Tracing the Evolution of NBA Uniforms

In the sport’s infancy, uniforms didn’t exist - it was played in whatever was available.

In the early 1900s, basketball was becoming a respected sport. It was demonstrated in the 1904 olympics, and was a mainstay of college competitions. As a result, the likes of spalding began providing clothing, which was adorned with dyed colours and letters to differentiate teams.

The first uniforms were bulky, with heavily padded trousers and tights, along with wool quarter-length jerseys. It would take a few decades for the trousers to become shorts, which were intially belted. The first major move towards function came in the adoption of synthetic materials, incorporating satin and polyester for a lighter weight.

It was only in the 60s when the sport actually became uniform, rather than local vendors producing the clothes. As a reflection of the general sportswear fashion of the time, shorts were high and tight. Over the following decades, the jerseys became increasingly fashionable, with designers hired for input as the jerseys were sold to the public. They became commonplace from Hip-Hop to court-side fans.

Just as basketball influenced streetwear, the street would influence the sport. Bizarrely, Micheal Jordan himself kickstarted the change of uniforms when he requested longer shorts. Although the reason for his request is often theorised - from layering his UNC shorts to holding on to the bottom hem - the change seen on the NBA’s biggest star soon became universal.

By the end of the 90s short shorts were completely gone, and many wore oversized clothes to an impractical extent (up to 5XL). That still largely stands, with the shrinking shorts of recent years never quite reaching 70s levels.

Over the years, the NBA has made many (often controversial) attempts to influence on and off-court style. In 1997, they banned shorts below one inch above the knee, and in 2005 infamously implemented a strict formal dress code at league events including items like large jewellery and Timberland boots. For a brief period in 2013, sleeved jerseys were even pushed, rumoured to have been a decision taken to increase advertising space.