NBA, stop digging through couch cushions for change with all of these City Edition uniforms. It was a good idea the first time. A uniform designed to highlight a team’s home is a way to be artistic. NBA cities are multicultural, so a change every once in a while to reflect that is fine. But to change designs every season to a uniform that will be worn multiple times just to sell new jerseys is uninspired and greedy.
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For those who don’t believe me, one of the league’s top funky fashionistas is on my side. Kyle Kuzma — wearer of the longest of long-sleeve sweaters — was critical of a rumored new Los Angeles Clippers City Edition uniform. He posted on Xwitter that, “Nike is ruining the nostalgia of jerseys, every year it’s a new jersey and what gets lost is brand identity.”
The Kuz gets it. Frequently shoving new jerseys down the customers’ throats cheapens the product. In selling a team to locals, and in the case of the NBA the rest of the world, the uniform is a foundational part of a team’s identity. That is why certain franchises tinker with their base uniforms only to a certain extent. The Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Canadiens, and others tend to stay with what has identified them for decades.
Which is not to say that wholesale rebrands should be avoided. I don’t know if I would be able to hang on as a Chicago White Sox fan if not for their 1991 uniform change. My black White Sox hat keeps me tethered to a team that regularly pulls a Lucy on me with the football when they try to “contend.”
What the NBA started with the City Edition uniforms, MLB mastered with its City Connect. The reason is largely that they unveiled slowly, a few teams a year, and haven’t yet changed the originals. At first, the NBA was similar. The Miami Heat vice uniforms were great, and they wore them for years. Now, they change the damn things every year and, they lose their meaning. Last season, just to say the City Edition uniform was different, the Heat changed the color from black to white.
The NBA City Edition uniforms that have been revealed so far feel like Nike has quiet quit on the idea. The Cleveland Cavaliers recently unveiled their new 2023-24 City Edition uniforms, to season-ticket holders, and the reaction was less than enthusiastic.
There is nothing wrong with a simple design. However, by keeping the current Cavs colorways, and just slapping “the Land” on the front and some type of design on the neck, arm, and leg holes, the uniform becomes a shameless money grab. If the Cavs want to sell some more merch, how about they bring back the jerseys from the Mark Price era?
It is not only the Cavs that have a lazy City Edition uniform. The Chicago Bulls have one that is a black jersey with Chicago printed vertically, and a Madhouse on Madison patch in the bottom right corner that might be visible during games.
Sports does not simply sell colors and names, it sells feelings. A complete emotional experience is what compels people to purchase tickets, gear, and NBA League Pass. With gimmicks like these new jerseys fans are going to have to see multiple times this season, the product feels more like an infomercial.
The NBA is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. A league that has featured icons such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry. This league is significantly younger than the NFL, MLB, and NHL but the names of its stars ring out the loudest.
Leaning into what’s new, and refusing to be stuffy, is how the NBA has become a worldwide sensation. It reached out to young people long ago and continues to do so in an authentic way. The game is beautiful and the league does a great job showcasing it.
Part of that beauty is tarnished though with all of these new uniforms every season that hold less and less meaning. Like Kuzma said, the NBA loses some of its nostalgia, and identity by constantly messing with what the players wear. The uniforms are not a fireworks show. They are as much a part of play as the ball and the hoop.
There is always room for alternate colorways. Sometimes that alternate needs to become the main one because not every team’s base uniform design is easy on the eyes. But this constant addition of new gear just to generate some extra revenue comes off as desperate.
All money isn’t good money. Grabbing every single dollar doesn’t always make a product more valuable. Sometimes, it makes it look cheap.