The short-sleeved jerseys that the NBA and apparel partner Adidas introduced in small doses last season, and expanded in major ways across the league this season, have famously received quite a bit of criticism, from writers, owners, fans and, most importantly, players.
Stephen Curry thinks they're ugly. Dirk Nowitzki thinks they look awful. Robin Lopez wants them burned. Beno Udrih said ithe sleeves "bothered [his] shot," leading to some fairly heinous Christmas Day misses. Jarrett Jack called them disgusting and said his 2012-13 Golden State Warriors looked "like the Beach Police" and "like a volleyball team" while wearing their short-sleeved uniform tops.
The most notable critic, though, has been four-time NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James. The Miami Heat star first raised concerns about the sleeved jerseys messing with the mechanics of shooters' jumpers prior to Miami's Christmas Day meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers; he'd later change course, saying that “there’s no problem” with the jerseys and that “they feel comfortable.” After the Heat beat the Lakers, though, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the sleeved jerseys represented "a different feeling. [I] felt a little tug" on his arm while raising up for jumpers.
James again opposed the sleeved jerseys after a rough shooting performance in a March 6 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
"I'm not making excuses, but I'm not a big fans of the jerseys," James told reporters. "Every time I shoot it feels like it's just pulling right up underneath my arm. I already don't have much room for error on my jump shot. It's definitely not a good thing."
When the biggest star in the league raises a stink about this sort of thing, people tend to pay attention — including, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report, the man who runs the league:
Commissioner Adam Silver told Bleacher Report he intends to revisit the [sleeved jersey] issue after the season. He plans to meet with LeBron James, one of the loudest critics of the jerseys. The NBA could decide to curtail the use of the sleeved jerseys, leave it up to individual teams or simply kill the program for good.
"Ultimately, if the players don't like them, we'll move on to something else," Silver told Bleacher Report. "I don't regret doing it for this season. But it's intended to be something fun for the fans and the players. And if it becomes a serious issue, as to whether players should be wearing sleeves, we'll likely move onto other things." [...]
The NBA could brush off the barbs from writers and role players. But when LeBron speaks, the league listens. Silver admitted the remarks struck a chord.
"It did," he said. "I've had conversations with LeBron about the jerseys, and we agreed that we would park the issue until the end of the season. And that once the season is over, he expressed an interest in sitting down with me and Sal LaRocca (the NBA's president of merchandising) and discussing his point of view."
I suspect that discussion might not be heavy on new information — "I don't like this because it feels too tight on my arms," followed by "Well, you could wear a bigger size," followed by "Yeah, but I shouldn't have to," and on, and on — but Silver's willingness to entertain the discussion seems positive.
Jared Dubin's statistical breakdown of Christmas Day shooting compared to standard accuracy suggested that the sleeves didn't really make much of an impact. Silver echoed that during All-Star Weekend 2014 in New Orleans: "We know that shooting percentages are virtually exactly the same for games in which we have sleeved jerseys and teams in which the guys are wearing conventional jerseys. So I'm pretty comfortable from a competitive standpoint that it's having no impact."
Adidas representatives, as you might expect, shared that opinion.
"For us, we spent a tremendous amount of time over the previous several years designing and building this," Chris Grancio, global head of basketball sports marketing at Adidas, told me back in January. "We’ve done it in partnership with a ton of NBA teams and players. We really do believe that it doesn’t inhibit performance in any way. At all."
But while the data and the marketers are saying one thing, the players who actually wear the product — including the league's top player — are saying another, leading Silver to double-down on comments made back in February by league merchandising chief LaRocca.
“If the players as a general matter feel like they don’t want to wear short sleeves on a go-forward basis, the league would simply not do it,” LaRocca told Sports Illustrated's Tim Newcomb.
The players, and James in particular, sure do seem to feel like they don't want to wear the sleeves. Whether this actually does result in a full-fledged course-change by the league, a la David Stern's midseason scuttling of Spalding's microfiber-composite basketball, remains to be seen, but Silver's comments make the sleeves' disappearance — on the court, at least, since the jerseys are reportedly still a strong seller at retail — seem like much more of a possibility than we might have thought. (Hallelujah.)
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