How do NBA Teams Decide what Jersey to Wear?


Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Gone are the simple old days of the home team wearing white and the road team wearing their alternate colours, or in the cases of those special franchises like the Lakers and their globally iconic Gold jerseys. Now teams have multiple different jersey’s per season, check out our guide to all the details here. It’s always intrigued me how the decisions are made as to which one they will be playing in. I remember during the Cleveland vs Warriors run of NBA Finals the Cavs won game 5 in 2016 wearing their alternate sleeved black Jersey and there was talk of them seeing it as lucky and wanting to wear in for the next game also. Can coaches and players really decide this? 

How do NBA teams decide what Jersey to wear? Since Nike took over the manufacturer deal for the NBA in 2017, traditional use of Home and Road jerseys has been stopped. Now each team will have at least 4 jerseys in rotation during a season. Primarily; Association, Icon, Statement and City. During the 82-game regular season each team is given a master schedule of which jersey’s they should wear for what game – this covers the whole season. This schedule comes direct from the NBA office and is designed not only to avoid colour clashes, but to maximise market exposure for each jersey style throughout the regular NBA season.  

All sounds a bit corporate right? In many ways it is, but it does give clarity and takes another decision away from the players and coaches so they can just focus on playing the game. With the NBA’s growth over the last 20 years it’s not a surprise that it’s become a multifaceted global entity, but what Jersey a team wears doesn’t affect the on-court product. What about the playoffs though? Elite athletes are known to be superstitious and routine oriented, do players have any say into the choice of jersey for those all-important post season games? 

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When were Home and Road NBA Jersey’s stopped? 

Prior to 2017 when Adidas had the manufacturers contract with the NBA the traditional white or light ‘Home’ and darker coloured ‘Road’ jersey were staples of the NBA world. You could almost always tell which team was at home simply by seeing the colour of their jersey. Since that deal moved over to Nike in 2017 that has all changed. The NBA decided to abolish the terms ‘Home’ and ‘Road’, introducing new terminology and allowing more freedom for the jersey’s to be worn at home or on the road regardless of colour. Of course, as discussed above, this isn’t a freedom the teams themselves can exercise. 

In an interview for the Boston Herald in 2018 which can be found here. Boston Celtics equipment co-ordinator, John Connor, explains the change. 

The league gives us a master schedule. We put it on the wall and we just give out what’s on the wall. We get the schedule and what we’re supposed to wear from the league, and it’s for the whole year. It used to be Paul Pierce saying, ‘Hey, let’s wear the green/black ones.’ Not anymore. The players can’t control it.

John Connor, Celtics Equipment Coordinator 2018. 

This schedule can be viewed, searched and filtered by anyone at Locker Vision. This is an official NBA site that allows you to see what jersey a given team will be wearing in any matchup for the entire regular season. 

Here you can see the jersey allocations for Game Week 26 of the 2019/20 season.

By clicking on the “Game Outfitting” tab you can see on the right of the above screen shot, you are able to see a visual of everything the team will be officially wearing in that game, from Warm Ups, Towels and Caps to the court colouring and design as pictured below.

Interestingly John Connor goes on to say that Nike themselves have a big input to how the uniforms ultimately look on court.

“They changed the tight colors, too, Nike will call out, like, they want green tights with the green uniforms or white tights with green uniforms, black tights on white. They actually script for like 50 percent of the games what everything has to be. It’s a lot more restrictive.”

Again it’s hard to reconcile this with some of the fashion mavericks in the league today like Russell Westbrook, but I guess those guys just have to find other ways to express their personality on the court, in their sneakers and through their play.

What are the Nike NBA Jersey’s called?

Association Jerseys: Traditionally NBA teams used to wear ‘Home Whites’, this meant that the home team used to always wear their White ‘Home’ jersey when playing in front of their own fans, there was a few notable exceptions such as the Lakers Gold ‘Home’ jersey.

Icon Jerseys: The old ‘Road’ jerseys were also rebranded as ‘Icon Jerseys’. These are the primary colour jerseys that are often most closely associated with teams, such as the Chicago Bulls in Red, the San Antonio Spurs in Black.

Statement Jerseys: The Statement jersey is the team’s opportunity to make a bold pitch about what the organisation represents, for each team these jerseys are supposed to express the spirit of the current roster.

City Jerseys: One of the most successful additions to the NBA jersey line up has been the addition of the City jerseys, these are a celebration of either the city/town/state where the team resides.

Teams selected to play in a prestigious Christmas Day game, will also have a Christmas Day jersey.

Do teams choose their own Jersey’s in the Playoffs?

Back in 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by Lebron James, faced off against the 73-win Golden State Warriors. Down 3-1 the Cavs faced an elimination game on the road. Wearing their alternate black sleeved jersey’s, they turned things around, pulling the game back, staving off elimination and forcing a game 6 (and ultimately a game 7 and the title) at home. In between the games there was lots of talk of the Cavs wanting to wear the black road jersey again for game 6. It was seen as lucky by some of the players. The league ultimately put a stop to this, saying the Cavs couldn’t wear a designated road jersey at home. Fast forward a few years and the NBA and Nike have now scrapped home and away designated jerseys. So, can NBA teams choose their jersey in the playoffs now? The short answer to this is no, once the playoff matches are confirmed the NBA office issues an updated Jersey schedule. This can also be found on Locker Vision, once the Playoff brackets are set.

What do the official NBA rules say about jerseys?

According to the official NBA rules for the 2019/20 season which can be viewed here. Teams are still required to wear light coloured jerseys at home, with the visitors in dark jerseys. You can see the full detail below.

Section VI—Uniforms (Players Jerseys)
a. Each player shall be numbered on the front and back of his jersey with a number contrasting with the color of the
b. Each number must be no less than ¾” in height on the front and 6” on the Each player shall have his surname affixed to the back of his game jersey in letters at least 2½” in height. Some exceptions to the front number height and surname may exist from time to time.
c. The home team shall wear light color jerseys, and the visitors dark jerseys unless otherwise For neutral court games and doubleheaders, the second team named in the official schedule shall be regarded as the home team and shall wear the light colored jerseys.

I’m sure the rule book will catch up soon!

Louis

I fell in love with Basketball when I was about 9 years old. Since then I have played on, coached and organised many teams. I've followed the NBA ever since. With no home team I've always rooted for teams and players I like the style of. The last 2 decades that's meant Greg Popoviches Spurs for the most part. My favourite NBA podcasts are The Lowe Post, Open Floor and The Ringers "The Mismatch".

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