Given that my lists on the ugliest hockey jerseys and ugliest baseball jerseys are my two most read posts, continuing the series was a no-brainer. Coinciding it with the end of the NBA Finals is decent timing on my part, but the truth is, I started working on this list months ago and gave up. The history of the NBA simply doesn’t get much attention, so the resources for finding some of these ugly jerseys was getting too difficult. It’s a league very much focused on the now, paying little attention to anything that happened before Magic and Larry, other than the obligatory nod to Dr. J, Russell’s Celtics, and Wilt. But I persevered, using the knowledge that people everywhere will click over to this blog, get pissed because I’m insulting their favourite team, and then never visit again.
To tell the truth, I could easily do ten butt-ugly jerseys from the mid-to-late 90s alone, and it would look pretty convincing. A basketball jersey should be a simple thing: choose a two-colour scheme (with maybe a third shade for accents), put a word mark across the chest, number on the stomach, number on the back, done. Sure, you could mess it up by choosing ugly colours, but more often (and especially throughout the mid-to-late 90s) what makes an ugly jersey is messing with this formula. There’s not a lot of real estate on a basketball jersey, so when teams try to push the limits, the results are usually gaudy monstrosities.
One note: given that there’s some repeat offenders, I’ve limited this list to one jersey per team. That way this whole list wouldn’t be all Detroit, Philadelphia, and Cleveland. Also, given the spotty info available out there on NBA history, some of my dates might be wrong. Feel free to point them out, just try not to think of me as stupid for making them (instead, rely on my opinions and prose to make your judgements on my intelligence).
#10. Oklahoma City Thunder Road 2008-present – The ugliest regular jersey in the NBA today. It’s not even so much that the Thunder’s jersey is ugly (although it is), it’s that it’s so fucking generic. It looks like the kind of jersey you’d have seen on some 80s basketball video game that didn’t have the license to show real NBA teams. It looks like something you’d see in the Walmart kid’s section with “B-ball” written across the chest. Which leads me to the other problem: there are too many fucking letters across the chest! I realize that being in Oklahoma City was Clay Bennett’s goal in life (oh yeah, by the way… FUCK YOU CLAY BENNETT), but once you got there, you had to realize that it’s too long a name to squeeze on a jersey. Look how small that font is. It’s like trying to fit Szczerbiak on the back of a kid’s jersey (you know, if you hated your kid or something). The problem is compounded by their bull-headed insistence of using a tri-coloured font, which only makes things smaller. The smart thing would’ve been to go with “Oklahoma” (given that I doubt Tulsa will be getting a team soon), or “OKC”, or just “Thunder” on home and away (that’s what San Antonio does… only with “Spurs” of course). Of course, the smartest thing would’ve been to never leave Seattle in the first place.
#9. Denver Nuggets Road 1981-1985 – In recent years, this has become the “so ugly it’s cool” retro jersey of the NBA (like how the Houston Astros tequila sunrise jersey is in baseball), but when people are thinking about the retro Nuggets jersey they like, they’re thinking of the later version, not this one. I’ll admit, I have a certain fondness for the late 80s version (popularized by Alex English), even though it looks like Rainbow Brite puked her Skittles all over it, but this one with the navy and dark green is just plain ugly. If you’re going to go that colourful with the logo, then you really should go bright with the rest of the uniform too.
#8. Atlanta Hawks Road 1995-99 – The first example of the crimes of the mid-to-late 90s (which, fair warning, will take up 5 of the next 7 jerseys). This is a perfect example of the sins of that period: where the number should be, they decided to stick a huge fucking bird on the front. Here’s a lesson for all basketball jersey designers that I’m sure are following this blog: BASKETBALL JERSEYS ARE NOT HOCKEY JERSEYS. Logos shouldn’t go in the front, and they definitely shouldn’t dominate the jersey. As an added bonus, this one features a sublimated silkscreen print in order to achieve that ugly-ass red-to-black colour gradient, which helps bring the joy of using cheaper materials to achieve a worse effect.
#7. Cleveland Cavaliers Home 1974-81 – Maybe they figured the eye strain caused by the barber pole striped piping would give them a strategic advantage? There was also a burgundy road version of this that was plenty ugly, but the putrid mustard pushes this one over the top. The truth is, the Cavaliers have never had a good jersey, just a range of acceptable to completely awful. Choosing the most awful wasn’t easy, with their own late 90s abomination, and the current throwbacks you’ve seen on LeBron of late that look like the uniform of a rec league team sponsored by a fast food chicken joint. If King James does leave in 2010, the jerseys might play a part.
#6. Detroit Pistons Road 1995-2001 – Only in this period would a team go from a classic design like this to the abomination you see before you. There are few crimes worse than going royal blue to wimpy teal; luckily, this jersey finds a way to commit a worse crime. Some marketing guru somewhere ran the numbers and said that teams with animal mascots sell more merch, and thus teams start going out of their way to incorporate animals into their logos. Which you’d think difficult for a franchise named after a car part, but apparently, when you don’t have an animal that makes sense with your team name, you just go with a flaming horse’s head. I guess the stretch here is “horsepower”. Whatevs.
