The NBA extending its use of form-fitting sleeved uniform tops to its most cherished corporate showcase event—next month’s All-Star Game—raises an obvious question: Could we see the day when the league makes sleeved uniforms every team's primary one?
While such a plan apparently has not been discussed yet in NBA headquarters, a quick poll of 21 players revealed only two who would support wearing sleeved jerseys on a full-time basis. The poll included three league MVPs and five All-Stars.
The lack of support is not that surprising; reviews from players among the 10 teams that wore the new-styled uniform on Christmas have not exactly been glowing. Even one of the two players in favor of them still had an issue with how they look.
"I don't mind them, and no, I wouldn't be against it," he said. "Most players wear sleeves when they practice, anyways. I know I do, so, really, what's the difference? Just make them more pleasing to the eye. Not as 'in your face' as they are now."
The one player without any issues with the sleeved tops has yet to wear one in an official game. "I love them," he said. "I always practice with a shirt under my jersey. I've been doing that since high school."
The most frustrating part for the players is that they see the new uniforms as a brazen attempt to generate more revenue for the owners. In fact, one player opposed the idea of full-time sleeved jerseys out of concern it would reduce the options to be purchased by fans; he, however, was the exception when it came to being magnanimous.
"They are hideous, the sleeves are awkward, and they are being implemented so the NBA can make more money," said a Western Conference power forward.
Or as one Southeast veteran guard texted, when asked why he thought the uniforms were being introduced: "$$$$$$$. I don't think they look good. Or feel good. But I've come to accept that the NBA doesn't care what we think."
The thinking is that fans will be more likely to buy and wear sleeved replicas of what their favorite team or player wears because tank tops are less socially flexible. "There's nothing wrong with wearing traditional jerseys except some fans don't want to wear a jersey," said a Western Conference All-Star point guard. "Not a good enough reason."
While accepting that the NBA is a business and all businesses seek profits, the players are offended that they have no input in the design of something that impacts their performance, seeing it as comparable to being told by the league how their shoes must be designed.
The overwhelming sense is that monetizing everything and anything is the league's prevailing mindset, even at the expense of its performers. Or, as some players believe the league views them: its show ponies. Having such an integral part of the game manipulated independent of them makes the idea, often forwarded by the league, that they are partners with the owners and the commissioner laughable.
"It's not a decision that is up to the players," said one Western Conference center.
"I don't really view it as anything other than another way for the league to make money selling more jerseys," a veteran swingman said. "The jerseys themselves aren't better than the traditional ones."
While some players have worn T-shirts under their singlets in high school or college, it was an independent choice and some are staunchly opposed to having any restrictions on their shooting shoulder.
"I think our sport is tough to have stuff on your shooting arm with shooting being so key," said one of the big men.
One of the league's top shooters agreed. "I never liked or wore short sleeves in high school or college, so it is different," he said. "I don't think about it during games, but I'd prefer nothing on my shoulders."
The sleeves aren't the only issue. Spokesmen for Adidas, the NBA's official uniform designer, have insinuated that the uniform material and design are what players have requested, even though none of the players polled indicated that they've ever been asked about their preferences.
"They do not wick sweat away from the skin well," one Eastern Conference swingman said. "You end up with a wet, cold, sticky shirt. In Milwaukee (or any other cold-weather city), you will freeze your tail off."
Even having a say in how they're cut might make a difference. "I would be against (making them the primary uniform) because I'm against looking like a female basketball player in the '80s," said a Central Division small forward. "I actually think it's the V-neck that makes it look bad. If they just went to a round neck it would basically look like a soccer jersey and that would be OK."
The distrust of the league and ownership is such that most of the players requested anonymity on their votes and comments for fear there would be some sort of backlash for opposing the league's latest big idea. In all, 15 of the players polled had no interest in ever playing in them.
"I'm against them all the way," said one Eastern Conference point guard. "I would vote George Bush back in office before I vote for those (uniforms)."
• Power forward Jeff Green is one of the Celtics' cornerstones, at least for now, but he never imagined having that role when the Thunder dealt him to Boston roughly three years ago—because he never imagined Paul Pierce, dealt last summer to the Brooklyn Nets, would leave. "I never thought Paul wouldn't be here," he said. "There was no way I was going to take his shots or minutes. Now that he is gone, I have the opportunity to do this. Now I'm in the No. 1 spot." While rumors are floating that Green could be on the trading block, that's not the impression he has been given by the Celtics. "This is our first year together," he said of the current squad. "We just have to ride it through."
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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