The Debut of the Top 11: All-Time NBA Jerseys

This is the beginning of a beautiful thing. Not beautiful in the classic, Jennifer Anniston sense, but more beautiful in the “Ambiguous sports rankings with considerable bias” sense. My goal for Top 11 is for it to be a reoccurring feature on Seattle Sports & Otherwise, in where I pick a particular category and then rank my personal Top 11 of that category. I chose 11 because I couldn’t pick ten. And it stuck. This particular edition will focus on something very near and dear to my heart, the aesthetics of the NBA. I am a strong proponent of the “Look good, play good” mantra. And I can prove its merit. You will never see the Bobcats win a championship (or ten games this season) when they roll out in these. And yes I do mean players that look like Adam Morrison, who has fully embraced his role of looking like a 1970’s bar owner on the Lakers bench. But no more extraneous introduction is necessary, as the launch of the Top 11 is underway.

11. Early 90’s New Jersey Nets folks

This choice is one that may be what some would call, ridiculous. However, the fact is that the early 1990’s New Jersey Nets had a very classic jersey, and also happened to have my all-time favorite player, Drazen Petrovic on that same team. I will admit my obsession with Petrovic is recent, stemming from watching the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on him and Vlade Divac called “Once Brothers”, but also for the fact that Petrovic had an absolutely absurd season in 1991. He averaged 20.6 points a game, while averaging .508 from the field, .444 from the three point line, and .808 from the free throw line, with a positive assist/turnover ratio. You will never see those stats again from anyone not named Kevin Durant or Lebron James and probably not even them. Petrovic was one of the best pure scorers the league has seen, and I happen to “own” his jersey. The reason for the quotations is the fact that I have not received the shipment of the jersey from the borderline illegal Chinese jersey site I got it from. But as for the actual aesthetics of the jersey, they belong on this list trust me. The red, white, and blue card is played perfectly (which I appreciate), and the sleeve striping is classic and represents the simplicity I miss in most NBA uniforms. Solid jersey, legendary player. RIP Drazen.

10. Mid-to-late 1990’s Toronto Raptors

The Classic Jurassics

The definition of a novelty jersey, but one that captures the swag of the early years of Vince Carter perfectly. Carter only wore these for one season, his ’98-’99 NBA Rookie of the Year campaign, but my god he made them look cool. Granted, this was my favorite team as a young tyke for the reason that there was a dinosaur on the logo and I watched Jurassic Park 8 times a day and walked around like a T-Rex in my underwear.But that doesn’t have anything to do with the niceness of these jerseys. Both the purple and the white versions exude greatness, with the lightning pinstripes and bizarre logo and number placement supplementing the idea that there is a velociraptor dribbling a basketball on the jersey. That is ballsy, and gives a big middle finger to unoriginal jerseys of the previous era. The 90’s were some crazy times folks and these jerseys capture that idea better than any.

9. Late 80’s/ Early 90’s Denver Nuggets

Double Rainbow

Very similar story to the above case with more of a classic color scheme to build off of. This jersey is a point of controversy among jersey enthusiasts, as the rainbow striping is either loathed or lauded. I happen to dig it more than Shia Lebeouf dug in “Holes”. What is more concerning to me about these jerseys is that Denver might have the most unassuming skyline of any city ever. It looks like downtown Issaquah more than it looks like a city I want to visit. Regardless, these jerseys are certified fresh in my book. Especially with the location of the front number on that left shoulder, very original. The player also helps sell the jersey, and NBA Hall of Famer Alex English looked great in these duds as he averaged over 20 a game routinely for the Nugz throughout the 80’s. Would love to see the Nuggets from today swap out of their strangely shiny jerseys and move slightly backwards towards these jerseys. We can only hope.

