2014 NCAA Tournament: The History of the Final Four Style and Fashion

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterApril 2, 2014

University of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp looks at the back of Johnny Cox's jacket, Dec. 1, 1958.  Kentucky has won four NCAA championships, in 1948, '49, '51, and '58.  (AP Photo)

College basketball uniforms have come a long way since the nascent days of the NCAA Final Four.

Who could have imagined just how much satin used to be a part of the NCAA tournament? I mean, gosh, even the shorts were satin back when the Final Four began. And speaking of the shorts, well, they certainly were, um, short.

As the final participants take the last ramp off the winding road down to the 2014 Final Four, let's take a look back at all the different styles and fashion statements in Final Four history.

Associated Press

The 1940 Indiana Hoosiers won the national championship in the shortest and shiniest shorts known to man. Just look at how amazing those uniforms were back in the '30s and '40s, featuring a skin-tight tank top that came down well past the hips and the skimpiest shorts one could ever imagine on a basketball court.

What makes the uniform great is that the warm-up jackets match the shorts, and they almost cover them too. If a team today wanted to get retro, going back to these beauties would be amazing.

Associated Press

Over the next decade-and-a-half, the shorts got somewhat longerif you consider going from the lower groin to the upper thigh as "longer." The 1955 San Francisco Dons, led by Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, won the first of back-to-back national championships, and the double stripes down the side of the team's uniforms sure were snazzy.


As you can see from the above photo of Oscar Robertson, the shorts didn't get much longer as the 1950s rolled along. Robertson played at Cincinnati from 1957-1960 before a 14-year NBA career. Cincinnati became an NCAA powerhouse during Robertson's tenure, making the Final Four in 1959 and 1960 before winning back-to-back titles in 1961 and 1962. In all, Cincinnati made five consecutive Final Fours in the late '50s and early '60s.

Associated Press

Under John Wooden, UCLA became the most storied program in the history of college sports, earning a spot in the Final Four in 13 of 15 seasons from 1962-1976, winning 10 national titles in that span. All the while, in a time in American history where young people were beginning to experiment with different styles and, yes, substances, Wooden's teams stayed true to their core.

You'd have to cut your hair, tuck in your shirt and shave whatever you think you're growing on your face if you expected to play for Wooden. Heck, he even got Bill Walton to keep his hair high and tight.

Look at the photo above and the one below. The first is from the Bruins' 1968 title run with Lew Alcindor. The second is from the early days of Walton—a shot from the early 1970s which looks like it could have been taken in the '50s.

Associated Press

It wasn't until the end of Walton's run that Wooden would begin to relax his rules, allowing guys to have a little bit more mop on the top. Still, the classic uniform never seemed to change much at all. When you've got something that works, stick with it.

Associated Press

The greatest Final Four in college basketball history was the 1976 title fight in Philadelphia. Three of the four teams in that Final Four entered the last weekend of the tournament undefeated. Indiana, led by Bob Knight in the most wonderful plaid jacket one could ever imagine, won the national title after beating UCLA and Michigan.

Rutgers, which entered as one of the three undefeated teams, actually finished the season that year with two losses, as the NCAA still played a third-place game at the time.

Indiana deserved the titleif not for its play on the court, then for Knight's amazing jacket. Seriously, look at how long it was; it looks like Knight borrowed the coat from one of his players. 

The shorts were still short in the late 1970s, but man, did the sport jackets get long.


Michael Jordan did more to change basketball fashion and style than anyone in the history of the game, but that all came when he got to the NBA. At North Carolina under Dean Smith, Jordan was just one of many talented players and his style was the same as all the rest: a classic white jersey with Carolina blue lettering.

Associated Press

Oh, and the shorts? They were still pretty short, though they started to get longer as the calendar turned into the 1980s. That said, they were still tight enough for Jordan to famously wear his UNC shorts underneath those he wore for the Chicago Bulls.


Remember all the hullabaloo the NBA created by putting nicknames on the backs of their uniforms this season? Well, that's nothing compared to the warm-ups the Houston Cougars wore in the 1983 NCAA Final Four. Phi Slama Jama was upset in the title game by Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack, but nothing could top the brilliance of those warm-ups.

Bill Auth

Sleeves are all the rage these days, but they were first popularized by Patrick Ewing at Georgetown in the 1980s.

I'm a big fan of sleeves. I understand that basketball uniforms have traditionally been a pair of shorts and a tank top, but I just don't understand why some people are so against the T-shirt top replacing the tank. Is there something so alluring about seeing an armpit whenever a player takes a jump shot that a short-sleeve T-shirt offends so many people?

Ewing simply wore a gray T-shirt under his tank top. Who knew he would create a revolution?

Bob Jordan

Thankfully, the look sported by Villanova coach Rollie Massimino never started a revolution. Note to all coaches (and yes, this even means you, Rick Pitino): The white or light tan suit is not a great look when you're sweating up and down a basketball sideline. It wasn't in the 1980s, and it isn't now.

You know what else wasn't a good look back in the 1980s? Bike shorts.

Richard Sheinwald

I don't know if the Kansas Jayhawks were the first team to lengthen their uniform shorts by wearing bike shorts underneath, but the look sure became popular for the next generation of players.


