It's easy to tell when a jersey is good and pleasing on the eyes, but sometimes it's hard to actually put into words why that jersey is so great. Often, it's because the jersey is different than anything else that's ever been created. It might have a new color scheme that hasn't been explored yet or a totally unique font that no other team has decided to try. There's been a lot of jerseys that have tried something new and failed miserably. In fact, there have been many more mistakes than successes. But, teams are still trying new ideas and trying to come up with the next best-seller.
Even though many great jerseys have been different than others, there are still plenty on this list that are older and timeless. Sometimes there's nothing better than an old classic. Simplicity and consistency are words that many designers live by, and if you look at logos for food and businesses, you'll see that many of the most recognizable ones aren't over-filled with random things. Also, the simpler and more subtle jerseys are often more acceptable and are better conversation starters in public places.
So, let's look through the 15 best-looking jerseys in NBA history.
15 Portland Trail Blazers 1992-1997
The red makes such a difference here. If there was less red or more red, this jersey would either be really boring, or so bright that you would have to close your eyes each time you looked at it. Thankfully, whoever designed this jersey made the correct choice to find a balance. The lettering is smooth, yet looks like something that can be rough like a trail blazer would. The lowercase team name on the front contrasts well with the capital player name on the back. It gives this jersey some personality and helps it stand out. The two stripes are fantastic also. I’m so used to Adidas’ three-stripe logo, that I almost thought this was weird. But, after inspecting it, I realized that it’s visually pleasing and contrasts the black body of the jersey very well. All in all, this was a little different than many other jerseys at the time and has been celebrated as such.
14 Orlando Magic 1989-1998
This is the only jersey on this list with pinstripes and for good reason. Normally, I’m not a big fan of them, but they work well with this jersey. It’s not enough that the pinstripes are vertical, the collar and outline of the armholes have one light blue stripe as well. The blue is the best part of this uniform. Any other color would be strange to look at. I also really enjoy the star replacing the “A” in “Magic.” Similar to the San Antonio Spurs later on this list, this choice adds a bit of fun to a fairly serious uniform. If I didn’t know what their name was, I would think they were the “mob” or the “mafia.” Although the font is a little goofy, and sort of looks too cartoonish, what other choices are there? Shaq and his teammates looked great in them and they were much different than any other uniforms at the time.
13 Washington Wizards 2011-Present
These jerseys are awesome. They have a throwback feel of all sorts of older Washington uniforms. This looks like it could have been worn in the 80s. I think jerseys in the 90s and earlier had so much personality to them. None of them looked like another team’s jersey. Colors were bright and vibrant. Logos were extravagant. These current jerseys at least bring the colors back a little bit. Although there’s just a small Wizards logo on the back, near the neck area, there’s enough to communicate what team it is to somebody who doesn’t know. Also, this is a fairly simple look. There’s just enough personality and charm that make these jerseys and nice mixture between too much and too little. Hopefully the Wizards keep these for another decade and more teams make the choice to compromise between old and new.
12 Vancouver Grizzlies 1995-2001
The only time that this jersey would have been popular was the 90s. If a team introduced a turquoise jersey with red, brown, and yellow parts today, they would be laughed out of the league or, at the least, have the lowest-selling jersey in the league. However, this jersey was embraced in the 90s and I actually don’t mind it at all. I can’t think think of another team that was using this color at the time other than the Charlotte Hornets, but this one was still different. The trim on this uniform is otherworldly. It looks like a rug that would be in a Phoenix house, not in a Vancouver one. The “Grizzlies” in the middle looks like it would fit in perfectly in Jurassic Park. I love the yellow trim around the numbers. It doesn’t really stand out, but if it were a deeper shade, it would overshadow the rest of the uniform and make it ugly. I wouldn’t mind if the Memphis Grizzlies broke these out next season for a game.
