For the past generation, all-star uniforms across most sports have been gaudy, flashy and overdesigned. It's easy to understand why: An all-star game is a glamour event, and the uniforms will only be worn for a few hours, so you want to make a strong impression -- even if, as has often been the case, it's strongly negative.
But the NBA has flipped the script with its uniforms for the upcoming 2015 All-Star Game, which will be played Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden in New York. So long, gaudy. Hello, old school.
The minimalist jersey designs, with nothing but a number on the front, are supposed to pay tribute to the style of basketball played on New York City blacktops, but they really evoke the feel of basketball from the 1930s and '40s, when many pro and amateur teams just wore numbers on their chests. Some fans may find the designs too spare, but they're a big hit here at Uni Watch HQ. And whether you love them or hate them, you have to agree that NBA and Adidas have come up with something genuinely surprising and unexpected here -- good for them.
The biggest design risk they've taken is that the jerseys don't carry the "East" and "West" conference designations. There was probably a lot of back and forth on this point, but they made the right call. The simplicity of having one team in black and the other in white is all that's needed here. Anyone who cares about the NBA knows which player is in which conference; any casual fan tuning in doesn't care about conferences. Kudos to all involved for having the guts to go this route. (NBA uniform history is poorly documented and notoriously spotty, so the last time the league's All-Star jerseys didn't carry the conference names isn't clear, although the league says it was sometime in the 1960s.)
Things are a little busier on the back of the jersey, which will have the player's first name above the number and last name below. But that fits in with the fun, carnival-like atmosphere of an All-Star Game and serves as a nice counterbalance to the sparse front design.
Look closely and you'll see that there's a five-star pattern on the jerseys and shorts. These are supposed to represent New York City's five boroughs, with each star having its own pattern. Some of these work better than others:
• A Checker cab pattern for Manhattan: Not such a great choice because the last of the Checker cabs was put out to pasture in 1999, which means a lot of city residents have never seen or even heard of them.
• A vinyl record pattern for the Bronx: This is apparently meant to symbolize old-school hip-hop. Not bad, but maybe the pattern of a boom box speaker would have been better.
• A brick pattern for Brooklyn: This is supposed to symbolize Brooklyn's signature brownstone houses, but they got it wrong -- brownstones don't have traditional brick patterns. Come on, NBA, did you really think you could slip that past a Brooklynite?
• A Unisphere pattern for Queens: The Unisphere is a giant globe sculpture that was built for the 1964 World's Fair and now sits outside of the Queens Museum. Nice choice here.
• A wave pattern for Staten Island: You can just imagine the design meeting for this one: "OK, we've gotta have something for Staten Island. Can't you think of anything?" "Well, it's an island -- how about water?" "Done!"
Although the stars themselves are gimmicky, they come together nicely to form a composite star for the NBA logo on the jerseys.
All in all: Very nice work. Now let's see if the NHL and NFL can excise the gaudy factor from their all-star uniforms.
Paul Lukas has lived in Brooklyn for the past 27 years -- nine of them in a traditional brownstone. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.