A few hours after a French apparel website let the cat out of the bag (or, as the case may be, ce n'est plus un secret maintenant) on Thursday, Adidas and the NBA officially unveiled the uniforms and warm-up jackets that players will wear — plus some associated apparel on sale for John Q. Consumer — when they take the court for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans on Sunday, Feb. 16.
As you saw earlier Thursday, and as you can see above, the uniforms feature several touches intended to honor the host city, including a stylized fleur-de-lis centerpiece with the "E" and "W" representing the Eastern and Western conferences cut out of the logo; integrations of purple and green into the traditional red and blue color scheme intended to evoke the city's Mardi Gras celebration; and brass and silver accents as a nod to New Orleans' venerable musical heritage. As has been the case in years past, as with the aeronautics-inspired kits donned in Houston in 2013, the push to integrate locally specific signifiers into an already somewhat busy design scheme can make the uniforms look a bit overloaded; on the other hand, though, this is an All-Star Game taking place in a city synonymous with that which is big, loud, bold, brash and colorful, so you could argue that throwing the kitchen sink at this year's unis makes all the sense in the world. (No beads, though. Bummer.)
Oh, and also, there's this one other thing.
As they did during the NBA's annual Christmas Day quintuple-header, and in keeping with the recent thrust of the NBA-Adidas partnership, the jerseys have sleeves. If you've been keeping up on things, you'll note that the onrush of sleeved jerseys is something that a vocal contingent of NBA players, fans and observers — including some at this site — have found somewhat unappealing.
If they're not your cup of tea either, you might find yourself wondering why, exactly, the league and its official apparel partner are continuing to push the short-sleeved look, and particularly doing so on such high-profile showcase events as Christmas Day and the All-Star Game. The answer, as Chris Grancio presented it to me during a recent interview at a "preview" of the 2014 All-Star uniforms in New York, is twofold.
"We spent a tremendous amount of time over the previous several years designing and building this," said Grancio, global head of basketball sports marketing at Adidas. "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."
So the league and its teams are on-board, which is one reason we're continuing to see the sleeves. The other?
"[...] The success at retail also has been very good," he added. "Consumers are voting, and they’re saying yes right now."
An Adidas spokesperson told me that the company doesn't share actual sales figures or details on units moved, but did claim that the "BIG Logo" jerseys worn on Christmas Day "are nearly sold out on NBAStore.com, the NBA Store Fifth Avenue in NYC, Fanatics.com and Dick’s Sporting Goods." Back in July, a Golden State Warriors official claimed the team's league-first short-sleeved jersey "accounted for 53 percent of Warriors jerseys sales" after its introduction last year.
While Warriors president Rick Welts acknowledged that figure was "imperfect" and that the positive financial impact of the sleeved jerseys was, to some degree, "in the eye of the beholder," Grancio's comments echo other anecdotal reports that the sleeved jerseys are outperforming retail expectations; at the moment, it seems that while your Twitter timeline or Facebook feed might fill up with complaints any time a sleeved jersey photo comes down the pike, there are at least enough people quietly adding one to their online shopping cart or making a note to scoop one at the mall to make the proposition a worthwhile one for the league and its apparel partner. Hence, sleeves in NOLA, and while the opposition is unlikely to abate any time soon, neither Adidas nor the NBA seem to be sweating it.
If you're interested in more on the backstory of this year's design, the thought process behind the sleeve decision and more, here's an edited transcript of the brief chat I had with Grancio and Christopher Arena, vice president of apparel, sporting goods and basketball partnerships for the NBA, during a recent "preview" of the All-Star uniforms in New York.
What can you tell me about this year’s design?
Arena: One thing we wanted to do, just before we get into this year, is just give everyone a perspective of the history of All-Star uniforms — just a quick little history lesson. So, in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, you look back at the All-Star uniforms and they were really clean, really simple. Big numbers, stars, red, white and blue — pretty basic for the time. And then you get into the ‘70s, and it was an interesting period of our history, where the host team would actually make the uniform. They would just take their home and road uniforms. So when it was in L.A., yellow was the West and purple was the East, and they just took “Lakers” off and put “East” and “West” on them. It was kind of simple; maybe there were budget issues then. Who knows?
