Ranking Every NBA Team's 2021 'City Edition' Jersey

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2020

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard wears the team's new city edition jerseys for the first time against the Houston Rockets during an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 122-119. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)
Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

Since Nike took over the NBA's uniform partnership from Adidas in 2017, teams have been cranking out a new "City Edition" jersey every year, which incorporate some kind of element of a team's city, community, franchise history or something else of significance.

Yes, this is an obvious ploy to sell more jerseys, but it's resulted in some fantastic designs over the years—along with some truly awful ones.

Weeks before the truncated 2020-21 season tips off, all 30 teams have revealed their newest City Edition jerseys, with some running it back and others taking big swings.

Here is a totally subjective (but also totally correct) ranking of the new designs.


30. Oklahoma City Thunder

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The Thunder have had and continue to have the worst color scheme in the NBA. The first good jersey they've produced since moving from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008 was last year's city edition, a collaboration with the local Cherokee tribe. They would have done well to stick with that theme, maybe with a different color scheme to change it up. These new ones are a mess.


29. Washington Wizards

There has never once been a good gray jersey in the NBA. Many teams have tried over the years, and they've all fallen flat. The closest anyone has come to pulling it off was the Nets' Brooklyn Dodgers throwbacks in 2013-14, which would have been great if not for the sleeves. Be thankful the sleeved-jersey era of NBA history is in the past.


28. New York Knicks

For some reason, half the teams in the league have decided the Indiana Pacers' Hoosiers jerseys are a blueprint to follow. The Knicks needed more words to fill out the circle, so they just stuck "City Never Sleeps" in. If they wanted to design a jersey around a nickname for the city primarily used by people who aren't from there, they could have played around with some green and red color schemes with a "Big Apple" theme. At least that would have been totally different and off-the-wall, which is always a better approach to these designs than something sort of close to your normal design but not interesting enough to stand out.


27. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons did the same exact thing as the Knicks. Would it be too much to ask for a Motown-themed jersey one of these years? A lot of the best City Editions over the years have honored local musical traditions—the Timberwolves' Prince tributes and the Nets' Notorious B.I.G. tributes come to mind. And few cities have contributed more to American popular music than Detroit. It's time to do something to honor that.


26. New Orleans Pelicans

Using the city flag of New Orleans as a jersey design is a good idea, but I'm not a fan of jerseys with no writing on the front. These would be great if the red block at the top continued onto the side panel, with the three gold fleur de lis moved there. As it is, it just feels unfinished.


25. Golden State Warriors

There's a lot of nostalgia for the "We Believe" era of the Warriors, so it makes sense to pay tribute. But putting "Oakland" on the front after abandoning the city for a state-of-the-art building in San Francisco, and suing their former city on the way out to avoid paying back $40 million in arena-renovation loans, just doesn't sit right.


24. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are basically running back last year's City Edition jerseys in black instead of white. These are better than their regular jerseys, which are among the worst in the league, but they need a total redesign—and a name change—to get away from a franchise history with nothing but bad vibes. Maybe when they move into their new arena in 2024.


23. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors recently unveiled a redesign of their main uniform set, all of which say "RAPTORS" on the front rather than "TORONTO," to lean into their status as Canada's only NBA team. Now, they introduce a Toronto jersey as they prepare to tip off a season in which they'll play their home games in Tampa, Florida.

The jersey itself is fine. The timing couldn't be worse.


22. Houston Rockets

The color scheme is great, and appears to be a nod to the sadly departed Houston Oilers of the NFL. These would rank higher if they just said "HOUSTON" or "ROCKETS" on the front instead of trying to force in "H-TOWN." But at least it's better than "CLUTCH CITY."


21. Cleveland Cavaliers

All of the jokes about how these look like a ransom note are accurate. This is a good concept—incorporating the logos of various acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, like the Beatles, Nirvana and Pink Floyd—undone by questionable execution.

