When it comes to fashion and sports, the NBA is at the forefront. When David Stern implemented the NBA dress code in 2005, he unwittingly ushered in a new era of fashion-conscious players who used the dress code as an opportunity to have fun and play dress-up (Hey, it’s not just for women!) From Russell Westbrook to Dwyane Wade to James Harden; players feel like they’re walking the runway whenever they enter an arena.
If only those players could have input on some of the jerseys they’ve worn over the years.
Let’s be honest, some of the uniforms that players have donned have been downright hideous. Some of these uniforms have been one-off events to celebrate special occasions such as Christmas or Military Appreciation Night; but others have been the team’s actual uniforms for a season or multiple seasons. You would think that just designing a jersey with a team name, player name, number, and logo would be simple; but as you’ll see below nothing in the design world is simple. We’re talking about Tetris-like skylines, Jurassic Park-inspired dinosaurs, and all-orange kits that have made their way onto an NBA court. And let’s not forget those damned sleeved jerseys (actually, let’s please forget those sleeved jerseys).
The NBA just celebrated its 71st birthday so there have been lots of jerseys to choose from but these are the best of the best and by that I really mean the worst of the worst. Here are the top 20 ugliest NBA jerseys we can’t believe they made their players wear.
20 Charlotte’s NASCAR Uniforms
The then-Bobcats, now-Hornets are the NBA’s newest franchise so they don’t have a lengthy list of terrible uniforms but these NASCAR-inspired ones really stick out. Yes, North Carolina is the unofficial home of NASCAR but it’s not like the demographics of NBA fans closely resemble that of NASCAR fans. The checkered pattern down the sides of both the jerseys and shorts likely made for a halftime game of Checkers while the team was in route to getting blown out in most games during that 2010-11 season. You can pay homage to the local elements with your jerseys, just don’t overdo it like Charlotte did that year. They seemed to learn their lesson in later years as they ditched the full-length checkered pattern and replaced it with a simple checkered patch along with the Bobcats logo…Sometimes less is more.
19 Bulls’ Green Jerseys
When it comes to green and the NBA, the first name that pops into mind is the Celtics. But you also have the Milwaukee Bucks and Seattle fans would be sure to mention the Supersonics as well. At no point, does one ever associate green with the Chicago Bulls and I wish the Bulls’ designers kept it that way. Chicago has worn these green unis for both St. Patrick’s Day and for the NBA’s Go Green initiative and it has caused confusion among NBA fans. At one point the Bulls even played at Boston in these green uniforms while the Celtics wore their home whites and, if you are like me, you had to do a double-take to figure out who is who.
It’s not that the jerseys are ugly, but they just seem inappropriate for a team whose colors are normally red, black, and white. It could have been worst for Chicago; I mean, it’s not like they dyed the Chicago River green or anything…wait what?
18 Vancouver Grizzlies Jerseys
Perhaps the only thing worse than the play of the Vancouver Grizzlies during the 1990s were their God-awful jerseys. This is the real reason that Steve Francis looked like someone stole his dog on draft day when he was selected by the team as he didn’t want to be seen in these kits. I’m not sure how to describe the color of the uniform but it’s thankfully not one we have seen on a jersey since then. The worst part of these uniforms has to be the lining which has some sort of pattern consisting of symbols that no one can quite make out. The lining pattern reminds me of the waistband in a pair of boxers and like a pair of boxers, these uniforms were best unseen.
When the NBA finally realized how bad these uniforms were, they moved the team from Vancouver to Memphis despite the lack of bears in Tennessee. Any reason to come up with new jerseys sufficed and, thus, we got the Memphis Grizzlies.
17 Nets' Acid-Washed Blue Jerseys
After posting the league’s worst record the year before, the Nets attempted to move into a new era with the selection of Derrick Coleman as the first overall draft pick and with new uniforms. Coleman would be the Rookie of the Year with the Nets and ended up far more successful than these hideous blue uniforms which, thankfully, lasted just one season. Instead of sticking with just solid blue, which would have been a much better option, the designers tried to implement some sort of acid-washed color to the unis. The Nets always were innovative with their uniforms and their old ABA jerseys were mirrored after the red, white, and blue ABA basketball; however, these uniforms go down as one of the (many) mistakes in Nets franchise history.
