It’s only fair, after taking on the NBA for their Christmas Day money-grab on Monday, to let the league and its players offer a nuanced rebuttal regarding sleeved jerseys. A goodly chunk of the NBA’s fandom has chimed in regarding the look of the jerseys that several NBA teams are wearing on the league’s broadcast television showcase on Christmas Day, pointing out that the design of the jersey more closely resembles a knock-off pajama top as opposed to a classic, stylized team-created tank top.
Others are wondering about the tangible limitations of the sleeved jersey, and if a few inches of fabric will hinder or at the very least distract a shooter as he goes into a motion he’s performed thousands of times while wearing jerseys with no sleeves. Miami Heat MVP LeBron James told the press over the weekend that several members of his team were uneasy about wearing the jerseys on Christmas Day, and that his “shooters” were already in full rebellion about having to put the darn things on.
Amanda Thorn, speaking from the league’s office, wants to warm NBA fans to the fact that they’re not forcing these things down anyone’s throat. She relayed as much on Monday:
Players select their size and will wear what’s most comfortable for them on court. The league would never want players to feel restricted or allow for a jersey design that hinders their performance or makes them play at any less than 100 percent.
I think we can agree that there is no way the NBA would ever put a player in something that would negatively impact his performance or ability to play at the highest level.
The issue isn’t the jersey. It’s the perception of the jersey by the players. The NBA isn’t raising the rims by a foot or putting a windmill in front of the free throw line for entertainment’s sake, but they are digging into an area that tends to rankle even the most confident of NBA players. It’s all about routine with these guys, right down to the lacing of the sneakers or the pregame meal – whether it’s full of leafy greens or covered in buffalo wing sauce.
These guys want things to be the same, every night out. Even the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, winners of an NBA record 72 games, complained incessantly about the black pinstriped alternate jerseys they had to wear, and they even lost a disproportionate amount of their 10 losses in those duds.
In an attempt to quell the kvetchin’, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had his team practice in the sleeves in anticipation of the Christmas Day pairing with the Los Angeles Lakers. From Shandel Richardson at the Sun-Sentinel:
"Guys really wanted to get a true practice with those jerseys," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I don't know if that was needed. That's what their workout shirts look like anyway. At least mentally, now they don't have an excuse."
They were worn so the players could get accustomed to playing in sleeves. The jerseys are also tighter than regular uniforms.
"We didn't want to get to Christmas Day and just be wearing them for the first time," center Chris Bosh said. "You could have problems and malfunctions. We're players of rhythm and we have to get used to the same thing or at least try them out. It's like breaking in sneakers."
LeBron James, who over the weekend told media that unnamed teammates took issue with the sleeved jerseys, changed his tune a bit – declaring that “there’s no problem” and that “they feel comfortable.” Chris Bosh says he still prefers the regular Heat jerseys, but declined to complain about the sleeved threads.
The Miami Heat feature three of the greatest players of the current generation, perhaps the best shooter in NBA history, and one of the league’s top coaches. They’re playing a Los Angeles Lakers team that is without Kobe Bryant, without Steve Nash, and one that is featuring Xavier Henry at point guard. They could win by 20 in their Christmas robes.
NBA players? They hit 25-footers with splints on their fingers, they nail runners in traffic with cotton shoved up their bleeding noses, and they hound lightning-fast point guards from baseline to baseline on knees that had to be drained of fluid just days before. They’re the most dynamic, versatile, brilliant athletes around, and they can put up with just about anything. A sleeve doesn’t matter.
That’s not my issue. My issue is making a retail gimmick out of the league’s yearly showcase. I don’t doubt for a second that the NBA has gone out of its way to ensure that its players are comfortable with the change, but these players shouldn’t have to adapt to a change (however minor) during a series of games that are placed to ensure repeated viewings from January until June. All for a few more quid thrown into the till.
Ray Allen can hit a three-pointer with a hand in his face while wearing your Uncle Walter’s terrible Christmas sweater – he won’t be deterred by any of this. I just hope the NBA won’t ask him to wear such a thing on Christmas Day, 2014.
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