Today, the basketball jersey is as much a style choice as it is a practical one for the court. You could even argue that it has transcended the sport, becoming streetwear that is worn not just to signify your love for the game, a team, or a player, but to showcase your own sense of panache.
But it wasn’t always like that.
As you delve into the history of basketball jerseys, you’ll see how the jerseys of old have evolved into what they are now and how that transformation has led to jerseys becoming iconic streetwear pieces.
The Early Days
Throughout the game’s formative years in the late 1890s through to the 1910s, the concept of a “basketball jersey” didn’t even exist. Players typically wore their gym clothes – not even color-coordinating with other team members, in some cases it was woolen undershirts and loose-fitting trousers.
That changed in the 1920s when spectators could see the first example of something akin to a uniform in the sport. But even then, jerseys were nothing like they are now. Players would wear mid-length shorts, similar to those worn today, but the jersey resembled a baby’s onesie more than the stylish streetwear we see today. They even had fasteners in the crotch area so they didn’t come untucked during a game.
As the 1940s arrived, the game’s uniforms were starting to evolve, and the wider cultural landscape started to feel the impact. Take Converse’s role in popularizing the classic Chuck Taylor shoes. Those shoes are stylishly iconic today. But jerseys were a little slower in terms of becoming something somebody would want to wear outside the court. Still, the 1940s brought an important innovation – the replacement of wool with synthetic materials like nylon or polyester.
Pictures from that era showcase jerseys that are somewhat familiar in design, but still bland compared to what we have today. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s that the iconic jersey would rise up.
The Rise of Iconic Jerseys
The 1960s (and 1970s) brought something to basketball jerseys that hadn’t really been present before – an explosion of color. Vibrancy was the name of the game, with jerseys commonly featuring huge team logos and extra design flourishes. They weren’t quite streetwear (yet) but they were on their way to becoming stylish garments that spoke to the culture surrounding the game.
Still, the biggest impact on basketball jerseys came from the player who likely had the most significant effect on the game as a whole – Michael Jordan.
In 1987, Jordan asked the president of Champion – then the manufacturers of NBA kits – if they could make longer shorts so he’d be able to grab onto the material when he felt out of breath. Champion delivered the next year. And in doing so, they laid the foundations for an evolution in basketball clothing toward a baggier style that became in vogue during the 1990s.
When you think about that classic era of the NBA, iconic jerseys spring to mind. The black Chicago Bulls jerseys with their huge red lettering. Blue and gold LA Lakers jerseys with the team’s logos emblazoned on the front. Basketball jerseys were no longer solely uniforms. They were statements, both for the teams that wore them and the fans who supported those teams.
Basketball Jerseys Meets Streetwear
Around this time, basketball jerseys became synonymous with streetwear, especially in the black community. Loose-fitting clothing was all the rage the late 1990s and early 2000s, leading to tons of celebrities either wearing oversized jerseys alone or wearing them on top of loose t-shirts.
Combined with caps, beanies, and chains, basketball jerseys became fashion statements – a representation of the streets as well as a sport. The jersey had transcended the sport.
Just think about the celebrities who sport basketball jerseys today. Snoop Dogg is often seen with his Lakers jersey, and even Rihanna has been spotted out and about wearing a Miami Heat top. Drake, Jay-Z, Travis Scott, Miley Cyrus, and so many more wear jerseys almost as part of their “uniform,” drawing from the culture in the 1990s inspiring people today to treat their jerseys as the art they truly are.
Jerseys Are Art – And So Are Hoop Dream Studios’ Designs
If basketball jerseys had never evolved from the heavy woolen designs of yesteryear, it would be impossible to think of them as streetwear today. But they did evolve. They become sleeker. Cooler. Hipper. They now represent both the passion you have for the game and your love of fashion that looks the part and speaks to your community.
Jerseys are art. So too are the custom hoops and basketballs made by Hoop Dream Studios. Like the modern basketball jersey, our art both transcends and pays respect to the game and the players who make it what it is. Talk to us today and place a custom order for a hoop that is every bit as stylish as the jersey on your back.