16 Raptors Camo Jerseys
The NBA was the last major sports league to go with camouflage uniforms and they debuted in the 2011-12 season. The Spurs often rock the camo jerseys today but the Raptors were the first to don them 5 years ago. They were part of the franchise’s Canadian Forces Night which was a tribute to the Canadian military so they were unquestionably for a good cause. However, a good cause doesn’t necessarily mean a good design and to make things worse, some Raptors even wore camo shoes to match the jerseys. Perhaps if the Raptors had just put their logo on the front, instead of their team name like the Spurs did, then these would have came out better. The reigning kings of camo jerseys have to be the Michigan State Spartans who rocked the jerseys at the Carrier Classis in 2011.
15 Memphis' Tams Throwbacks
You remember when you played basketball in elementary school and when you showed up to a game, you realized that your team had the same colored jersey as the other team? That forced one of you to switch to your alternate jerseys which never matched the shorts you were wearing. That’s what these Grizzlies’ throwbacks remind me of with their gold jerseys and green shorts. Gold and green only works with the Packers and they have the colors flipped with their kits. These uniforms pay homage to the Memphis Tams which were an ABA team during the 1970s. Perhaps this was fashionable in the 70s but it looks amateurish in the 21st century. The Tams would eventually give way to the Memphis Sounds and their throwbacks would be on anyone’s list of the best jerseys in NBA history.
14 Thunder 2012 Alternate Jerseys
OKC wasn’t the first team to have vertical lettering on their jerseys; they just did it in the worst way. They have Thunder going vertically on the front of plain navy blue jerseys and then OKC is vertical on the sides of their shorts. Perhaps a better background would have made these more aesthetically-pleasing but without the lettering they just look like soccer jerseys for a bunch of 10-year-olds. The lettering just makes the uniforms look asymmetrical as opposed to if it was sprawled horizontally like on most other uniforms. Maybe if the shorts matched each other on both sides those would look better but one side has OKC vertically and the other has the OKC logo horizontally. With how smooth the Thunder’s orange alternate jerseys are, they should permanently ditch these vertical duds in favor of more games in those.
13 Rockets’ Clutch City Jerseys
First of all, the Rockets haven’t been clutch in over 20 years as they have not appeared in an NBA Finals since 1995. Also, where as the Pelicans’ use of NOLA or the Pistons’ use of “Motor City” applies to the entire respective city; Clutch City really only refers to the basketball team so it doesn’t have as broad of an appeal. Space City would have been more applicable as the team name is the Rockets after all. As for the actual look of the jerseys, there’s something very Ronald McDonald-esque about them. All that’s missing is the red-striped socks or arm sleeve and these would be full-on clown uniforms. Like many of the players in the recent NBA draft, these Clutch City jerseys were also one-and-done.
12 76ers’ Early 90s Jerseys
All it took was one year of Charles Barkley playing in these jerseys for him to then demand a trade. The streaking blue splash with the tri-colored stars takes me back to NBC’s “The More You Know” PSA. The stars seem to overpower the “Philadelphia” that’s in plain font and plastered above “Sixers.” Both the home and road jerseys had this repulsive design with the away jerseys red with white font. The team also included the blue splash on the shorts but they smartly put the splash on the left side of the shorts while it’s on the right side of the jersey. Imagine if the splash was on the same side of each; then it would look like it connected from the jersey to the shorts which would be, somehow, an even worst look than what we got.
