over. S.U.C.K.itude: 32 out of 40.
9. Buffalo Sabres
This instant classic of bad design has been a near-bottomless source of comic relief since it first appeared three seasons ago, so it would be a minor shame to see it go. But now that we've run out of hairpiece jokes, it's worth noting all the other flaws in this design, like the pointless front uni numbers, all the tangled spaghetti lines around the armpits, the way the blue side panels on the jersey and pants never align like they're supposed to, the unnecessary shoulder patches, and so on. And how's this for bad karma: Soon after this uni was unveiled, Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn said, "I can make a promise to our fans, if we're in the deciding game of the Stanley Cup, that old blue and gold [throwback] jersey is going to be worn if we're at home, so we'll have the opportunity to win the Cup with it." In other words, even Quinn knew the new design was a dud compared with the team's classic old-school look. Hey, he said it, Uni Watch didn't. S.U.C.K.itude: 32.5 out of 40.
8. Golden State Warriors
It is nothing short of tragic that the team associated with some of the most iconic designs in NBA history has spent the past two decades saddled with a series of utterly characterless uniforms. The Warriors' current look is a total snooze, their logo looks like it was cribbed from a bad comic book, and the lightning bolt motif should be reserved for the teams like the Chargers and Lightning. Also, if you're going to name your team Golden State, you really ought to stick to California's official state colors, which are blue and gold. So what's with all the orange? Back to the drawing board, pronto. S.U.C.K.itude: 33 out of 40.
7. Washington Nationals
There are so many things wrong with this uni set -- the home jersey typography clashes with the cap logo, the new road jersey script clashes with the uni numbers, the team can't decide if its primary color is red or navy, etc. -- but all you really need to know is that the uniforms themselves have been crying out for help this season. Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Dunn both had the team name misspelled in the same game, Wil Ledezma had an upside-down N, and Ron Villone pitched an inning with his front uni numbers peeling off his jersey. Maybe they were simply trying to escape? Couldn't blame them. Look, just go back to wearing Expos uniforms until you can come up with something decent. S.U.C.K.itude: 33.5 out of 40.
6. New York Yankees
6. Toronto Blue Jays
Memo to Jays management: Wouldn't it be nice if a team called the Blue Jays wore, um, a blue cap? Or at least a blue alternate jersey? Apparently this concept is too radical for the Jays. So is the notion of a decent cap logo (which is worse, this one or this one?). Worst rear-jersey look in the bigs, too, what with the weird number font and the comically large player name lettering (which looks particularly clunky on the road grays and black alternates). And to think this team used to have some visual character. S.U.C.K.itude: 34 out of 40.
5. Chicago White Sox
Bound to be the most controversial choice on this list, but hear Uni Watch out here. True, Chicago's current look is innocuous enough, but the White Sox have been wearing it for nearly 20 years now. When you consider that this is the franchise that gave us the untucked jersey with the leisure suit collar, the shorts, the beach blanket jersey, the uni number on the thigh, and the wacky prototypes that they trotted out in a fashion show -- all within a 12-year period! -- it becomes clear that the Sox are waaaay overdue for a design shakeup. If they won't do something radical, who will? Plus the Uni Watch Executive Council is giving them double points for bad karma, because no team called the White Sox should be wearing black socks. S.U.C.K.itude: 34.5 out of 40.
4. Buffalo Bills
Congratulations, Bills fans -- your team wins the award for "NFL team that looks like it belongs in the Arena League." It's gotten so bad that the current uni set has replaced Scott Norwood as the worst thing that ever happened to this franchise. The awful blue-on-blue home look, the pointless royal blue yoke outline, the ridiculous red side piping (even worse on the road jersey than at home) -- it's all too much. Worst of all, everyone loves the Bills' throwback uniforms, so why not just go back to those? S.U.C.K.itude: 35 out of 40.
3. Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Kings
OK, we get it -- you're both named the Kings, and purple is the color of royalty, and some marketing guy told you black was a badass color, and then you thought silver was a nice accent color for the black, so now we have two California teams with the same name, the same color scheme, and similar logos. How creative! And that's not all you have in common -- you both have a penchant for clownishly bloated uni numbers, odd treatments of your city name (on the hemline for one of you, and rendered in barely legible type for the other), and some of the most hideous alternate uniforms in the history of your respective leagues. Uni Watch hates to break this to you, but California's only big enough for one ugly, unimaginative, purple-clad team called the Kings, so at least one of you -- or preferably both -- will have to make some changes. S.U.C.K.itude: 36 out of 40 for both teams.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Can a uniform be due for an overhaul before it's even made its on-field debut? It can when it's the Jags' new uni set, an epic failure that was unveiled two months ago. Right, we understand, those shoulder horns are supposed to look all sleek and streamlined, but they look clunky on the big guys, look like zippers on the skinny guys, and the way they wrap around to the back is a joke. Almost as bad: the loopy pants striping (which, again, doesn't look quite so streamlined on the big fellas). Worst of all, they've removed the gold trim, the prowling jaguar on the sleeve, and the cool number font, all of which gave the old design some warmth and presence. Already tedious, already dated, already stomach-turning. Full-on karma points for ruining the league's most underrated uni design. In the words of Sheriff John Brown, kill it before it grows. S.U.C.K.itude: 37 out of 40.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
Quick quiz: Which guy in this photo looks like a football player, and which ones look like clowns? The Bengals have been such a visual minefield for so long now that Uni Watch has gotten in the habit of using the term "Bengalian" to describe other bad uni designs (as in "It's a disaster of Bengalian proportions"). Where shall we start -- the white side panels? The inexplicable white hip stripes? The endless mix-and-match alternate uni disasters? And here's a thought: After more than 40 years, zero Super Bowl victories, and endless snickering, shouldn't this team finally get a decent helmet design? S.U.C.K.itude: 38 out of 40.
So there you have it, the S.U.C.K.iest team in pro sports, your Cincinnati Bengals. Or at least that's Uni Watch's take -- you can vote for your top pick at the top of this page. And if you'd like to nominate a team that didn't make Uni Watch's list, send your picks here.
Finally, for all you designers out there, how would you improve these teams? Send your makeover concepts here and Uni Watch will feature the best ones in a subsequent column.
Paul Lukas promises to address the sports world's thorniest uni-makeover question -- "Should Penn State's design be jazzed up after JoePa retires?" -- in a future column. His Uni Watch blog, which is updated daily, is here, and his Uni Watch glossary is here. 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.