NEW YORK — The men who dribble, pass and shoot for a living enjoy a generally pleasant existence. They work seven to nine months. They take the summers off. The pay is good. But they do have some grievances.
Ah, those dastardly sleeves. The ones that suddenly sprouted from NBA jerseys on Christmas, constricting shoulders and shooting strokes. The ones that turned NBA uniforms into kiddie pajamas and triggered relentless mockery across the basketball blogosphere.
Portland's Robin Lopez called for a "mass burning."
A bonfire is probably out of the question. But NBA officials are seriously reconsidering the efficacy of those extra inches of mesh, and they just might clip them entirely—if the players demand it.
Commissioner Adam Silver told Bleacher Report he intends to revisit the issue after the season. He plans to meet with LeBron James, one of the loudest critics of the jerseys. The NBA could decide to curtail the use of the sleeved jerseys, leave it up to individual teams or simply kill the program for good.
"Ultimately, if the players don't like them, we'll move on to something else," Silver told Bleacher Report. "I don't regret doing it for this season. But it's intended to be something fun for the fans and the players. And if it becomes a serious issue, as to whether players should be wearing sleeves, we'll likely move onto other things."
The matter took on an added urgency, at least from a public relations standpoint, when James, the league's four-time MVP, trashed the jerseys after a loss to San Antonio on March 6. James shot 6-of-18. He blamed the sleeves.
"I'm not a big fan of the jerseys, not a big fan of them," James told reporters that night. "I've got to figure something out the next time I wear the short-sleeved jerseys."
The comments, coming from the NBA's greatest player, reverberated at Olympic Tower. The NBA could brush off the barbs from writers and role players. But when LeBron speaks, the league listens. Silver admitted the remarks struck a chord.
"It did," he said. "I've had conversations with LeBron about the jerseys, and we agreed that we would park the issue until the end of the season. And that once the season is over, he expressed an interest in sitting down with me and Sal LaRocca (the NBA's president of merchandising) and discussing his point of view."
James is hardly alone in his opinion. Although some players have praised the sleeved jerseys, many have complained about the look. Several have claimed the short, tight sleeves affect their shooting form.
The NBA disputes that claim, citing statistics that show a nominal difference in shooting percentages in games played with sleeved versus unsleeved jerseys.
Through March 20, teams were shooting .456 from the field while wearing the sleeved jerseys, according to the league. Those same teams produced a .461 field-goal percentage in games played with their regular, tank-top jerseys.
Still, some players say the tight sleeves are uncomfortable, that they can feel a tug when they go into their shooting motion. On Christmas, television cameras caught the Knicks' Beno Udrih pulling his sleeves up over his shoulders after missing a three-pointer. The unsubtle message: It was the jersey's fault.
"The one thing that annoys me about the fit (issue) is that guys do select the size that they wear," Silver said. "The players could wear a larger size."
This may be a vanity issue. Some players simply like the tight look, to show off their muscular torsos and shoulders. They could, as Silver suggests, simply ask the equipment manager for a bigger jersey.
Some have. On the same day that James blamed the sleeves, the Spurs' Manu Ginobili told reporters he had moved up one jersey size, "because I need the freedom."
It's not uncommon for players to wear T-shirts, and even long-sleeve workout shirts, under their jerseys on practice days. But those shirts are generally looser.
The snug, short-sleeve jerseys—which have been likened to pajama tops, volleyball jerseys or, more recently, a bike cop uniform, according to Cleveland's Jarrett Jack, via The Plain Dealer's Jodie Valade—actually made their debut last season. That's when the Golden State Warriors trotted onto the court with them, to the chagrin of self-appointed fashionistas everywhere.
But the NBA ramped up their use this season, with 13 teams adopting the sleeved jerseys as part of their rotation of "alternate" uniforms, or for special occasions, including St. Patrick's Day and the NBA's Latin-themed nights.
The teams that have worn the jerseys this season are Chicago, Brooklyn, Oklahoma City, New York, Miami, Minnesota, Houston, San Antonio, Golden State, Phoenix, Boston and both Los Angeles teams.
"Hated them," Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said after the Christmas games, telling ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon the jerseys made NBA players "look more like a high school wrestling team."
The league was thinking more about its merchandise-buying fans than its players when it adopted the new uniforms. The rationale: Not all fans want to wear tank tops to show off their allegiance.
On that front, the sleeved jerseys have been a success. According to the league, the Christmas Day jerseys sold out at the NBA store two weeks before the games. Sales of the sleeved All-Star Game jerseys are up 14 percent over the non-sleeved 2013 All-Star jerseys. And sales of the sleeved Latin nights jerseys are up 37 percent over last season's non-sleeved version.
Those figures do not necessarily reflect a significant increase in profit, though, because of the way the NBA's contract with Adidas is structured, league officials said. So while the league is pleased with the popularity of the new jerseys, it does not view them as a major source of revenue.
Silver also dismissed a common conspiracy theory: that the sleeved jerseys were designed to make room for eventual sponsor logos. There is already ample room on the tank-top jerseys, as well as on shorts and warm-up gear, if the league decides to add sponsorships, Silver said.
"That was not a consideration," Silver said of the sponsorship possibility. "It was based entirely on trying something new and making something available to our fans that they would feel more comfortable wearing."
Even if the NBA ditches the sleeves for official competition, it might still sell them to the public. Silver also said the league could market looser shooting shirts, instead of the tight-fitting jerseys.
"I appreciate the fact that the players were open-minded in trying them this year," Silver said. "We've had some fun with the program. Fans have enjoyed wearing them."
The players union has taken no official stance on the sleeves, although the matter will be on the agenda for its summer meeting. Silver said he will decide the jerseys' fate on a more subjective basis—how many players raise their voice, and how strenuously they object. The feedback so far, he said, has been mixed.
"I take the feedback from all the players very seriously," Silver said, adding, "We're not going to do anything without taking into account how they feel."
So it's now up to the players: to sleeve or not to sleeve.
Howard Beck covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.
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