We get into the ‘80s and ‘90s, and you’ve got the red, white and blue, the sublimation, the stars, that sort of heyday of the NBA All-Star Game, the Slam Dunk and so forth. In the late ‘90s, we had the players wear their own uniforms — sort of the idea that these players are up-and-coming, and if you put them in the red, white and blue uniform, you can’t really recognize them, but if they’re in their normal uniforms …
… you identify them with the teams they play for.
Arena: Exactly. In 2003, which was perhaps the height of the retro/throwback craze, we did a retro uniform from the ‘80s in Atlanta. That really was the springboard to doing differently designed uniforms every single season. At the time, it was Reebok, and Adidas came on board in 2007 in Vegas, and we sort of took the red, white and blue and carried it a little deeper, into colors like navy and maroon. Each and every year since then, we’ve done something different.
The All-Star Game, as a sort of global mecca where basketball peaks, has been our forum to really talk about the uniform and the uniform in the world — whether it’s a design element, a fabrication element, an innovation element, that was our place to really talk about it, and speak loudly about it, and give Adidas the opportunity to show the latest and greatest from their design team. So that sort of takes up to where we are now — going through each and every year, what was new and what was different — and takes us through to 2014.
Which, obviously, has a pretty different design element that’s been a pretty big talking point for fans over the course of the last year or so. Why did you decide to go with sleeves for the All-Star jerseys?
Grancio: For us, the new sleeved jersey has been an area of focus. It’s been a great success. When we think about how we roll it out, how we want to introduce it, we think platforms like Christmas Day and All-Star are the perfect time to celebrate and introduce it, do something a little bit different.
As we looked at the opportunity this year, there are a lot of elements about the uniform that are either inspired by or carried over from previous All-Stars. There are also some elements that are new, that are fresh. Certainly, the sleeved silhouette is one element that’s new this year. We’ve also updated the embellishment system for the front word-mark and for the numbers, so it’s a different manufacturing process that makes it a little lighter-weight than we’ve had in the past. You’ll also notice the very strong “BIG Logo” concept for the East and West word-marks, as well.
Similar to what we saw on Christmas Day.
Grancio: Exactly. So it’s a platform where we can celebrate, have a little bit of fun. And for us, when we looked at New Orleans, the overwhelming insight we took out of all our design research was that this is a fantastic city. It’s got great culture. It’s very vibrant. You see big colors, you [hear] big sounds. We wanted to try to marry that with a really sleek and sophisticated silhouette. We think we’ve done that in how these uniforms look.
In addition to the sleeves and the front word-mark, one of the things that’s also very different about these from previous All-Stars is the integration of color. Historically, All-Star uniforms have been shades of red with incorporations of the conference colors of silver and gold. This year, because of New Orleans and wanting to celebrate the city — and also in wanting to acknowledge the new Pelicans identity, as well, in some respects — we brought some new colors in.
Purple for the West and green for the East are the first time that we’ve really used inspired colors as part of the All-Star uniforms in such a prominent way. And although they’re very bold colors, we think we’ve integrated them into the uniform in a very elegant way — the perf pattern on the short, the very strong, clear logo read, celebrating some of the silver and the brass of the colors of the city. I actually attribute that to the uniform we did in ’08 [the last time the All-Star Game took place in New Orleans] that was a lot more about wrought iron; we wanted to modernize and update them a little bit.
In terms of the new jersey style being a success: I know that there have been reports of strong sales of the jerseys on the consumer market. There’s also been a lot of backlash from fans, and some players and executives as well, who have said that they don’t particularly appreciate the look or feel of it. Are you concerned about that continuing during All-Star Weekend? You also mentioned some changes in fabrication — is there anything different about these sleeved jerseys than the ones that we’ve seen to this point, in terms of feel or production?
Grancio: No, they’re identical to what has been worn so far on the court.
For us, we spent a tremendous amount of time over the previous several years designing and building this. 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. The way that the shoulder gusset is constructed with four-way mesh really does prevent any pulling or dragging. It’s ultimately up to players to wear the size that they feel most comfortable in, but for us, we really do believe that this uniform performs as well as any other.