8. 1980’s Atlanta Hawks

Spud Webb and Dominique Wilkins. Two dunking legends, and therefore the jerseys of their prime make this list. Originality, color scheme, and flare make these jerseys classics. And boy did Wilkins look good in them. Dominique was easily a top-ten all time dunker and I am not so sure these jerseys didn’t have something to do with them. The whole orientation of the front being diagonal is both disorienting and swagtastic, as is the red crotch stripe. But red and white always look good, for the same reason that Olajuwon era Rockets jerseys almost made this list, but were replaced with Drazen. The Hawks wore it best though, and relative to their current jerseys (lame), these are leaps and bounds better. After being less enthused than Lebron is with the fourth quarter, I think a dunk contest legend’s jersey deserves to be honored. And would you look at that high top fade at 2:53?

7. 1980’s Portland Trailblazers

My current favorite team of the NBA until the Sonics come back (and they will), gets the nod for having a top rate all time jersey. This jersey has just about everything you could ask for. A rad color scheme, unique striping, and a theme of this post, a player that just looks damn good in the threads. As is the case with Clyde “The Glide” Drexler when he spent his days in the Rose City. Beautiful place, Portland is. But anyways, Drexler was a force in the NBA. All he did in the ’88-89 season was average 27-8-6 and nearly 3 steals. Truly deserving of his Top 50 player in NBA history status, and had a jersey to suit his talents. The lower case font that the first edition of these jerseys came with (have to credit the Blazers on being consistent with their jersey template for the tenure of the franchise) was a big middle finger to the established order of jerseydom, and will probably never be seen again. Classics to be sure.

6. Early/Mid 1990’s Orlando Magic

Those pinstripes are probably the size of my torso on Shaq

Pinstripes folks. Lots of them. Not to mention a rocking color scheme and somehow making a star look like a lower case “A”. I’ve told you once and I’ve told you before that every NBA jersey should have this style of sleeve and collar striping. It just works, and makes the whole thing that much cleaner. Plus Shaq was absolutely electric in his early career with the Magic. When he wasn’t quite as massive but more athletic he was fun to watch without hating him for being on the Lakers. He and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway were quite the mid-90’s duo and these jerseys, along with the white and baby blue editions suited their talents. Too bad Dwight Howard never found his Anfernee (I still can’t get over the fact that his real name is Anfernee, it’s like saying, ‘I like Anthony, but it sounds too smart’), otherwise Orlando could have had basically the same player twice in a decade in the exact situation. But hey, Hedo Turkoglu is a heck of a player.

5. 1970’s Washington Bullets

Yes, those crazy horizontal striped jerseys that are the inspiration for the current (and fresh) Wizards jerseys. Big upgrade from these by the way. But the Bullets jerseys from long ago took some convincing in my head, but after hearing about the most famous player that wore them, Wes Unseld, these are some all-time great threads. Wes Unseld was drafted in 1968, and retired in 1981. That’s 23 seasons. At the rate I am going I don’t know if I am going to live to be 23 and this guy played basketball at the highest level for that long. Unseld was not the most athletic specimen at 6’7 and nearly 250 pounds, but embodied the “Big Mofo” strategy to perfection, averaging 14 rebounds a game over his 23 year career. That’s nuts. As are the jerseys, which are basically one of a kind. But also plenty patriotic being in our nation’s capital, which makes them that much better. They took on the flag as the idea for the jersey and made it happen. And I do love America. I will be investing in a pair of Rex-Kwon Do pants very shortly to prove it. Absolutely love these jerseys and they are the inspiration for my pledge class’ jerseys this year.

4. 1980’s-90’s Los Angeles Lakers

Being taught to hate the Lakers growing up, this is a tough call. But one that really can’t be argued. The Lakers are a very classy franchise, and this era of jerseys exude that fact. Magic Johnson looked tremendous in these threads as did the numerous great players that the Lake show had to offer in this era. Byron Scott, Michael Cooper, James Worthy, and several others. “Showtime” was only amplified by the cuts the Lakers put on. The white shadow effect is an upgrade from what the current Lakers template is (although the Sunday Whites are tremendous). And the fact that a 6’9 point guard led this team to NBA Championships is just too cool to me. He could play center for god’s sakes and he is out there being a floor general. Plus, notice the sleeve striping? There is a method to my madness folks. And I wouldn’t mind the NBA forcing short shorts to be worn on retro nights, because that is part of the feeling of nostalgia when you look at retro uniforms, and a retro night can’t really replicate that. See the recent Memphis Grizzlies throwbacks. Plus purple and gold is never a bad thing.