11 Houston Rockets 1995-2003
I wish that the Rockets would go back to something like this. Their current uniforms are so boring and dull. These throwbacks give the Rockets a little bit of personality and fun that they don’t currently have. First, the thick stripes make the jersey pop out. This isn’t subtle or understated. This jersey is out there. Also, this logo is perfect. The font of “Rockets” is perfect and it fits just right in the middle of the uniform. The basketball doing its best impression of a moon was a smart idea, and the rocket orbiting the moon looks mad and ready to compete. Quite frankly, there are too many teams with boring, modernized jerseys that don’t have any of the charm that was part of the 90s. I would love to see James Harden and company rocking these much more often, rather than their current boring red and white ensemble.
10 San Antonio Spurs 1989-Present
There aren’t many jerseys that perfectly encapsulate a team’s mindset better than the San Antonio Spurs. This is a fairly simple design, with a fairly simple color scheme. Black, white, and gray might not be any fashion designer’s first choice, but these jerseys can pull it off. The Spurs franchise is somewhat under-the-radar and understated, so this uniform matches up with them perfectly. So many legends have worn this jersey. Obviously Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and David Robinson are the first who come to mind. Everybody seems to look good in it. The spur that is used as the “U” in “Spurs” gives it a little bit of personality, but is still very no-nonsense. These uniforms are approaching the 30-year mark, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue for another 30 years. I’m not much of a jersey-wearer, but these are subtle enough and can be worn pretty much wherever.
9 Phoenix Suns 1992-2001
These jerseys are so cool. Similar to the Toronto Raptors jersey from the late 90s, the Phoenix Suns took the idea of a sun quite literally. The basketball sun streaking across the body of the jersey to symbolize a sunrise was such a great idea. The streak begins with purple and eventually transitions into an orange explosion, which is smart. Overall, I also really enjoy that everything that is going on in the jersey is close together. It’s not spaced out with something here and there, but instead keeps the spacing small. Normally this might cause some clutter while your eyes search out what to look for first, but the left-to-right movement and order of everything does its job well. The white jerseys are great too. The Suns redesigned their current jerseys to a modern-day look influenced by this 90s one, but without an actual sun, I think these are Phoenix’s best one.
8 Chicago Bulls 1985-Present
This is one of the longer-lasting jerseys on this list and for good reason. It’s one of the most recognizable uniforms in the NBA and, like many entries on this list, looks better than others due to its simple design. The red is bright, yet bold enough to make a “don’t mess with us” statement. The secondary black for the number and the “Bulls” pops out wonderfully. Also, the number and it's location are properly measured so that one doesn’t stand out over the other. It’s congruent and very even all around. Another great choice was to put a white outline around the number, the location, the armholes, and the collar. Altogether, this is one of the best jerseys on this list and has managed to stand the test of time. Hopefully this design continues to be the choice of the Bulls for years to come and more legends can be seen wearing this uniform.
7 Detroit Pistons 1985-1996
Again, one of the simpler jerseys in NBA history makes an appearance on this list. This Pistons ensemble was around during the Bad Boys era and represented that era and those teams perfectly. These uniforms are no-nonsense and don’t have the flash that many other entries on this list do, but that’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with some simplicity, when your team was as good as the late 80s Detroit Pistons. This uniform is bold and gritty, perfectly encapsulating their style of play. Sadly, the Pistons made a change to the horrendous dark teal getups right after these and all their intimidation was gone. After all, who is going to be scared of a team running at you while looking like a weird shade of vomit? Thankfully, the Pistons moved away from those monstrosities and are currently back with a red, white, and blue scheme that harkens back to the Pistons of old.
6 Toronto Raptors 1995-1999
Oh boy, these were ridiculous. They perfectly sum up the cartoon influence on so many jerseys from the 90s. As I’ve mentioned before, I love the over-the-top, extravagant jerseys. They’re always what I pick my team to wear in basketball video games. If I ever play as the Raptors, this is the jersey that I will choose. These jerseys have it all. There’s the giant raptor dribbling a basketball, the teeth design where the player’s name goes, and the jagged stripes running up and down. Toronto really wanted every other franchise to know that they were the Raptors. Every part of this jersey screams: “RAPTOR!” Not to mention that dinosaur is wearing its own Raptors jersey. It also has basketball shoes and evidently some pretty great handles. The purple away ones are a little bit too crazy for my taste, but they’re still better than a lot of current jerseys.