The Cavs' options were somewhat limited by which bands have unmistakeable logos, but they could have done better on representation. Rock 'n' roll evolved from the blues, a Black music form, yet the only Black act represented on here is N.W.A., whose debut album came out in 1988—four decades on from rock music's inception. And they were a rap group, not a rock group.

They should have done something to incorporate one of the Black artists responsible for the invention of the genre, like Chuck Berry or Little Richard, the latter of whom passed away this year and would have deserved a tribute.


20. Brooklyn Nets

Supposedly, a tribute to Brooklyn artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. There are some things to like—the chevron pattern and the splatter paintings on the side panel. The front lettering is too busy and gimmicky. Maybe it's appropriate for a team as potentially chaotic as these Nets, but this design isn't nearly as fully realized as the Biggie jerseys, which were stellar.


19. Boston Celtics

The Celtics get points for doing away with the various black, gold and gray flourishes they've tried to add into their classic green and white over the years. They should treat their green and white like the Yankees treat their pinstripes, which haven't changed in 100 years. Those are the only two colors the Celtics need.

The concept here is solid—it's an homage to the championship banners they have hanging in the rafters, of which they claim to have more than any other franchise (if you want to re-litigate the Lakers' Minneapolis-LA divide).

The problem, however, is the decision to go with two lines for the writing on the front. These would rank at least 10 spots higher if they made a choice between "BOSTON" and "CELTICS." Trying to have both just makes it too busy.


18. Sacramento Kings

This is a hodgepodge of elements from all of the Kings' previous jerseys throughout their history. It's a bit of a mess, but the black/red/blue color scheme is sharp. Like most city nickname jerseys, these would be better with the actual city name or team name on the front.


17. Philadelphia 76ers

The black is a throwback to the Allen Iverson era, and the design on the front is a tribute to Philadelphia's Boathouse Row. These might look better in person than they do on paper, but what we've seen so far is too busy, and the jersey number above the lettering on the front feels amateurish. They do get points for the hidden "TTP"—a nod to "Trust the Process," a phrase associated with polarizing former GM Sam Hinkie, who has become a cult figure among Sixers fans.


16. Dallas Mavericks

The gold is a nod to the 10th anniversary of Dallas' 2010-11 championship team (J.J. Barea is somehow still here). These are simple and clean, a complete 180 from their off-the-wall blue-and-neon alternates from last season. The Mavs are a team that needs a complete revamping of their uniforms in the near future.


15. Orlando Magic

The return of the star and the original font from the Shaq-and-Penny-era Magic jerseys is extremely welcome. The orange is a nod to Florida's citrus industry, which makes sense on paper, but it's such a different color than the ones normally associated with the Magic that it's a little jarring. These would be among the best jerseys in the entire league if they were blue and black. Maybe that will be next year's evolution.


14. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves' neon green color works better here against a straight black backdrop than it does on their normal uniform set, with a bunch of blue and white mucking it up. The abbreviated city name is a little random and too close to past jerseys that have included various cities' airport codes, which is almost never a good idea.

If they aren't going to throw it back to the Kevin Garnett-era jerseys, or keep the Prince theme going, this isn't a bad option.


13. Milwaukee Bucks

These are a nod to one of the many meanings of "Milwaukee," which is "gathering place by the water." They're a little too close to the Cavs' blue wave jerseys from the '90s, but they're pretty nice. As a bonus, they don't say "Cream City" on the front.


12. Chicago Bulls

These are supposedly a tribute to Chicago's architecture, but they look more like a tribute to Chicago the Broadway musical. Not that that's a bad thing—these are sharp. But like the Celtics, the Bulls are a team that should never deviate from their classic color scheme of red, black and white.


11. Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers went in a radically different direction from their previous jerseys, which have mostly stuck to variations of their striped sash pattern in red, black, white and occasionally silver. Sticking to that formula has given them one of the highest hit rates on jersey designs of any team in the league over the decades, so this big a departure is bold for them.