3. Late 1980’s/Early 1990’s Seattle Supersonics

It brings me great pleasure to put this here. Doing so required a saddening amount of looking through old Sonics pictures and videos of Payton to Kemp alley oops. The Sonics were one of the NBA’s most fun teams to watch at this point in their history, as Payton and Kemp were two of the league’s most exciting young players. I have the Kemp jersey from this era at home and oh boy is it fresh. Green and gold look great and always have and especially so on those two. I have a talking Gary Payton bobblehead at my house, and I can recite every one of his three lines he has. It’s like that. I can’t watch an NBA game without thinking about the Sonics and these jerseys represent a large chunk of their great history. These jerseys make me think of listening to Kevin Calabro, and how I cried when my mom told me they traded Gary Payton for some clown named Ray Allen, and then seeing Kevin Durant’s last game as a Sonic. It hurts man, it really does. But back to aesthetics and not emotions. These are some great jerseys. Sleeve striping, very straight forward design but still done in a creative way with clear font and numerical design. The white goes great against the gold and green and was recreated nicely for the last set of jerseys that the Sonics wore back in the mid 2000’s. Playing in front of an electric and raucous KeyArena crowd, these jerseys embodied the swagger and top-tier squad the Supes had every year. Long live the 41 years.

2. 1980’s/90’s/2000’s Chicago Bulls

Probably the most iconic uniform in basketball. Indicative of the dominance of the Bulls organization throughout the Jordan era, these jerseys really have not changed for almost 30 years. That is incredible for an organization to not give into the pressure to give in and “modernize” AKA “get worse” in the uniform department. Teams like the Pistons, who had iconic uniforms, have since given into the idea that you need shoulder stripes instead of collar and sleeve stripes, should see what the Bulls have done to tamper with their jerseys. Nothing. Add another classic pinstripe alternate and a black jersey that still stays within the color scheme of the organization and you have the look of class. Plus you have the greatest NBA player of all time wearing them, that kind of helps. Nobody pulled it off like MJ, as the Bulls still make bank off his jersey sales. But even post-Jordan, the jerseys still look great. Kirk Hinrich looked good in these. And Derrick Rose pulls it off great now too as the newest Chicago MVP has taken on the iconic jersey look to its next level. These jerseys have rocked for nearly three decades and that alone puts them near the top of the list.

1. Late 1960’s/Early 70’s Golden State Warriors

The City. The bold claim the jersey had was enough to deserve consideration. But add a basic yet perfect color scheme and a damn Train Car turned into back number and you have the greatest NBA jersey of all time. You can fight me on this, but you won’t win. Find a jersey that embraces originality and enough pride in a city to embrace its two biggest features as integral parts of the jersey…and looked that good. You won’t find one. It makes a statement while being completely reasonable. The current Warriors cuts that look back at this jersey are the best in the NBA at the moment because they pay homage to this version. Rick Barry and his underhand, granny style free throw shots donned these jerseys and that alone should give them enough street cred to bounce the rest of the competition. And need I remind you, sleeve striping. The absolute key to an all-time jersey. The only knock is the amount of empty space on the back of the jersey, but such is life when you choose to put a cable car on the back of your jersey. Winning.

There you have it folks. The longest post in Seattle S&O history by my count, and if you stayed with me through all of it I commend you. At least you looked at the pictures and I appreciate that. It’s not cool because it’s “retro”, its cool because its cool. No current NBA jersey belongs on this list because they can’t hang with the originality of these 11 and the ones that could have made the list.


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