Special to Page 2
If you watched the NBA Finals, you probably noticed the O'Brien Championship Trophy jersey patch that everyone was wearing (although the NBA also plastered images of the trophy on the court, the backboard posts, towels, caps, T-shirts, interview backdrops, and pretty much everywhere else they could think of, just to be safe). The NBA isn't the only league to showcase its trophy on players' uniforms. In recent years, NHL playoff finalists have worn a Stanley Cup jersey patch.
Depicting a trophy on a uniform is fine. But there are two major sporting events where the uniform is the trophy. The first is the Masters, where for some reason grown men get excited about winning a garish emerald blazer. The other event kicks off this weekend the Tour de France, where cyclists compete for the coveted yellow jersey, or maillot jaune, worn by the race's overall time leader.
Although the Tour de France dates back to 1903, the yellow jersey didn't debut until 1919, when French journalists covering the event asked the race director, Henri Desgrange, to make it easier for them to pick out the leader amidst the other cyclists. Since the Tour's sponsoring newspaper, L'Auto, was printed on yellow paper, that became the color of choice. And so on the morning of July 19, 1919, prior to the Grenoble-to-Geneva stage, Frenchman Eugène Christophe became the first to don the yellow jersey. Christophe also became the first to learn that wearing the yellow jersey in a given stage is no guarantee that you'll wear it at the race's conclusion: He was eventually sidelined by mechanical problems, and it was Belgium's Firmin Lambot who won that year.
Although the yellow jersey gets most of the attention, the Tour also features several other award jerseys, plus a few more that have fallen by the wayside over the years. Here's the breakdown:
• The green jersey: First awarded in 1953 to celebrate the Tour de France's 50th anniversary, the maillot vert is worn by the race's sprint points leader, a complex computation whose full explanation always leaves Uni Watch with a headache. Its color was chosen because of its initial sponsor, Belle Jardinier, a gardening store.
• The polka-dot or red-and-white spotted jersey: Ugh maybe something got lost in the translation from maillot à pois rouge, but who wants to wear something called the polka-dot jersey? In any case, it's given to the best climber, or King of the Mountains, a category created in 1934, although the actual jersey wasn't introduced until 1975. The first to wear it was Joop Zoetemelk, although he'd surrendered it to Lucien Van Impe by the race's conclusion. Once again, the design is essentially an ad: The jersey's initial sponsor was Poulain, a chocolate maker whose product was packaged in polka-dot-patterned wrappers.
• The white jersey: Introduced in 1968, this was originally awarded to the combination classification leader. That category was eliminated in 1975, at which point the white jersey was given to the top finisher among the young riders, defined as those who are less than 25 years old on Jan. 1 of the Tour year. Eliminated in 1988, when the Tour got back to basics, the white jersey was revived in 2000.