Adidas is betting heavily against the earnestness of the old maxim that familiarity breeds contempt.
The more people see sleeved basketball uniforms, the more they will like them—their mysterious thinking goes. It hardly matters that they are ugly, and not the team's actual uniforms—nearly everyone has an ugly face introduced into their life at some point and over time they come to accept it, even become endeared to it if the personality is kind.
Here are the beginnings of that uncomfortable feeling a salesman creates when he forces on you something that you do not want and have no use for under any circumstances. I have felt that way in a Turkish bazaar, and I never wanted to feel it again. But, it is March and Adidas is still making uniforms for the UCLA Bruins.
Locked in an eternal, desperate psychic and economic struggle to beat Nike—the German brand with pure-blooded soccer genetics has introduced for the second straight season a special postseason basketball uniform for a handful of their schools to wear.
The problems with the uniforms—for everybody, in my opinion, but for UCLA in this case—are as myriad as buggy software sent to download too soon. The difference is that no amount of updates will bring these getups into line.
To go back for a moment to the general, mull over this. The NCAA has told Baylor it cannot wear its "Sic Em Bears" Adidas uniforms at all—and the NCAA is right. The design that Adidas researched and tested and made especially for Baylor—though, in vintage Adidas form they sewed different lettering onto the same basic uniform they gave everybody—was not even allowed under NCAA uniform rules. You cannot put a slogan on the front of your jersey, it must be the name of your team or school.
When you find yourself in a situation where the NCAA is correct—logically and in principle—about something like this, it is not far from a knowing nod from Vladimir Putin after he reviewed your nation's tank deployments along the border of a peaceable neighbor. No sane person should be comfortable with that kind of approval, but that is what Adidas has wrought.
This is not the first time Adidas has trifled with UCLA's uniforms. Leaving out football—for the sake of brevity—consider just the Bruins' regular-season basketball threads.
Since before the current cut and colors were established in 1966, the Bruins had worn stripes in some pattern around the waistbands of their shorts. The most "recent" was a seven-band repeating pattern that made a small, but significant aesthetic contribution to the whole—like an unexpected carving at the corner of a piece of architecture. The uniforms and waistband, along with the championships, put UCLA's presentation in the top 1 percent of all of sports. Unforgettable, special—iconic.
In 2010-2011 Adidas carelessly stripped the stripes from the waistband, slightly changed the uniform hues of blue and gold and altered the size of the numbers and letters. Now the stripes lead right into a generic, elastic waistband that is the same solid color as the rest of the shorts, the lettering is out of proportion and the blue is darker while the gold has had some mustard mixed into it.
There was not even an attempt at an explanation, like removing the stripes cut one-sixteenth of an ounce from the overall uniform weight and allowed players to actually take flight from gravity for a moment—they were just gone. It was a meaningless move away from tradition and rare beauty—but that is what Adidas does if it is not watch dogged.
The company can be stopped, though. Last year when the Zubaz gear was introduced, Indiana flat out refused to wear them, as did Michigan and North Carolina State.
Indiana's athletic director Fred Glass was as eloquent as Disraeli in his summary rejection.
When you look at that picture, it's really hard to tell those uniforms apart. It has really been a consistent look. Our thing is stability and a classic look. It's about the name on the front of the chest and not on the back. All those things are important to who we are.
I take seriously our obligation to be a good partner with Adidas, and we weren't cavalier about this. But when all is said and done, that's just not something that I think is appropriate for us here at Indiana to do.
The Indiana uniform is such a reflection of who we are as a program and a university that we weren't comfortable moving away from our classic, iconic uniforms.
UCLA wore theirs for one game of the Pac-12 tournament before incinerating them in the fires of Mordor; at least I like to believe that is what they did. At any rate, they never again wore them.
It was impossible not to respect Indiana for respecting themselves enough to reject a clown costume designed to give Adidas's bottom line—not Indiana's basketball team—a spike. If the Hoosiers are that self-aware of their glory and heritage, why isn't UCLA?
