Ranking the Most Iconic Jerseys in College Basketball History
How awesome would it be to have a collection of some of the most legendary college basketball jerseys of all time?
From every decade from the 1950s until now. From superstars who represented fabled programs. Players of the Year. Most Outstanding Players.
Here is a ranking of the 12 most iconic jerseys in college basketball history.
12. Anthony Davis (Kentucky Wildcats) 2012
I'm not sure if Kentucky fans will love this or hate this. Of all of the amazing players who have helped the UK win eight national championships, I want the jersey of the player who did so most recently: Anthony Davis. No offense to the other stars who have lit up the scoreboard in Lexington, but Davis’ game was unique.
While he wasn’t a physically imposing collegiate player like a Patrick Ewing or Alonzo Mourning were back in the day, Davis had his own style of intimidation. He combined extreme length with insane hops and anticipation to become one of the best shot-blockers in NCAA history.
Most of the top rejection artists have been centers who have camped out and swatted shots from the paint. Davis, on the other hand, played the 4 and spent a lot of time on the perimeter. But that didn’t stop him from throwing back almost five shots per game in his one season playing for head coach John Calipari.
As a freshman, Davis averaged a double-double (14.2 PPG and 10.4 RPG) on a talented squad that saw six players leave and be drafted in the 2012 NBA draft. He won the Lefty Driesell Award for the top defensive player in the nation. He won the Wayman Tisdale Award for being the top freshman.
On top of all of that, Davis won just about every 2012 national player of the year award and was named the 2012 NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
His time was not long at the University of Kentucky, but he made the most of his single season.
11. Steve Alford (Indiana Hoosiers) 1987
How about adding a classic Indiana jersey next?
From the mid-'70s to the late '80s, very few programs enjoyed the success of Bob Knight's Hoosiers: three NCAA championships (1976, 1981, 1987), as well as three Sweet 16 appearances plus one trip to the Elite Eight.
One of the best ambassadors of this era of IU hoops was Steve Alford.
During his four years (1983-1987) in Bloomington, Alford became Indiana's all-time leading scorer (only to be outdone by Calbert Cheaney less than a decade later). He was a consensus first-team All-America selection and the Big Ten Conference's MVP as a senior (1987).
One more distinction for Alford is that he was the only player in school history to win the team MVP award all four years.
Alford’s short-lived NBA career was nothing special. But he had an impressive run wearing the cream and crimson.
10. Danny Manning (Kansas Jayhawks) 1988
While we are here in the 1980s, we can't bypass a tasteful Danny Manning jersey, can we?
Manning was not only one of the best players in KU history, but he was also named the Big Eight Player of the Decade (1980s).
Now the head coach at Tulsa University, Manning’s Golden Hurricane bio reads:
A Jayhawk legend, Manning is Kansas' all-time leading scorer and rebounder, racking up 2,951 points and 1,187 boards in his illustrious four-year career. Manning, the eighth all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, was named a consensus first-team All-America selection in 1987 and 1988, the consensus College Player of the Year in 1988 and a three-time Big Eight Conference Player of the Year (1986, 1987 and 1988).
On top of his individual awards, Manning helped lead Kansas to its second NCAA Championship. This was especially impressive because KU went in to the tournament with a very pedestrian 21-11 record. By going all the way in 1988, “Danny and the Miracles” etched a place in March Madness history.
9. Michael Jordan (North Carolina Tar Heels) 1984
How about including the college jersey of the greatest player of all time?
Some would assert that Michael Jordan was not even the best Tar Heel of all-time. Names like Phil Ford and James Worthy would be offered by many.
Others might argue that there have been several players at North Carolina who scored more points or grabbed more rebounds. True and true.
But, it's MJ, baby.
Jordan was the 1982 ACC Rookie of the Year and the 1984 ACC Player of the Year. He was a two-time All-American and won just about every 1984 national player of the year award given.
He also made the winning jumper in the 1982 NCAA championship game.
Give me a vintage Carolina blue No. 23.
8. The Fab Five (Michigan Wolverines) 1992
Michigan’s recruiting class of 1991 was made up of Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson and Juwan Howard—better known as the “Fab Five.”
Since we are looking for all-time iconic jerseys, can you do this without incorporating one from this notorious group?
The Atlantic’s Kevin Craft described the Fab Five as “a cultural phenomenon.” He pinpointed what people loved and hated about them. They were prized by some because of their on-court bravado and trendsetting behavior. They were detested by others because their fame and popularity didn’t come primarily through their game-time accomplishments or their winning a string of championships.
Don’t get me wrong, the Fab Five were not all hype and hysteria. They were a talented group. Four of the five played in the NBA. Only Ray Jackson did not. They made it to the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Championship Games as freshmen and sophomores. But the bottom line is they failed to win either time.
7. Larry Johnson (UNLV Runnin' Rebels) 1991
The 1989-90 UNLV Runnin' Rebels were one of the most frightening teams in NCAA history.
They didn't just beat Duke in the national title game—they absolutely destroyed the Blue Devils (103-73). Not an easy thing to do. This score was a championship game record for most points and largest margin of victory.
Larry Johnson was "the Man" among men for head coach Jerry Tarkanian.
Johnson’s Wikipedia page states that he was “the first - and to this date, only - player ever to win the National Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year award both years he played.”
