The NBA All-Star Game will take place Sunday in Toronto, and the uniforms have all sorts of noteworthy themes and design elements.
The jersey fronts are based on the uniforms worn by the Toronto Huskies in the first NBA game back in 1946; the jersey backs feature an outline of the Toronto skyline; the jerseys also have a Kia advertising patch, the first ad patch ever to be worn in an NBA game (it will be worn again for next year's NBA All-Star Game); and the shorts feature a cummerbund design similar to what several Adidas-outfitted teams wore during March Madness last year:
2016 NBA ASG unis: Toronto Huskies theme, Kia ad patch on front, Toronto skyline on back, Adidas cummerbund shorts. pic.twitter.com/0l8C1UqNBh— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
The uniforms are the latest in a series of NBA All-Star designs dating back to 1951 -- designs that have ranged from sedate to outlandish, from classy to garish, from half-court buzzer-beaters to air balls. If you break them down, however, you'll see that they fall into five distinct eras. Let's take a look at those eras chronologically, shall we?
1951-1966: The early years
The All-Star Game's first installment was in 1951. The uniforms for that game didn't even have East or West identifiers -- they simply had stars.
By the late 1950s, East and West had been added to the jerseys, as you can see in this shot of St. Louis Hawks forward Bob Pettit posing with the MVP trophy from the 1958 game.
Bob Pettit of St. Louis Hawks posing w/ 1958 NBA All-Star Game trophy. "West" now added to jersey. Great jacket too! pic.twitter.com/bTPwvpZzHw— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
1967-1980: The team-themed era
The fairly generic-looking East and West designs persisted until 1967, when the league made a key decision to have the All-Star uniforms patterned after the unis of the host team. That year's game took place at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, home of the Warriors, who had just started wearing their tremendous "The City" uniforms. The resulting All-Star design was easily the best up to that point and is arguably still the best All-Star uniform the NBA has ever had.
Little-remembered fact: The Warriors' "The CIty" design was the basis for the 1967 NBA All-Star Game uniforms. pic.twitter.com/zhHB3rztr6— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) November 9, 2015
Want to see more? Here's some video footage from that game.
The "dress like the host team" system worked better in some years than in others. In 1968, for example, the game was played at Madison Square Garden in New York, so the uniforms were patterned on the Knicks' design. Nothing wrong with that, but the Knicks' no-frills look didn't lend itself to a particularly distinctive All-Star treatment.
1968 NBA All-Star Game was played at Madison Square Garden, so teams wore Knicks-ish uniforms. pic.twitter.com/c2xm93bpNF— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
Things looked better in 1972, when the Lakers were the host team and the uniforms were instantly recognizable as being Lakers-themed, from the number font to the colors.
1972: NBA All-Star Game played at the Forum in Inglewood, so uniforms were Lakers-themed. pic.twitter.com/nwzAK8gD5Z— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
Great look at uniforms from the 1972 NBA All-Star Game, hosted by the Lakers (hence the Lakers-esque design). pic.twitter.com/eF6kwZq5Va— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
Want to see this game on video? Here you go.
Trivia footnote: This was one of several NBA All-Star Games in which Lakers great Jerry West, who of course played for the Western Conference, had the unusual distinction of wearing his surname name on the front and back of his uniform. He was also named the MVP of this game -- a nice crowning touch with the game on his home court.
When Jerry West represented the Western Conference All-Stars, he wore his name on front *and* back of his jersey. pic.twitter.com/OYz3KP1IKf— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
Other strong years during this period: 1975 (when the game was played in Phoenix), 1977 (Milwaukee) and 1980 (Washington).
1975 NBA All-Star Game was in Phoenix, so the uniforms were patterned after the Suns' look at the time. pic.twitter.com/VUWys0F8wN— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
1977 NBA All-Star Game was in Milwaukee, so the uniforms had a Bucks flavor. pic.twitter.com/YCf1P1C26k— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
1980 NBA All-Star Game was played in DC, so they went with Bullets-patterned uniforms. pic.twitter.com/kFrAoBOZ4K— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
Oddly, there were two years during this period when the league didn't stick to the team-themed script: 1978 (when the game was played in Atlanta) and 1979 (Chicago). The uniforms for those years saw the NBA abandoning the host teams' templates in favor of a more freewheeling approach.
1978 NBA ASG was in Atlanta but unis weren't Hawks-themed. This was the league's 1st attempt at a "creative" design. pic.twitter.com/HehcCUjB9j— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 8, 2016
1979: The year the NBA All-Star Game went diagonal. pic.twitter.com/0MZMqGXfzl— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
1981-1996: Upping the ante
Those two aberrational designs in 1978 and '79 turned out to be a bellwether for the next era of NBA All-Star uniforms, as the league abandoned the host-team-themed motif and tried a variety of new approaches. The designs at the start of this period were fairly tame, but the uniforms got increasingly adventurous as the years went on.