Indiana has won 21 conference championships—UCLA marks 31. Indiana has played in eight Final Fours—UCLA has played in 18. The Hoosiers have won five national championships—the Bruins have won 11. If Indiana has too much tradition to be a pawn in Adidas's uniform war—and they do—then why isn't UCLA unabashedly ordering Adidas around, instead of being dictated terms?
The heat for some of these choices has to be turned on athletic director Dan Guerrero. He never says a word about any of it and seems to take Adidas's frolics into absurdity as a matter of course. Guerrero has to stand up like Glass and bellow a rejection of radical new basketball uniforms being debuted during tournament season.
There is another big problem with them—they are generic except for the colors. Adidas makes a new cut of uniform and then doles it out to 10 or 12 of its schools. To lend them some semblance of creative contrast it slaps a different, potent-sounding name on each school's version. This year the line is called, "Made in March."
UCLA's dark blue road threads remind Adidas of the Los Angeles skyline at night, or so says their press release. That is what makes the Bruins different, OK?
I cannot tell how Adidas gets away with this. Nike has sewn many outlandish uniforms for its schools—but they were the original trendsetter, so already they got a step on Adidas. More importantly, Nike made unique cuts for each team—they did not design one new uniform and throw it at 20 schools. If the Adidas schools played on the same floor the only difference in the new uniforms would be the colors and names. I cannot figure out what is special about that or how it is supposed to catalyze tournament fever.
Look at this logic laid bare. Adidas surmises that UCLA would prefer to ditch its traditional, pantheon-grade uniforms for the season's most critical games and exchange them for garish, generic cuts Adidas has whipped up for a dozen of its teams. The jerseys will have sleeves, which nobody has ever wanted on a basketball uniform, and the neckline will plunge into a wide and deep V with a collar like some vogue T-shirt an actor with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth would wear into a nightclub.
I hope for the sake of rational consistency that Adidas prototyped a special ultra-light ventilated beret that the players would wear backwards to maximize the style, performance and winning tradition befitting the universities in the company's august stables.
Do you know a group of fans or alumni who wants see their team suddenly switch uniforms for the championship rounds of the season? If Adidas got hold of the New York Yankees, they would wait until the World Series to erase the pinstripes, go neon with the sleeves, turn the pants into shorts with stirrups up to the thighs and call them "Dutch to Dawn: Babe Ruth Reaches the Future."
The more I think of it, the more it feels like some big German joke that we are not equipped to understand.
Of course, that is thinking too hard. The goal here is as simple as all things are in a competitive industry: money and marketing. It is all a big money marketing ploy. Adidas, and UCLA, are infamous for not selling authentic on-the-field wear in their stores.
Nike made a huge score in the 1990s when it began selling authentic uniforms at retail outlets. As a boy you could buy and wear an exact reproduction—in your size—of the uniform Rasheed Wallace or Vince Carter wore at North Carolina—home or away. You could do this for almost every Nike team—Allen Iverson at Georgetown, Ray Allen at UConn, there are too many to recount. Nike, as they always do, broke new ground with this idea and it was a smash.
If you read over Adidas' super-excited press release for the Made in March uniforms, you will find prominently advertised the fact that these actual uniforms can be purchased online or at the UCLA book store. They did the same thing with last year's Zubaz—which were laughed out of existence.
So there it is. Adidas never sells its authentic game gear—but it makes some new hyper-tech threads for the postseason and suddenly you can wear the same duds as the players. Is it a coincidence that the jerseys have sleeves when one of the biggest drawbacks to wearing a basketball jersey for anything other than basketball is that it is a sleeveless tank top? I do not think that is conspiratorial, I believe they want people to wear these things around.
It is bald-faced corporatism at the expense of one of the fans' most important tribal totems: the uniform. The new uniforms are not bad because they are new—there is always room for fresh designs and stylized alternatives being given a trial at the right time—the new uniforms are bad because they are ugly and generic, and the timing is worse than a bad comedian's.
Adidas does a lot of things well, particularly in the civilian market, but if a lot of us had a say on it, they would not be making UCLA's uniforms for even one more season.