Stephen Curry and David Lee look thrilled to wear sleeves (Rocky Widner/ Getty).
Like any multi-billion-dollar sports league, the NBA is always looking for new ways to hook fans on a trend and maximize it's already hefty profits. In 2013, the Golden State Warriors served as guinea pigs for a new development in apparel merchandising: alternate jerseys with sleeves (and mismatched pinstriped shorts, for some reason), flying in the face of decades of tanktopped on-court threads. The Warriors wore the kits in several games last season, most of which compelled jokes from fans and at least one complaint that they were "ugly" from star guard Stephen Curry.
Simply put, they were not particularly popular. Of course, that hasn't stopped Adidas and the NBA from offering the short-sleeve option to every team for the 2013-14 season. According to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com (via TBJ), several teams will add the style to their uniform rotation:
Hoping in part to push along sales of NBA jerseys, more teams will wear uniforms with sleeves next season.
An NBA source told ESPN.com that as many as five teams will wear the short-sleeve jerseys as an alternate jersey for as much as 12 games during the season. [...]
All teams were offered the option to add this jersey, according to Sal LaRocca, the league's executive vice president of global merchandising, but LaRocca would not confirm exactly how many teams have committed to it.
LaRocca did say that part of the appeal of this jersey was to offer a different option at retail, though he doesn't expect it to outpace the sales of the current design of the league's jersey any time soon.
"The life cycle of our jersey continues to be really strong," LaRocca said. "Over the last few years, sales of our traditional tank-top basketball jersey has been growing worldwide. But we know that more men are comfortable wearing T-shirts than tank tops, so the idea that part of our consumer base would be interested in wearing a jersey with sleeves makes sense."
It's unclear if Rovell means that as many as five teams will wear the jersey for 12 games each or a dozen in total, but either way we'll see more sleeves in the NBA in 2013-14. If we're forced to live with them, here's hoping the powers that be settle on some more sensible designs than the solid-with-pinstripes look the Warriors sported. After all, there's nothing inherently wrong with sleeves — college stars from Patrick Ewing to James Harden have worn t-shirts under their jerseys without major incident for more than two decades.
On the other hand, those players had the choice to wear sleeves and weren't pushed into it by a marketing campaign. As LaRocca makes very clear, these jerseys exist because the NBA and Adidas want to sell to a previously untapped market of men more comfortable wearing t-shirts than tank tops. The players are the unwilling models for that marketing campaign. Curry's distaste for the jerseys remains the most obvious complaint, but Phoenix Suns point guard expressed his own feelings when the news broke on Thursday (via The Point Forward):
— Kendall Marshall (@KButter5) June 20, 2013
Teams introduce alternate jerseys all the time to boost apparel sales, but this does seem like a different category. A basic alternate doesn't change the function of the jerseys. In whatever small way, these sleeves do. And while players have no apparent recourse for reversing these decisions, that doesn't mean they have to like or support it. Meanwhile, fans do have an option — we can choose not to buy them.
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