Uni Watch: Raptors debut northern-themed look

Courtesy of Toronto Raptors

You probably already knew that Toronto and Canada are pretty far north. But the Toronto Raptors aren't taking any chances.

The Raptors' new uniform set, revealed late last night, doubles down on the team's "We the North" slogan, which debuted a little over a year ago. The slogan has always sounded a bit awkward ("Me Tarzan, you Jane, we the North"), and it conveniently glosses over the fact that Toronto isn't even the NBA's northernmost city (that honor goes to Portland, with Minneapolis a close second and Toronto in third). But whatever -- the Raptors and their new uniforms are going all in on the northern theme.

For example:

• The Raptors' old uniforms had those chevron marks on the side panels. The new uniforms have retained the chevrons, but now they're pointing up -- due north -- instead of down.

• The Raptors are the latest team to include a slogan -- in this case, "We the North," of course -- on a little tag sewn into the jerseys' hemline. This will never be visible in a game, because the jerseys will be tucked in, but the Raptors say it will have the effect of "reminding our players of what they represent, whenever they look down." But wait, if they're looking down, doesn't that mean they have to look south to be reminded of the north? Confusing! (The reality is that these tags mean absolutely nothing to the players and are designed solely to generate excitement among fans who buy the jerseys, but the first rule of marketing is never to let reality get in the way of a good news release.)

• The team name on the chest of the jerseys is rendered in a custom font called -- wait for it -- We the Letters. For bonus absurdity, the uniform numbers get their own custom font, called We the Numbers. Doesn't quite have the same ring as Helvetica, Times Roman, or Futura, does it?

But here's the thing: If you get past all marketing nonsense, these uniforms aren't bad. They're not great, mind you, but they're a small upgrade over the team's previous set.

All four of the designs -- home whites, road reds and two black alternates (one trimmed in red, the other in gold) -- use the same template with the same graphics and simply swap out the colors of the various elements. Here's a closer look:

The jerseys: The new lettering typeface, despite its cringe-inducing name, is an improvement over the old one, which was too cartoon-ish. The conventional V-neck collar is an upgrade as well, ditto for the trim around the collar and armholes, and the chevrons are still fine (it really doesn't matter which way they point). On the down side, the new number font feels a bit too goofy, the arching of the team name over the number is too severe and all four jerseys have "Raptors" on the chest. Shouldn't they have put "Toronto" on at least one of them?

The shorts: A horizontal stripe on each hip, a vertical stripe down each leg and the team's circular logo combine to spell out "TO" or "T dot" -- short for Toronto (or maybe they're angling to sign Terrell Owens). Again, if you ignore the marketing silliness and just concentrate on the visuals, it looks fine. And it's definitely an improvement over the previous shorts, which had that awful wraparound butt striping.

Overall grade: I had expected the Raptors to go with a more radical redesign, so it's surprising to see them opting for relatively incremental changes. Their look still feels too generic and too nondescript, but they're getting there. The inclusion of two separate black alternates is a bit much, but the gold-trimmed version is a beauty. Here's hoping it gets lots of court time. Grade: B

Paul Lukas thinks these new Raptors uniforms look better and better if you compare them to what the Clippers and Hawks recently unveiled. 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.