1981 NBA All-Star uniforms were very conservative. pic.twitter.com/QcJoBh4vhG— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
Hard to see, but the 1982 NBA All-Star Game unis had the "East" and "West" designations on the shorts, not jerseys. pic.twitter.com/8CLPkQLpVF— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
Always liked the NBA All-Star unis from 1983 and '84 - simple, classy, love the multi-colored stars. pic.twitter.com/rkFH9swrZi— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
Just in case you didn't know which league's All-Star game you were watching, they made it really obvious in 1985. pic.twitter.com/iggVq3VoQy— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
1986-1990 NBA All-Star unis: Same as '85, but with the visiting conference in red instead of blue. pic.twitter.com/oKZHfBxJwi— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
NBA All-Star unis went glitzy from 1991-94. Visiting conference alternated between blue and red during these years. pic.twitter.com/EcJnnbUzLu— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
1995 NBA All-Star Game was held in Phoenix, so the league went all-out for a southwestern-themed design. pic.twitter.com/P1sBtq4iJT— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
1996: NBA All-Star Game moves from Phoenix to San Antonio. Wacky southwestern theme replaced by wacky Texas theme. pic.twitter.com/3EF5nAPKAa— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
1997-2002: Let's go MLB style
Those 1995 and '96 designs appeared to herald a new era of All-Star zaniness, but the league decided to step back from the ledge.
You know how the players in the MLB All-Star Game just wear their regular team uniforms? The NBA tried that for six seasons, giving the game a white-versus-colors look. The crazy quilt of different designs was fun to see on the court, and fans got to root for their favorite players wearing their familiar unis.
1997-2002: No special NBA All-Star Game unis, as the players just wore their regular team unis. pic.twitter.com/sXkQtwxiMh— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 9, 2016
2003-present: The modern era
With Michael Jordan's final All-Star appearance slated for 2003, the league decided to abandon the MLB-style approach and revive the uniform Jordan wore in his first NBA All-Star Game in 1985 -- an All-Star throwback uniform, essentially. It was interesting to see how the design looked when worn in the baggier style that Jordan helped pioneer.
2003 NBA All-Star Game: For Michael Jordan's last ASG, uniforms revert to the design he wore in his first ASG. pic.twitter.com/MOvhracAvl— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
The dozen years since then have seen the game look increasingly like the NFL Pro Bowl (whose uniforms we examined a few weeks ago), with eye-catching uniforms that have often fallen into the "What were they thinking?" category.
2004: NBA All-Star Game once again goes diagonal. pic.twitter.com/fnIHM2josC— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2005: One of the classier NBA All-Star Game uniform sets. pic.twitter.com/q7r5IMSMtC— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2006 NBA All-Star unis: Brutal design, player names appear beneath numbers (as they will for 6 of next 7 years). pic.twitter.com/cCtH8L2OrZ— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2007: Adidas' three-stripe pattern appears on the NBA All-Star unis for the first time. Names still below numbers. pic.twitter.com/3binybeedH— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2008: NBA All-Star unis feature bizarre two-tone design. Definitely one for the "What were they thinking?" file. pic.twitter.com/WOtThMT6UV— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2009: Adidas logo appears on NBA All-Star uniforms for 1st time. Player names once again beneath uni numbers. pic.twitter.com/TyqAgoWIOu— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2010 NBA All-Star unis: Lots of sublimated stars, neither team wears white. Player names once again beneath numbers. pic.twitter.com/Mcm829bql5— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2011 NBA ASG unis: Instead of "East" and "West," it's now "The East" and "The West." Names still below numbers. pic.twitter.com/TJfajjEuw3— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2012 NBA ASG unis: Shorts don't quite match jersey colors. Again, names below numbers, neither team wears white. pic.twitter.com/RWvWF16MWS— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2013 NBA ASG unis: Never liked this stencil-based design. Names again beneath numbers, neither team wears white. pic.twitter.com/ilb7rc6586— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2014 NBA ASG unis: Sleeves! Yikes! Uni numbers on left sleeve instead of chest. Names move back above rear numbers. pic.twitter.com/sQcYv69OlR— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
2015 NBA ASG unis: Super-minimalist design, white unis return, players' *full* names now appear on back. pic.twitter.com/rvDabsadZ0— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) February 10, 2016
That brings us up to date. But if you want to look ahead, there's a good chance we'll be starting a new era in NBA All-Star design in 2018. That's when Nike will be producing the game's uniforms for the first time.
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas figures an All-Star advertising patch is OK, because the game is just an exhibition, but is still dead set against ad patches for games that count. 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.