Last week's Friday Flashback took an in-depth look at one of the most celebrated innovations in basketball uniform history: Marquette's untucked jersey from the mid-1970s. Today we're going to examine another innovative college hoops uniform, although this one isn't remembered quite as fondly: North Carolina State's infamous unitard, which was worn for two games in 1989 before being quietly abandoned.
Rare game-used example of NC State's infamous 1989 basketball unitard. Looks more like a wrestling uni! pic.twitter.com/NHJas864uG— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 18, 2016
Interestingly, this uniform was also intended to address the issue of jerseys coming untucked. But whereas Marquette solved that problem by creating an intentionally untucked jersey, NC State's solution was to eliminate the jersey altogether and go with a one-piece uniform similar to a wrestling singlet. Coach Jim Valvano explained the situation in a 1989 article published on the day the unitards were slated to make their on-court debut:
"Last year we got a lot of letters about my team where their shirts were always coming out of their pants. You'd be shocked at the number of letters we get. ... So I asked [Nike] to design a uniform where the shirt is already out of the pants, or it can't come out of the pants. So they came up with this unitard. It's almost like a wrestling uniform. It's made out of a material that's incredibly light -- when our kids put 'em on they feel almost naked."
As it turned out, they also looked almost naked, because the skin-tight unitards didn't leave much to the imagination, especially in the players' nether regions. So the Wolfpack wore shorts over the unitards, creating an odd hybrid effect. More than a quarter-century later, it still looks startlingly bad.
Kelsey Weems (left) and Brian Howard wearing NC State's infamous 1989 unitard. pic.twitter.com/UjoYnfVOWv— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 18, 2016
Chris Corchiani (left) and Rodney Monroe wearing NC State's infamous 1989 unitard. pic.twitter.com/nBu3CCYoOp— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 18, 2016
The Wolfpack's unitard era began on Jan. 7, 1989 -- and ended one game later, as the team decided to scrap the whole idea. As Valvano tactfully explained at the time, "The players complained that the unitards just weren't as comfortable as they think they could be." Relentless ridicule from fans probably didn't help.
To Uni Watch's knowledge, no game footage of the unitards is currently available online. But here's something that's arguably even better -- a short TV news segment about the unitards from 1989, complete with Valvano himself wearing the one-piece design.
Unlike Marquette's untucked jersey, the NC State unitard never caught on with other schools. But several women's basketball teams have experimented with the one-piece look over the years, including the Australian and Brazilian Olympic teams and the ill-fated Liberty Basketball Association, which played only one game before disbanding.
Women's hoops teams wearing unitards: Aussie & Brazilian Olympic teams, and short-lived Liberty Basketball Ass'n. pic.twitter.com/JydBI7Wjln— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) March 18, 2016
It seems unlikely that the unitard could ever make a comeback on the court, but never say never. An increasing number of basketball players are wearing compression base layers these days, both above and below the waist. If you're going to wear a compression top and tights under your uniform, why not simplify things and just wear a one-piece compression uni? Stranger things have happened.
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas has no plans to change Uni Watch to Unitard Watch, at least for now. 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.