11 Clippers Current Red Jerseys
With all the money that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has, this is the best he could do? The new Clippers logo and jersey were unveiled in 2015 but the design is straight out of 1965. It’s just so…plain! I know the Lakers have simple jerseys but they are the Lakers and are arguably the most popular franchise in NBA history. LA is still a Lakers town and the Clippers creating jerseys like these won’t shift the tide in their favor. The C-LA monogram looks horrible and it appears that the C just ate the LA. Also, since when does one recognize the Clippers as the C’s? They aren’t like the A’s (Athletics) or the O’s (Orioles) and no one identifies the letter C with the Clippers. If anything, these jerseys should just be called the L’s.
10 Brooklyn’s Dodgers-Style Jerseys
Shortly after the Nets moved to Brooklyn, the team decided to pay homage to the most famous Brooklyn sports team, the Dodgers. The normally-black and white Nets went with gray uniforms with blue trim and “Brooklyn” scrawled across the jerseys. But let me remind you that the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957 and what was fashionable in 1957 isn’t exactly fashionable in 2014. The Nets went with a plain font for the name “Brooklyn” while the Dodgers had a cursive script on their jerseys. The Nets also decided not to have their shorts match their jerseys.
Yes, they are the same color but the patch on the shorts is of the current Nets logo while the jerseys, themselves, are throwbacks. This seemed like a good idea when it was first conceived, but the end result was a poor execution.
9 1990s Cavs Jerseys
In 1994 the Cavs moved into the new Gund Arena and to celebrate, they overhauled their logos and uniforms. Gone was the burnt orange of the Mark Price/Brad Daugherty days and in its place was a splash of blue across the abdomen of the players. There was also a splash of blue on one, and only one, of the shorts legs towards the knee. Towards the late 1990s the team made a modification and made the splash across both legs of the shorts which created one-too-many horizontal splashes for my taste.
From the above photo you can see why Kemp gained 40 pounds and essentially ate himself out of the league while in Cleveland. Fortunately, the team would update their jerseys during the 2002 season which might have been the organization’s smartest move ever as LeBron James may have opted for college had they continued to wear those repugnant uniforms.
8 Raptors’ Debut Jerseys
When the NBA entered Canada in the mid-1990s, it reached a new fan base which has previously been regarded as only hockey fans. Unfortunately, the NBA also gave the Grizzlies and Raptors two of the worst debut uniforms of all-time. Just look at the cartoon drawing of the Raptor on the jersey: does that look fierce to you? These Jurassic Park-inspired duds may have been a hit with fans, but were a laughingstock around the rest of the league. Opponents of the Raptors were probably cracking up in looking at that Barney look-a-like as they entered the circle for a jump ball.
Not even Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady could make those uniforms look cool and it wasn’t until Toronto got rid of those unis that people took the Raptors as a legitimate franchise.
7 Kings’ Gold Jerseys
These alternate home uniforms were introduced by the Kings in 2005 and were gone by 2007. I’m surprised they even made it to Year 2 as they looked like the beige version of the jumpsuits that Puff Daddy and Mase wore in the Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems music video. Whenever a team designs a new jersey, they should take into account the players that will be wearing those jerseys. Players whose complexions contrast with the jersey make it stick out but with these Kings they had lots of fair-skinned players such as Mike Bibby, Francisco Garcia, and Kevin Martin.
As you can see above, some of the Kings players were the same complexion as these jerseys which doesn’t create for an aesthetic look. At least the team made amends for these jerseys by bringing back their powder-blue jerseys that they first worse in the 1970s as the Kansas City/Omaha Kings.
6 Lakers’ Short-Shorts Throwbacks
Remember these? In 2007 the Lakers decided to pay homage to their Showtime days by wearing some 1980s-inspired short-shorts in place of their baggy shorts. While most teams only choose to wear the jerseys as a tribute, the Lakers went balls-out…I mean all-out with the booty-huggers as Kobe Bryant once called them. After the game, Kobe also made this statement about the short-shorts: "I don't know what it feels like to wear a thong, but I imagine it feels something like what we had on in the first half. I felt violated. I felt naked. It's one thing to see films with guys wearing those things. ... I'd rather stay warm, man." The team unanimously voted to change back into their normal-length shorts at halftime but it wasn’t enough to prevent a loss to their rival Celtics.
