One of the great uni-related stories of recent years came earlier this month from ESPN.com's Zach Lowe, who revealed the previously untold tale of how the New Jersey Nets almost renamed themselves the New Jersey Swamp Dragons in the 1990s. The rebranding would have included a full-scale makeover, including some suitably garish uniforms.
Although that never came to pass, it serves as a good excuse to examine the Nets' uniform history, which has included some memorable designs -- though some of them were memorable for all the wrong reasons.
What did the first Nets uniform look like? That's a tricky question because the franchise was founded in 1967 as the New Jersey Americans. The team played one season under that name in the old ABA and wore a uniform that looked perfectly fine for its era:
Before the Brooklyn, New Jersey, and New York Nets, the franchise was known as the New Jersey Americans in 1967-68. pic.twitter.com/oLPIFFjERI— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 11, 2016
The franchise then moved to Long Island and became the New York Nets (a name chosen in part to rhyme with "Mets" and "Jets," creating a New York homonymic trio). The team's first generation of uniforms under its new moniker featured a rather awkward-looking script across the chest:
NY Nets uniforms from 1969-72 featured chest script and stars on the sides. pic.twitter.com/j0C0rBeblG— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 11, 2016
Fortunately, that design didn't last. The Nets replaced it with their greatest, most iconic uniform: a star-spangled design that turned out to be one of the most enduring looks in basketball history. This uniform is most often associated with the team's Dr. J era in the 1970s, but it was worn for much longer. When the Nets joined the NBA and moved to New Jersey in 1977, they took this uniform with them. It was worn, with minor variations, from 1972 through 1982, then again from 1984 through 1990, and it even appeared as a throwback in the 2003 NBA Finals.
Ah, the classic Nets uniform. Worn, with a few minor variations, from 1972-82, and then again from 1984-90. pic.twitter.com/w9JNCsphEx— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 11, 2016
Nets' classic stars/stripes uni reappeared in the 2003 NBA Finals as a throwback. pic.twitter.com/rCpKYbGFE3— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 11, 2016
If the star-spangled design was the Nets' aesthetic high-water mark, there have also been plenty of lowlights along the way. In the early 1980s, for example, the team revived the clumsy-looking "Nets" script from their earliest days on Long Island and paired it with a "New Jersey" road script that didn't look much better. The new design lasted only two seasons.
Many fans have forgotten that the Nets wore these script-insignia uniforms in the early 1980s. pic.twitter.com/07aFDzXoID— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 11, 2016
The nadir came in the 1990-91 season, when the team came up with an utterly characterless chest logo and then, in a move that has gone down in NBA history, rolled out an odd-looking road uniform that instantly became known as "the tie-dye design."
1990-91: The Nets' infamous tie-dye road uni. pic.twitter.com/ppkRscLdvm— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 11, 2016
With a quarter-century's worth of hindsight, the tie-dye look doesn't seem so awful (especially compared to what some NBA teams were doing in the 1990s) and might even be fun to revive as a throwback. At the time, though, it seemed to capture everything wrong with the franchise.
The tie-dye design was replaced with a more conventional blue road uniform after one season. That uni, along with the corresponding white home version, was worn through 1997. It was during this period that the Nets seriously considered changing their name to the Swamp Dragons. Given how uninspired the team's look was at the time, it's not hard to see why some folks thought a drastic identity overhaul was needed.
One odd phenomenon seen throughout the uni-verse is that teams whose color schemes include blue and red often can't decide which is the dominant color (think Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians, among others). The Nets fell prey to that trope with their next uni set, which debuted in 1997. It initially featured a blue road uniform, but a red alternate was added in 2006, and three years later, that was redesignated the team's primary road uniform.
Nets 1997-2012 home uni was paired with blue road uni (1997-2009) and then red road uni (2009-12). Which was better? pic.twitter.com/zc8sM4dKxr— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) April 12, 2016
That brings us to the team's current set. With its minimalist design and black-white color scheme, it's a stark departure from the franchise's visual history (though there's an alternate uni that provides a shout-out to the old, star-spangled look). Then again, as we've just seen, the Nets' visual history hasn't been strong on consistent themes.
If they had changed their name to the Swamp Dragons, it would've been just one more new direction for a franchise that, for better or worse, has never been content to stay the course.
Would you like to nominate a uniform to be showcased in a future Friday Flashback installment? Send your suggestions here.
Paul Lukas grew up on Long Island, where he got to watch the Dr. J-era Nets in the 1970s. 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.