Ultimately, it works. The "Oregon" on the front is in the style of a legendary local sign, and elements of the state's topography are woven into the pattern. It takes some getting used to, but the Blazers did well here.


10. Phoenix Suns

The Suns have one of the most hit-or-miss track records in the league when it comes to uniforms. The early-'90s jerseys worn by the Charles Barkley-Kevin Johnson-Dan Majerle squads are some of the best ever, and the Seven Seconds or Less-era jerseys are some of the worst. Most of the rest are somewhere in the middle, but these are one of their better efforts.

"The Valley" is a good identity to lean into if the Suns are going to stray from just putting their name on the front. It's just a shame they traded Kelly Oubre Jr., one of the "Valley Boyz," shortly after unveiling these.


9. Indiana Pacers

A cross between the pinstriped jerseys of the early-2000s Eastern Conference contenders with the blue/yellow color scheme of the '90s "Flo-Jo" jerseys. They played it a bit safe, but sometimes you have to know who you are. There's not a lot to dislike here.


8. Denver Nuggets

It's hard to criticize any jersey that incorporates the Nuggets' legendary skyline logo. The original rainbow jerseys from the '80s are on the short list for the very best jerseys any team has ever had. In recent years, they've brought it back in various capacities, and it always works. This version embraces the Colorado landscape. The only knock is they're a little too close to the Utah Jazz's City editions. They're still great.


7. Charlotte Hornets

Any Hornets jersey with pinstripes is sure to be good. The insistence on a city nickname (does anyone actually call Charlotte "Buzz City"?) is a little annoying, but the mint color is a nice update of their classic teal. It's a nod to both the Carolina gold rush and Charlotte's status as the first U.S. city with a mint. It's kind of strange to base a jersey on the fact that they print money in your city, but this one is a winner.


6. Atlanta Hawks

There isn't a lot to knock with what the Hawks did. It's a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., the black/white/gold color scheme is slick, and proceeds from the sales are going to various charities empowering communities of color in Atlanta. What's not to like?


5. Utah Jazz

The Jazz would have been fine running back their sunburst alternates of the past few years, which are both wildly different than their normal jerseys and totally appropriate for their part of the country. Nike must have told them to change it up, but it's not a huge change, just a slightly toned-down version of what had been an instant classic.


4. Los Angeles Lakers

This cross between the Lakers' Sunday whites and their Minneapolis-era blue color scheme is simple and perfect. As a bonus, the team claims these jerseys are meant to honor Elgin Baylor, whose name is too often forgotten in discussions of the greatest Lakers ever—or greatest basketball players ever, period.


3. Memphis Grizzlies

The Pistons won't give us a Motown jersey, so the Grizzlies stepped up with a tribute to Stax Records, and in particular Isaac Hayes. Black and gold as a color combo is hard to mess up, and these set themselves apart with a teal trim that goes with it nicely. An A+ for both concept and execution.


2. Miami Heat

There isn't much left to say. The Heat hit on a bulletproof concept with their Miami Vice jerseys, which return for a fourth season with a new color scheme. They could keep trotting out variations on this theme for the rest of time and it will be impossible to mess up. For that matter, the Heat could just make the various Vice jerseys their permanent home and away uniforms and no one would complain.

There's only one thing keeping them from the top spot yet again.


1. San Antonio Spurs

There's no good explanation for why it's taken the Spurs this long to do something—anything—with the "Fiesta" colors that were a mainstay in their logo and warmup jackets in the 1990s. For years, they have been stubbornly clinging to silver, black and white as their only colors—except when they occasionally broke out camouflage. The reasoning for the camo jerseys makes sense given San Antonio's connection with the military, but no one actually liked those jerseys.

Amazingly, these are the first actual jerseys the Spurs have ever had that feature the "Fiesta" colors. They've been on every other part of their branding over the years but never on the uniforms themselves. That's finally changed, and the result is as good as it could have been. Hopefully, they keep this going for years to come.