FULL, EMBARRASSING DISCLOSURE: I once owned this jersey. There’s no defense for that, especially since I knew at the time it was ugly. Basically, I had started working at a jersey store, and had a burning desire to buy a new NBA jersey. Unfortunately, we only carried about 5 or 6 different NBA jerseys, so I decided to get this one not because I liked it, but because I liked the team and I liked Grant Hill. I later compounded the problem by buying matching shorts, which I wore with the jersey a total of once before realizing what a complete jag off I looked like wearing a matching jersey and shorts, especially ones that were butt ugly. Let this be a lesson: bad jerseys can happen to anyone if they’re not sufficiently vigilant.
#5. Washington Wizards Alternate 2004-2009 – This is a list of ugly jerseys, not uniforms, so I haven’t spent much time discussing shorts. In part, this is because if I extended this to the whole uniform, number one would have to be all the shorts worn in the 80s. But more than that, shorts usually match the jersey, so whatever crime was committed in the jersey is often repeated in the shorts. Not so with this uggo, which becomes worse when paired with black shorts. Technically, they match, with the black shorts echoing the black shoulders, and the gold jersey with the gold and white piping, but in practice, the whole thing feels mismatched and heightens the ugliness. This is an odd jersey, in that you get the sense they were trying something… formal? I don’t get it, but I know I don’t like it.
#4. Philadelphia 76ers Road 1991-94 – This is the first jersey I can remember really hating, in any sport. They switched from this simple design, to something Charles Barkley described as looking like “my daughter drew them with some crayons”, which is not the reaction you want from the guy who’s name is on the back of the new merchandise you’re hoping to sell. Speaking of shorts, the Sixers compounded the problem of having a horrific jersey by continuing the tacky star wipe effect on the other side of the shorts. I’ve already gone on at length about all the crimes committed in the world of NBA jerseys in the late 90s, well this is the one that started it all. What I don’t understand is how the rest of the league didn’t look at how awful this jersey is with a large portion of the front dedicated to an image instead of a number, and decide collectively to never make that mistake again.
#3. Vancouver Grizzlies Road 1995-2000 – Imagine being a hoops-mad young Canadian (as I was), finding out that your homeland would be getting not one, but two NBA franchises. Then imagine your disappointment when all the apparel made for both franchises is so embarrassingly ugly that any thought of supporting them is instantly banished. I’m probably overstating this, but perhaps the worst thing to happen to professional sports is the colour teal. After the Charlotte Hornets had unexpected success with merchandise sales with their teal jerseys (another true confession: I owned a Rex Chapman Hornets jersey), a bunch of expansion franchises gave some variation of the colour a shot. I’m not sure it ever worked for anyone but the Hornets, but worse is how many different shades get called “teal”. If you’re gonna try and jump on the teal trend, it might be a good idea to stick to the bluer variation, rather than the turquoise one the Grizzlies went with, which looks more like grandma’s sofa than it does modern and cool. And why go to the trouble of naming yourself after one of the most vicious mammals on earth if you’re gonna go with such a wimpy colour? And the less said about the busy, Haida-inspired sleeve and colour piping the better. I’m of the mind that more Vancouverites were shamed by wearing ugly Bryant “Big Country” Reeves jerseys than they were when Steve Francis refused to play for them.
#2. Toronto Raptors Road 1995-99 – Way to prove that Canadians know nothing about basketball guys. What a fucking joke these jerseys were. It starts with the name, “Raptors”, clearly picked to try and cash in on that fat Jurassic Park cash. When the franchise was awarded to Toronto, representatives of the team did a tour of Canadian schools to ask what the name should be/try to win the hearts and minds of Canada. My high school was one of those schools, where they presented us with 8 or so choices and had us vote by cheers. Believe me when I tell you that Raptors was not a popular choice, and that the reps were puzzled by this reaction. It’s a little sad when a bunch of teenagers have more foresight than a team of marketing people, and know that naming your team after a trendy term was not a good idea (think about it: had you ever heard of a velociraptor before that movie came out? It’d be like naming your team the Hobbits a few years ago).
Okay, so you decide that you have to go with Raptors… at least it’s original. But if you’re going to name your team after a dinosaur, you absolutely CANNOT use purple as one of your primary colours. You just can’t. Then you go with a red dinosaur (you know, for authenticity’s sake) as the primary feature of the jersey, rather than the name or number, which not only clashes with the deep purple, but also shows what happens when a basketball team is put into a hockey town. Add in black (which can’t be seen on top of deep purple), and silver jagged pinstripes, and a juvenile, jagged font, and you have the ugliest regular jersey in NBA history, and possibly in all of sports history.
#1. Milwaukee Bucks Alternate 1996-97 – I had this list all picked out with the Raptors comfortably in first place. Then while looking for jersey images I came across this abomination… and threw up a little in my mouth. I’d never seen it before, as I’m guessing it was only worn a few times that year as a third jersey, but it is clearly the ugliest jersey ever worn on a basketball court. No more needs to be said.