For fans of the University of Illinois basketball team, the primary goal has always been winning.
From Harry Combes' Whiz Kids to Lou Henson's Flying Illini to Bruce Weber's current class, success has always been determined by wins and losses, Big Ten titles and NCAA tournament success.
Naturally, fans at times cannot resist lamenting on the more superficial areas of the game.
Did the "blue hairs" stand up enough at Assembly Hall? Does a certain halftime song remind fans too much of a certain former symbol? Is the volume of Bruce Weber's courtside voice too loud?
Fans routinely place uniform design in the crosshairs of their critical targets. Maybe it's because uniforms help define the Fighting Illini "brand" to fans across the country.
Or are fans simply closet fashionistas?
Here is a list of University of Illinois uniforms ranked from first to worst.
One of the most successful teams in Illinois basketball history, the 1989 Flyin' Illini, did more than reach the Final Four. They were fashion revolutionaries.
Coached by Lou Henson, the Illini wanted to buck the trend of hip-hugging, ultra-short bottoms. In last year's ESPN documentary Fab Five, Jalen Rose claimed his Michigan Wolverines were the first to wear baggy shorts. Members of the Flyin' Illini disagree.
After the airing of the documentary, Kendall Gill disagreed with Rose on Chicago's Gamenight, a local radio program.
"Juwan [Howard] and Chris Webber would come up to us, myself, Nick Anderson, Steve Bardo, when they would see us when they got into the league and they would say, ‘You know what? We wore our shorts long because you guys did it, the Flyin’ Illini.’ They bit off of us. They did.”
- Chief Illiniwek logo on hip with "Fighting Illini" on jersey
- Bright orange body with solid white lettering
- No goofy undershirts
Lou Henson's 1983-84 team sported the final year of Chief Illiniwek's early adaptation on its hip (pictured above). Illiniwek was portrayed in a sideways fashion.
- "Fighting Illini" brought visibility to the school's nickname
- White outlining provided an effective contrast between orange and blue
- Narrow straps
- Numerals are somewhat too large
On October 11, 1990, the University of Illinois voted 7-1-1 in favor of making Chief Illiniwek the official symbol of the institution. In three years, the university decided to end the usage of Illiniwek logos on sports uniforms.
- Coloring of blue shorts triple outlined in orange/blue/white
- Numeral sizing does not dominate
- Extended the "bagginess" of the 1989 team
- No official team shoe
- Outlining of jersey and shorts do not complement one another
Dee Brown: The One Man Fast Break
It's difficult to apply any criticism on Bruce Weber's 2004-05 Fighting Illini team. It began the season with 29 straight wins, made the Final Four, and contained a future Olympian in Deron Williams.
That year's team finished 37-2 and lost the NCAA championship to North Carolina by five points.
Williams' teammates included the following future NBA players: Dee Brown, Roger Powell and Luther Head.
If there was any vulnerability in that team, it was the uniforms.
- Implementation of the v-neck style neck
- "I" logo under the neckline
- Baggy, but not overdone
- Undershirts. Some wore t-shirts. Some wore muscle shirts. All were ugly.
- Large, bright numerals are the focal point instead of "Illinois." (Go ahead and glance at the picture. What do you see first?)
The 1942-43 Fighitng Illini basketball team finished the season with 17 wins and one loss. After winning the Big Ten conference title, the Illini were the top-ranked team in the nation.
Their season, however, was cut short after three of the team's starting five were sent off to active duty during World War II.
In 2007, Gene Vance sat down with Jeff Smith of BigTen.org to reflect on not playing in the NCAA Tournament.
"It was very disappointing," he said. "[Teammate Andy] Phillip and I were the only ones left, but we said if they can't go to the tournament, none of us will."
- Belted shorts
- Converse brand high-top shoes
- No accessories (e.g. headbands, wristbands, shooting sleeves)
- Shorts leave little to the imagination
- "Illinois" and lettering could benefit from outlining
- Trim outline of shorts and jersey is too subtle
2006-07 was one more step away from the glorious 2005 season. While frustrated at times, Illinois fans were encouraged watching seniors Rich McBride and Warren Carter grow into leaders. The team eventually lost to Virginia Tech in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The jerseys, however, were embarrassing all season long.
- Any orange-and-blue piece of clothing that says "Illinois" is somewhat appealing
- Team shoes complemented uniforms well
- Charlie Brown zigzags on the shorts
- Font of the numerals looks cartoonish
- Shorts were RIDICULOUSLY baggy. (Basic triangulation suggests that there are only eight inches between McBride's shorts and his sock line.)
Illinois head coach Bruce Weber's 2010-11 season brought undelivered expectations and underwhelming results.
The senior leadership of Bill Cole, Mike Tisdale, Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis began the season with 10 wins in 11 games. Champaign-Urbana was excited with early wins over Gonzaga, North Carolina, and Maryland.
But the handshakes and smiles quickly diminished with on-court feuds between players and coaches. Then there was the inexplicable losses at Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern. The ultimate turning of the tide was losing 11 out of the last 18 games.
Like the team itself, the uniforms truly were Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
- Coloration of neck line
- Near form-fitting jerseys
- Two-toned coloration of "Illinois" on the jersey resembled the ups and downs of the team
- Contrast lines underneath armpit