NBA on Complaints About Sleeves: If 'Players Don't Want to Wear Them, We Won't'

Ric Bucher@@RicBucherNBA Senior WriterJanuary 27, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James and Dwayne Wade #3 of the Miami Heat converse during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at STAPLES Center on December 25, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
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However you feel about the NBA and the way it conducts its business, you can't accuse the league of being oblivious to public complaints from its players. A recent piece for Bleacher Report that polled players about the league's foray into sleeved uniforms prompted a conversation between B/R and Sal LaRocca, the NBA's executive vice president of global merchandising.  

The primary points LaRocca hoped to make in light of accusations from many of the 21 players polled about the purpose (additional revenue for the league and its owners) and quality (too constrictive, poor at wicking away sweat) of the alternate uniforms:

• At least several players on every team that has worn the sleeved uniforms multiple times were consulted beforehand about wearing them.

• Fifty percent of all profits from merchandise sales, including those driven by the new uniforms, go to the players union.

• The material of the sleeved uniforms is the same as that of the traditional singlet jerseys.

• Each player can determine how form-fitting his sleeved uniform is, just as he can with a regular uniform.

• If there is sustained, widespread resistance against the sleeved uniforms from players, they will not be used in the future.

"We don't have any intention to do anything that is going to compromise the play on the court or that the players are against doing," LaRocca said.

The Golden State Warriors were the first team to wear a sleeved uniform, doing so four times last season after the idea was presented to their new ownership group, led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, LaRocca said. The Warriors are also one of four teams—the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers are the others—that committed to wearing a sleeved uniform as an alternate for multiple games this season. Multiple outlets recently reported that the Brooklyn Nets plan to join them, wearing a sleeved jersey four times in March and April as a tribute to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who moved from Brooklyn to L.A. in 1958. The Nets already were among the 10 teams who wore sleeved uniforms on Christmas Day.

Dec 25, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA;  Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams (8) drives the ball during the third quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center. Chicago Bulls won 95-78.  Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

A majority of the players in the poll saw the introduction of another uniform as simply a means of generating more revenue for the league. While LaRocca did not deny that, he noted that the NBA Players Association is guaranteed a minimum flat amount from merchandise sales or 50 percent of all sales, whichever figure is higher. He also pointed out that this is not the first shift in uniform style, referring specifically to the baggier shorts adopted in the '90s.

The difference, of course, is that players introduced that look, not the league or its uniform sponsor, and they did so out of personal comfort and taste, not to expand the league's merchandising thumbprint.

The impact of being involved in the design stage is illustrated in the player attitude about wearing uniforms with their nicknames on them, which the Nets and Miami Heat already have done; that idea came from the Heat players. No player, so far, has complained. Several players in the sleeved-uniform poll said they'd feel different if they'd been allowed input. LaRocca, however, says that some players apparently were, at least as far as wearing them.

"All the (four) teams that are wearing them now involved their players in making that decision," he said, although players in one-off situations—the 2014 All-Star Game and the five games on Christmas—were not consulted.

As for issues with the fit and performance of the material, LaRocca said that players can choose to wear any size uniform and that if there's an issue with absorption or wicking, it could have been due to the difference in logos adorning the sleeved uniforms.

"The league is not suggesting they have to fit in a certain way," he said, "and it's the same material from the same factory that we've used for the last couple of years."

In any case, LaRocca said plans for next year's Christmas Day uniforms and the 2015 All-Star Game already are being discussed. If the All-Stars make it clear they don't like the look or feel of this year's uniforms, the league will respond accordingly.

"If the feedback is that the players don't want to wear them, we won't," LaRocca said. "We are 50-50 partners with the players in everything we do."

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.


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