5 Nuggets’ Rainbow Road Jerseys
There are two things on these jerseys that really stick out. One is the unnecessary rainbow stripe that is an eyesore and the other is the snow-capped mountains that overlap the rainbow. Legend has it that the design was actually chosen from a fan contest and that was somehow, someway the “winner.” The design of the mountains and the rainbow blended together reminds me a bit of the video game Tetris. The mountain skyline is still used today on the Nuggets jerseys but just as mountains change over time, the mountains on the jerseys have also evolved as they are different shapes than on these jerseys. The Nuggets’ mountains are still better than those late 1990s Utah Jazz mountains which looked like they were drawn on by a 9-year-old. Only Dikembe Mutombo could make these early 90s duds look cool.
4 Mavericks’ Shiny Uniforms
According to Basketball-reference.com, there have been 50 players in NBA history who have played in one and only one NBA game. These shiny uniforms the Mavericks wore may be the only jerseys in NBA history to make an appearance in one and only one NBA game as they were debuted, and retired, on October 28, 2003. These uniforms have been nicknamed everything from the “Trash Bags” to the “Aluminum Foil Jerseys” and Mark Cuban pulled the plug on them after the first game of the 2003-04 season. Not even Steve Nash’s jumper looked pretty in these duds and Derek Fisher could probably see his reflection in the jerseys in the above photo. Thankfully for Dallas, these were just the planned road alternate jerseys for that season so Cuban didn’t empty his deep wallets to get rid of them and the team just wore their regular road jerseys for the remainder of the season.
3 Knicks Orange Monochrome Uniforms
The Knicks ruined everyone’s 2012 Christmas by unveiling these uniforms which they dubbed “Big Color.” I think NBA fans would have much preferred Big Colors as the all-orange everything was an eyesore. The Knicks have worn some all-orange jerseys before but they usually had blue or white trimming on them; these contained no such contrasting colors and reminded me of those NFL Color Rush uniforms. The worst part of the jersey has to be the numbers which are orange contrasted by…more orange. They could have at least made the jersey numbers or logo on the shorts blue to provide some sort of difference of colors. The Knicks stuck with the orange theme in future Christmas Day games but they, fortunately, added other colors to the trimming, numbers, and logos.
2 1995 All-Star Game Jerseys
The NBA forced the best of the best players to wear the worst of the worst jerseys in 1995. Seriously, who thought these looked good? The white ones look decent only in the context of being side-by-side with the turrible purple ones as Charles Barkley would say and know because he participated in the game. Also, Barkley was the unofficial host of the game as it originated from Phoenix if you couldn’t tell by the gratuitous cactus. When I first saw the stars on the jerseys, I thought the NBA was ahead of the game and they had the number of stars correspond with the player’s number of All-Star games. However, it turns out everyone had the same number of stars so there was no uniqueness with the uniforms whatsoever outside of the player’s name on the back.
The All-Star game jerseys of the following year weren’t much better and the public outcry over these kits made the NBA temporarily stop producing jerseys solely for the All-Star game. For the next few years players simply wore either their normal home or road game uniforms at the All-Star game until the league created presentable uniforms for the 2003 game and onwards.
1 Any Sleeved Jersey
You can pick any team with these sleeved jerseys or “shirt-seys” as they all epitomize the very worst of NBA fashion. Adidas introduced these in 2012 because it thought that fans would be more likely to wear them out in public than the normal tank top-style jersey. They apparently didn’t pay attention to the previous 65 years of the NBA as jersey sales had done quite fine amongst fans. Both players and fans denounced these sleeved jerseys and LeBron James even went as far as to rip the sleeves off during the middle of a game after they messed with his shot.
LeBron nor any other player will have that issue going forward as Adidas’ apparel deal with the NBA ended at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. Nike will take over next season and with LeBron having a lifetime contract with the company; he may have even had some influence on the next wave of NBA jerseys. Hopefully the only time we see sleeved jerseys on an NBA court again is 20 years from now when the league has a throwback to this unforgettable era.