Combined with the new embellishment in terms of the numbers and the word-mark, and the new lightweight short, this will actually be the lightest All-Star uniform we’ve ever made. We do feel very confident in it. The success at retail also has been very good. Consumers are voting, and they’re saying yes right now. We’re very excited about that.
Arena: If you’re on one of the 10 teams that played on Christmas Day — or the Timberwolves or the Warriors, who have already done it — you’ve already worn the sleeved uniform. In addition, Adidas has given every team sizing sets. A lot of teams wore them over the summer, in Summer League. They’ve had them in their facilities, whether in summer workouts or during practice. There’s no chance for an All-Star to get to New Orleans and to have never worn the sleeves before, or tried them on, so they’re pretty familiar with it, just from that groundwork that we do leading up to the All-Star Game.
From that point, then, you’d say it’s just about repetition? Getting used to something that’s a little bit different from what you might be accustomed to?
Arena: Yes, and it’s interesting, because if you’ve ever been to an NBA practice before, or anywhere where these athletes play, when they practice, they’ll practice in long sleeves and sweatshirts and things, so they’re used to layers and things on their arms. I think this is just the mindset of, for game play, they’re used to playing in tank tops.
But if you look back at the history of the NBA, we weren’t always just a tank-top league. We’ve had sleeveless [jerseys] of various lengths — you think back to the Allen Iverson days, or the Seattle SuperSonics from back in the day, and even the Rockets today have a wider shoulder width. So there are different silhouettes out there; it’s just that we think of tank tops in one form, but there have been various different forms of tank tops, as well.
I’m noticing on this year’s warm-up jacket, you’ve gone back to the patch that sort of lists the accolades and accomplishments of the player wearing it. Can you tell me a little bit about how that idea came about? Last year it presented sort of an interesting separation in identification, with some players in their first time there having kind of a spare patch and others who have been there a number of times in the past overloaded with stuff.
Grancio: Well, I think every year we approach All-Star as a fresh project. Going back to ’06, actually, was the first time that we put patches from past All-Star Games on each All-Star’s jacket. Previously it was either patches on the back or patches on the sleeves, and a year ago, we wanted to take a fresh approach to how we could revisit that. The players love it, and it was something that we wanted to just freshen up a little bit. This was incredibly well received when we executed it a year ago, and we thought it was a great element to bring into this year’s jacket. It really has been a tradition going back to ’06.
It’s something the players love, and I think, actually, the way that we executed it last year made it much more visible and tangible for fans. In the past, maybe they recognized that all those All-Star patches were unique to each athlete. But this brought it a lot more front and center, the idea that you could actually trade these back and forth, and that players were talking about it, having fun in the locker room about it. We saw so much success with it last year that we wanted to bring it back.
It also enables Kobe to look like a general.
Grancio: [laugh] Yes, absolutely.
Arena: It’s interesting; we’re sort of in an era where you get a lot of multiple-time All-Stars. So one of the design things about doing a new uniform every year is that you just think about, if you were that good and you’d made all these All-Star teams, instead of like in the ‘90s when it was the same uniform year after year after year, you sort of build a stable of different uniforms and different jackets. Believe me, they’re like kids — they get into that locker room and they’re as anxious to see these uniforms as you are, as the fans are. They get excited about it.
I’m wondering, though: Given how vocal some of the players have been about the look and the feel of these sleeved uniforms, are you concerned about a change in that response at all? About having someone coming in and, instead of being as excited as a little kid, saying, “I don’t know that I really want to wear that for this giant exhibition game?”
Grancio: [shakes head]
Arena: I have no worries at all.
OK, then. Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you’d like to make sure you let our readers know about before we wrap up?
Grancio: More than anything, just reinforcing that this year’s design is really a reflection of the city. It’s a clean, modern silhouette that continues to display the innovation that we’ve brought to All-Stars in the past, focusing on the production and the embellishments and the shorts. We’re incredibly excited for New Orleans. It’s going to be a great game.
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