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Aug 10 2016
by Zach Lang

Fashion in Sports: NBA Sleeved Jerseys – Should They Go Extinct?

By Zach Lang - Aug 10 2016

Since 2012, the NBA has introduced many sleeved alternate jerseys for teams to show off and promote new looks for the Adidas brand. This ultimately backfired as teams and representatives have complained over their actual significance in the league.

This issue was mainly addressed last season, but recent issues in the 2015-2106 season have spurred up the conversation once again. LeBron James, perhaps the biggest opponent of the sleeved jerseys, ripped his sleeves in a November 4th showdown against the Knicks. This occurred after he missed a three-pointer halfway through the second quarter (he was 0-3 from behind the arc and 4-11 overall at that point in the contest). The sleeves were ripped in a way that they dangled over his shoulders loosely, freeing up arm movement for shooting strokes. LeBron, after that point, went 5-12 from the field, totaling 23 points and lead the Cavaliers to a 96-86 win (ESPN).

The four-time MVP spoke to Commissioner Adam Silver about the issue previously, saying to reporters:

I'm not a big fan of the jerseys, not a big fan of them.

This was after a March 6th loss to the San Antonio Spurs in 2015, having made 6 of 18 shots. According to Bleacher Report, other players have complained in the past as well, including Dirk Nowitzki via Tweet, Jarret Jack, Robin Lopez, and visually Beno Urdih.

As a member of the Knicks in 2013, Udrih was spotted by cameras rolling up his sleeves on the “Big Logo” sleeved Christmas jersey during a game against the Oklahoma City thunder after he hit the side of the backboard on a wide open corner three-point attempt. Even owners like Mark Cuban have expressed disinterest in the jerseys, claiming he “hated them” after the 2013 Christmas games.

However, the NBA and Adidas still look to expand on them and use their uniqueness, arguing against the views of many players.

The biggest argument towards players is that the jersey size can be changed to better suit the players’ needs. When players like LeBron complained of tightness and the snug feeling of the sleeves on the shoulders, Silver responded to the media by saying that players can simply move up a size to make the sleeves more loose and allowing of smooth shooting strokes. Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs, after that critical game versus James’ team, decided to move up a size because he “needed the freedom.” Adidas’ sleeved jerseys also made little impact overall on shooting percentage by teams, staying around the 46% mark.

Not all shots require a smooth stroke, such as layups, dunks, floaters, etc, which is why jump shooters, like LeBron, are having the hardest time dealing with these jerseys. Simply, they are a bold fashion statement gone awry.

According to Yahoo, Adidas is having a tough time selling the jerseys as well, despite their claims. Most fans think the alternate sleeved jerseys just look bad and do not represent a fashion statement they prefer. Adidas claims otherwise, having sold out of the sleeved 2013 Christmas jerseys 2 weeks before the games. This was most likely, in part, due to the high demand of special event jerseys, like the Christmas ones that are reinvented every year. 

Sleeved jerseys that are being referred to as “not in high demand” may include the basic alternate jerseys of some teams including the Phoenix Suns and the Minnesota Timberwolves, who frequently wear alternate forms of jerseys that include sleeves. Despite those teams and a small handful more, the sleeved jerseys have evolved significantly in their 4-year stint in the league since being first introduced by the Golden State Warriors in the 2012-2013 season.

Former OKC Small Forward Kevin Durant and former Chicago Point Guard Derrick Rose sporting sleeved Christmas Day jerseys (

After the 2013 Christmas games that sparked so much controversy over the sleeves, jerseys used to celebrate the jolly holiday have since returned to their usual sleeveless form. The heavily viewed All Star Game was used to promote the sleeved jerseys as well 2 years back in New Orleans, but last season saw a return to the sleeveless type as well. 

Here is how some of the public responded: 

Rather than big time event promotion of the jerseys, they are now slightly subtler and showcased during yearly events. Two seasons ago, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors wore specially designed sleeved jerseys to celebrate the Chinese New Year. This past season, the New Orleans Pelicans have new sleeved Marti Gras jerseys. Even the “Latino Night” jerseys added sleeves, donning a special design pattern on the back. Jerseys that promote the host city are also sleeved, including Detroit’s “Motor City,” Charlotte’s “Buzz City,” and Portland’s “Rip City” jerseys. It is clear the sleeves are now in reserve for how teams see fit for representation opposed to the league representation, diminishing the overall credibility of their place altogether in the NBA and on court. However, the recent historic Finals victory of the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Golden State Warriors sparks a little hope for sleeved jerseys.

According to CBS Sports, LeBron James made the personal decision for the team to wear the team’s sleeved away jerseys for games 5 and 7. The jerseys are officially titled as the team’s “pride” jerseys, which is why they were hand-selected by James when Cleveland was faced with elimination, which still poses questions about LeBron's true feelings regarding sleeved uniforms. Regardless, the Cavs became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and win the championship title for the season. 

Whether their three-game win streak had anything to do with the sleeved jerseys is a mystery, but it certainly gave the jerseys' reputation a fighting second chance as players donned them while wearing championship hats and holding up the Larry O’brien trophy.

It seems, based upon the regression of the sleeved projects, that these jerseys can be labeled as a slight failure in the eyes of the NBA. They were meant to be a bold fashion statement, increase sales, and so forth. Soon enough, however, they may all be forgotten. According to ESPN, starting in the 2017-2018 season, Nike will be taking over sponsorship of the NBA jerseys in an 8-year deal, replacing Adidas. It is highly unlikely that Nike will continue the endeavor of sleeved jerseys, leaving Adidas to continue its experiments in the NCAA with the teams it sponsors, including Louisville, Baylor, and UCLA. 

Only time will tell if the sleeves can make a true impact and bounce back, leaving the NBA to consider their fashion options in upcoming years.

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Zach Lang - Syracuse University

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