The Basketball Uniform: An Evolution
From trousers to satin briefs, turtlenecks to track suits, the basketball uniform has changed more than that of any other professional sport. To kick off yet another March of madness, Kempt takes a look back at some of the most memorable on-court style moments in basketball’s 120-year history.
1891-1920: Trousers and a Peach Basket
The goal is simple: land a ball in an upside-down peach basket. As such, the first 25 years of the game turned sport are played in baggy trousers and wool undershirts—essentially whatever the players are already wearing. As basketball gains popularity amongst college students and trade unions in the early 1900s, efforts are made to coordinate attire to avoid inadvertently passing the ball to the opposing team.
Wichita YMCA Basketball Team, 1895
Yale University wins first intercollegiate game against Wesleyan University, 1896
Mercantile Basketball League, 1911
1920-1940: Shorts and Kneepads
Trousers and long wool shirts mercifully give way to mid-length shorts and jerseys made from more breathable, stretchable wool, fastened underneath the crotch to avoid becoming untucked. Women and schoolchildren, the more delicate lot, are required to wear kneepads during games. Converse releases a rubber-soled canvas high-top in 1917 named for Charles “Chuck” Taylor, who traveled around the country playing for the Converse All-Stars, teaching kids how to play basketball—and selling shoes.
Chuck Taylor, Converse All-Stars, 1921
Hamilton Fish (R-NY) and the House page basketball team, 1927
Brookhaven (MI) High School Basketball Team, 1934
Wool has become unmanageable on the basketball court—too hot and too difficult to launder. The advent of polyester/nylon marks a whole new era, and mid-length shorts give way to shiny satin briefs and form-fitting, track-style jerseys.
Introduction of short shorts, 1941
Los Angeles Lakers, 1950
1960-1988: The Snug Look
Following the national trends of the late ’60s and ’70s, basketball uniforms get tighter, tube socks get longer (and stripe-ier), and headbands do their best to keep long hair at bay. In 1982, the MacGregor Sand-Knit becomes the NBA’s exclusive outfitter and offers a more breathable cotton/polyester blend that controls moisture better. NBA jerseys become more colorful (and lucrative).
Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, 1965
New York Knicks, 1970
NBA Championships, 1979
Danny Ainge, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, 1985
1988-2012: Michael Jordan and a Farewell to Knees
In 1987, Michael Jordan personally asks the president of Champion (then NBA uniform manufacturer) to make his shorts longer so he could have something to hang on to when he bent over, out of breath. The next season, he gets his wish, and the image of basketball is changed forever.
Michael Jordan, 1987; Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, 1993
University of Michigan’s “Fab Five,” 1992
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, 2002
Jameer Nelson and Jamaal Tinsley were fined by the NBA for excessive length of shorts in 2005
- — C. Brian Smith