Allan Houston, who joined the National Basketball Association as it moved away from short shorts, says the latest uniform change might lead to another sports fashion statement.
The Golden State Warriors tonight will debut what they are calling the NBA’s first modern short-sleeve jersey when they host the San Antonio Spurs, spurning the sleeveless outfits almost universally worn throughout basketball.
“It’s going to be all or nothing,” said Houston, the New York Knicks’ assistant general manager who retired as a player after 12 seasons in 2005. “People are going to really embrace it or be like, ‘Man, I don’t want any part of it.’”
The Oakland, California-based Warriors will sport the new jerseys made by Adidas AG (ADS) twice more this season. Players and sports marketing analysts said short sleeves could be anything from a style game-changer to simply a sales stunt.
Wearing above-the-knee shorts, Houston entered the NBA with the Detroit Pistons in 1993, the same season as Chris Webber, who helped make popular a longer-legged look with the University of Michigan team known as the Fab Five. It wasn’t long before the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan started wearing longer shorts and other teams followed, Houston said.
“The younger guys set the trends and set the market,” Houston said in an interview. “If they embrace it and everybody likes it, then it could catch.”
The yellow shirts, form-fitting around the arms, have blue Warriors lettering and striping at the neck and down the sides. A white image of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is on the front.
The short-sleeved jerseys, constructed of tight-fitting stretchy fabric, will be provided by Adidas to some college teams and the McDonald’s All-America Game for top high-school players.
“Having a short-sleeved fan jersey makes more sense than the current design,” said William Sutton, a sports-marketing consultant to the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns of the NBA and founding director of the sport and entertainment masters of business administration program at the University of South Florida. “There is room for a new jersey style, although the fans would probably want a less form-fitting version.”
The Warriors’ jerseys, both with and without sleeves, are available on the team’s website for $110. Adidas, the NBA’s official uniform supplier since 2006, is in talks with other teams in the league about short-sleeved tops, though it won’t say which ones, said spokeswoman Madeline Breskin.
The short-sleeved tops probably will end up as alternates, which are frequently used by teams in all four major U.S. sports to generate merchandise sales, said John Horan, founder of Sporting Goods Intelligence, a Glen Mills, Pennsylvania-based company that follows the industry.
“Whether it’s going to create a sea change in the way people look at basketball uniforms, I wouldn’t see it being that,” Horan said in a telephone interview.
Though short-sleeved jerseys have been uncommon, they are not unheard of in the NBA, college and the high school game. The Boston Celtics of the 1940s wore short sleeves; Hall of Fame player and coach Lenny Wilkens was among those who donned them at Providence College in the late 1950s, and the University of Evansville in Indiana used tops with sleeves for much of the last half-century, most recently as throwback uniforms.
Knicks guard Iman Shumpert said in an interview last week that he’s always been a “no-sleeve guy” and had yet to see the Warriors’ new tops. A native of Oak Park, Illinois, the only team Shumpert said he ever saw wear short sleeves was Proviso East High School in nearby Maywood, Illinois.
“This is the first year we’re not wearing the sleeves actually, and we got a lot of flak about that,” Anthony Crespo, the assistant principal of athletics at Proviso East, said in a telephone interview. “We’ve had them since we played our first game in 1910.”
A new contract with Nike Inc. (NKE:US)’s Jordan Brand, which doesn’t offer short sleeves, and young players’ interest in a different look led to the change, Crespo said.
Rick Welts, the Warriors’ president and chief operating officer, said at a news conference to unveil the new jerseys that the Warriors were a natural to be the first to wear them because “innovation is ingrained in our culture” since Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team in 2010.
Harrison Barnes, the Warriors forward who tested the new jersey for Adidas and modeled it at an introductory news conference, said he’s among players who wear T-shirts during practice.
“It fits like a glove and doesn’t restrict your shooting at all,” said Barnes, a rookie averaging 9.1 points per game.
Houston, a two-time All-Star, averaged 17.3 points per game and his 1,305 3-pointers rank 28th in NBA history. He smiled when asked if players might worry about how the short-sleeved jerseys will affect their shooting touch.
“If you’re a shooter and you’re worried about your shirt, then you’re not a shooter,” Houston said.
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