The 1980s were a bastion of Final Four fashion, pushing the limits of what should and shouldn't be worn on a basketball court. Glen Rice led Michigan to the 1989 title wearing just about everything he could, including the long T-shirt, bike shorts and knee pads. In fact, knee pads became a pretty big thing in the '80s and '90s.

Ed Reinke

Before Michigan's Fab Five changed the culture of college basketball in the early 1990s, UNLV set the trends for style. Larry Johnson perfected the T-shirt-and-bike-shorts look. Suddenly, that style seemed really cool. I mean, not on me; I looked as bad as that kid from Kansas. But on some people, it looked cool.

Ed Reinke

Another trend that wasn't too cool was biting into a towel like UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. What Georgetown's John Thompson did for wearing a towel on one's shoulder, Tark did for eating them. The early '90s were an odd time.

6 Apr 1992:  Forward Chris Webber of the Michigan Wolverines tries to fend off center Christian Laettner of the Duke Blue Devils during a playoff game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Duke won the game 71-51. Mandatory Credi
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

This photo isn't cropped so great, but as you can see, Chris Webber and the Fab Five took shorts from the lower thigh (see Duke's uniforms) to as far below the knee as they could get. Baggy was in, and it wasn't going to go away for years.

David Longstreath

Corliss Williamson of Arkansas was a big fan of the baggy look, too, and his hat was too great not to include here.


The baggy look went to an extreme in the late 1990s, thanks in part to players like Khalid El-Amin of UConn, who looked like he played the game in a borrowed T-shirt and uniform of one of the frontcourt players. Baggy is one thing; what El-Amin did is something entirely different.


Maybe things started to get too baggy; teams began to reject the notion of bigger (uniforms) being better. Indiana, led by Jared Jeffries and Tom Coverdale, went into the 2002 national championship game with a decidedly tighter style of uniform than other teams at the time. In fact, Jeffries (pictured) was one of the few players bringing back the old look of bike shorts under the tight shorts.

It was not a good look, and still isn't today. 


The 2003 season was the Year of Carmelo. It was also the year of the headband. Is the headband trend still going strong? There was a time when it seemed like every kid at every school in the country was wearing one. It was pretty amazing, really.

DETROIT - APRIL 04:  Ty Lawson #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks to pass the ball against Scottie  Reynolds #1 of the Villanova Wildcats during the National Semifinal game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at Ford Field on April
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With the headband craze came the sleeve craze that is still going strong, for sure. Allen Iverson popularized the arm sleeve when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers in the early 2000s, and it took a few years for the trend to trickle down into college. But now, it's here to stay. 

Originally, the sleeves were purportedly used to quell elbow pain, but the look took off for those who were using the sleeve to allegedly prevent future pain—or maybe kids just started wearing them to look cool.

Around the late 2000s was also the time teams started going with a much boxier style of uniform top, as seen in the above photo. The tank top was gone, replaced by the sleeveless V-neck shirt. It was just a matter of time before someone added sleeves.

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 03:  Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers talks with Dalton Pepper #32 while taking on the Duke Blue Devils during the National Semifinal game of the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at Lucas Oil
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We can't talk about Final Four fashion without including the unrivaled style of Bob Huggins, who led West Virginia to the 2010 Final Four in his "yes, I'm wearing a windbreaker indoors, thank you very much" look. That was also the year the Mountaineers wore black uniforms, starting a ridiculous trend of teams without black in their traditional colors saying "what the hell" and going with the color just because they thought recruits liked it.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 31:  Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes hugs Thomas Robinson #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks after losing 64-62 in the National Semifinal game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at the Mercedes-Benz Supe
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Sometime in the last half decade or so, uniform designers ran out of good ideas and started putting imagery on the back of teams' uniforms that added a sense of school spirit. Pictured above are the 2012 Ohio State uniforms, adorned with logos, leaves and whatever else they could screen-print into the back panel to make it look like the players were wearing some kind of silly cape that was accidentally fastened to their jerseys.

So many schools have gone this routethanks in large part to the apparel companies who give them the uniformsthat this trend will likely be around for a long, long time.

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 06:  Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals talks with Russ Smith #2 in the second half against the Wichita State Shockers during the 2013 NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at the Georgia Dome on April 6, 2013 in Atlanta, Geo
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As stated earlier, I don't mind the sleeves. However, I did mind the animal print uniforms worn by several teams in the 2013 NCAA tournament, most notably donned by Louisville in the Final Four last season.

They were hideous. The shorts didn't match the tops, other than a little animal print on the sleeves, and the design just made no sense for a bunch of basketball teams that weren't even named after animals in the first place.

If you can imagine, some of the teams that didn't make the Final Four last year had much worse versions of this uniform. Last season was a bad year for uniform designs, for sure.

Jae C. Hong

This year, the uniforms in the Final Four are better, thanks in part to their more traditional sensibilities of the teams that got in. Having said that, it's AMAZING that the NCAA would give each team a T-shirt after winning their respective region that says "Net Worthy," which is both a play on the idea of cutting down the nets and also on the term "net worth," which really seems like a stick in the eye to all those people who think college players should be paid what they are worth.

A curious decision for sure, but it is not the worst offense in the history of NCAA Final Four fashion. After all, the T-shirts could have been made of satin. 


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