5 Denver Nuggets 1982-1992
These uniforms are pretty much the epitome of flamboyant. Most people either love them or hate them. I’m in the first category. I love these. As evidenced by some of the other choices on this list, the more colorful and extravagant, the better. These jerseys are as extravagant as it gets. It has a look of an old arcade game. The font looks like it could be in Donkey Kong or another game. It’s blocky and there’s no spacing in between the letters. The idea to have a mixture of capital and lowercase letters was a nice touch as well. Of course, I can’t talk about these uniforms without mentioning the random rainbow stripe in the middle. Although it admittedly doesn’t make a lot of sense, I like that this uniform took a chance with something that likely divided fans of the Nuggets. This may be the goofiest entry, but it’s one of the most memorable.
4 New Jersey Nets 1972-1981
Even though the capital of America isn’t in New Jersey, it’s one the oldest states and has all sorts of historical significance. So, its’ not a surprise that this jersey was chock-full of American influences. The colors scheme matches the American flag, with a white base, red lettering, blue and red stripes, and of course, some white stars on the side. This is one of the jerseys that isn’t congruent at all. Usually, I’m a big fan of being even and congruent design, but in this case, I like that the “Nets” and the number is pushed to the left, while the big red stripe takes up a bunch of room on the right side. There’s no stripe or stars on the left side, so it’s smart that New Jersey only put “Nets” instead of “New Jersey,” which would have taken up too much room. Again, it’s something different and that makes this jersey good enough to be on our list.
3 Golden State Warriors 2011-Present
This jersey is the best modern one, period. It’s got some color to it. The blue and yellow is a perfect combination and the contrast pops the logo and the team name. I love that the whole team name is included on the front. Most teams only have their location or the name. Since Golden State uses both, and has the full “Golden State Warriors” displayed, this idea ties back to the city and makes it the most important part of the jersey. Also, the Golden Gate Bridge was a great idea. Whoever came up with putting that on it deserves a large raise. Again, it ties back to one of the most noticeable monuments of the city. This idea is excellent and it would be cool if more teams did that. Seeing the Statue of Liberty on the Knicks or the Sears Tower on the Bulls uniform would be fantastic. Props to the Warriors for coming up with an instant classic.
2 Los Angeles Lakers 1976-2000
This uniform is classic. It’s simple, even though the Lakers were one of the flashier teams. Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and more legends have worn this jersey and represented such a distinguished franchise. The purple and white trim is a great contrast to the bright yellow body of the jersey. It really makes the collar and armholes pop. What also pops on these jerseys is the 3D effect of the numbers on the front and back. Most of the other uniforms have their numbers outlined with the team’s other color. Some even have the numbers with no outline at all. The Lakers decided to be different and put a white shadow to the right of the purple numbers. All in all, it makes this uniform look older and, even though it was worn for 24 years, it made its way to 2000. I like today’s Lakers uniforms too, but they don’t have the signature number shadow.
1 Boston Celtics 1946-Present
This is the jersey that has been around the longest and for good reason. Can somebody tell me what needs to change on this jersey? I can’t think of anything. It might be a little simpler than most entries on this list, but there’s nothing wrong with a streamlined, classic design. Similar to the Lakers jersey of the 80s and 90s, this Celtics design makes the most out of minimal choices. The font is basic, but stands the test of time. It’s bold and noticeable. It’s not in the back or in a corner. It’s right in front and it shows what matters the most. The number is also bold, but in a different idea, it doesn’t have any outline or shadow that so many other uniforms have. It looks a little weird and almost gets swallowed up, but the great contrast between the green and the white makes it so it doesn’t. This design has lasted forever and hopefully will continue to be the Celtics’ choice of jersey.
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