At UNLV, he was a two-time first team All-American (1990-91), as well as the national player of the year in 1991.
Adding “Grandma-ma’s” jersey to this assortment of athletic apparel would be awesome.
6. Christian Laettner (Duke Blue Devils) 1992
Love him or loathe him, Christian Laettner had one of the most distinctive careers in college basketball history.
It was during his four years in Durham that Duke became Duke.
He is the only player to start in Final Four games in all four years of his collegiate playing career. Laettner helped the Blue Devils win back-to-back NCAA championships (1991 and 1992). He won the 1991 tournament Most Outstanding Player award.
Laettner was more than a March Madness marvel. He was a two-time All-American, and he won just about every 1992 national player of the year award handed out.
Even with all of those accomplishments, Laettner may be most known for "The Shot." He delivered the ultimate dagger when he hit the buzzer-beater in the 1992 East Regional final to beat Kentucky. This year, this single miraculous instance was voted as the “Most Memorable Moment in NCAA Tournament History.”
If Laettner was not hated enough already, now some people have one more reason to despise him. I’ll go in the opposite direction. Now, I have one more reason to want his jersey in this collection.
5. Larry Bird (Indiana State Sycamores) 1979
Even though he was an ordinary kid from a tiny country town (French Lick, Ind.), Larry Bird was a huge contributor toward the emergence of college basketball as we know it today. Before the Fab Five were about swagger and show, Bird was about straightforward, down-home basketball.
Bird had a rare skill set that allowed him to score from anywhere this side of the half court. At 6’9,” he was just as capable knocking down shots from downtown as he was backing someone down on the block.
Even though Bird only played three years of college ball, he ended up being the fifth-leading scorer in NCAA history. He was more than just a big-time scorer. He averaged 30.3 points over his collegiate career, but also pulled down 13.3 rebounds and handed out 4.6 assists per game. Wow!
Bird was a two-time consensus Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and a two-time consensus All-American (1978 and 1979). In his junior season, he was selected as the national player of the year by no less than six awards.
The 1979 NCAA tournament was a launching pad for the current age college basketball. What was a fantastic overall tourney culminated in a national title game that featured a showdown between Bird and Michigan State's Magic Johnson.
Though the Spartans ultimately prevailed, Larry Bird put Indiana State on the national hoops map.
Yes, give me one "Larry Legend" jersey, please.
4. Magic Johnson (Michigan State Spartans) 1979
There are great players and then there are those that revolutionize their position.
Magic Johnson changed the idea of who could run the point. Rather than finding the shortest guy on the court and handing him the ball, Johnson showed that you could be a player of size and lead the charge. He had outrageous court vision and was a master at passing and handling the ball.
In fact, though Johnson stood 6'8" and weighed 215 pounds, he still averaged 7.9 assists to go with his 17.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game over two collegiate seasons. As a sophomore, Magic led the Spartans to the 1979 NCAA Championship and he was named the Final Four MOP. He was also a 1979 first-team All-American selection.
Magic simply knew how to win. One of Johnson's unique accomplishments is that he won championships at three different levels in four years: the Michigan state championship for Everett High School in Lansing as a senior, the NCAA Championship as a college sophomore at MSU and finally, the NBA title during his rookie season against Philadelphia.
A green and white "33" would be a nice addition to this ever-expanding collection.
3. Bill Walton (UCLA Bruins) 1974
Because Bill Walton played in the era when freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity team, the big redhead packed it all in his sophomore through senior seasons.
He averaged a double-double all three of his varsity seasons and an eye-popping 20.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game over his three years playing at Pauley Pavillion.
The Bruins were undefeated national champions in Walton’s sophomore and junior seasons. In the 1973 championship game versus Memphis, Walton had one of the greatest performance in NCAA history. He scored 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting. Wow!
As a senior, UCLA lost to eventual NCAA champs NC State in the national semifinals.
Walton pulled off a rare trifecta. He was named the Naismith College Player of the Year three times. Only Oscar Robertson and Ralph Sampson have equaled that accomplishment.
2. Bill Russell (San Francisco Dons) 1956
If you want to truly go "old school" and reach back before the UCLA dynasty days, there would be nothing better than Bill Russell's University of San Francisco jersey.
His Wikipedia page states that he averaged a ridiculous 20.7 points and 20.3 rebounds per game for his collegiate career.
Russell led the Dons to back-to-back NCAA championships (1955-56). He was a shot-blocking and defensive extraordinaire. He ruled the key.
Though he went on to have a legendary NBA career with the Boston Celtics, very few players have been as influential as Russell in terms of moving the game forward.
1. Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar: UCLA Bruins) 1968
How could you have a collection of iconic jerseys without having one from the greatest college basketball player of all time...Lew Alcindor?
Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, dominated collegiate hoops like no other player. In his three years at UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar led the Bruins to three NCAA Championships by being named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player three times.
He won multiple national player of the year awards in each of his three seasons in Westwood.
The L.A. Times Jerry Crowe recounts a time when John Wooden told of Alcindor’s desire to win instead of just collect individual awards:
I talked to him once and said, "I'm sure that we could devise an offense to make you the all-time leading scorer in college history, but if we do that, we're not going to win national championships." And--I'll never forget it--he said, "Coach, you know I wouldn't want that."