With a new uniform deal in place, the NBA game is poised to take on a Nike look from head to toe.
Nike to the NBA. The very concept—even if the contract for on-court gear doesn’t take over for Adidas until the 2017-2018 season—has us conjuring up swoosh-styled gear in our minds. Gear that travels far beyond tank tops and shorts.
Don’t misunderstand. The takeover of the actual uniform will prove an aesthetic change in every way. Nike paid for the right to slap the swoosh on on-court gear, a first for the short or top (Stance Socks will debut their logo on socks this coming season), and that gear will prove different in every way. But beyond the official jersey, the Oregon-based company will also enact change on the overall aesthetic of all things hardwood with new warmups, bench apparel and team gear.
Have you seen a Nike shooter shirt vs. an Adidas version? The style differs remarkably. The NBA style will change.
When Nike officially enters the NBA a long two years from now expect uniforms full of Nike’s calling card: technology. And with new technology comes a new aesthetic.
At the end of the NCAA’s 2015 season, Nike’s latest basketball uniform, the Hyper Elite, debuted flocked wipe zones—to wipe sweat from hands—on the hips of shorts, new lining inside necklines for wiping sweat, perforated and vented waistbands, venting throughout the uniform and a lightweight stretch mesh on the back of the top. These technologies aim for weight reduction and performance benefit. But they come with a distinct style. Whether you like the look or not, that style screams Nike.
Not only will the swoosh adorn the latest in Dri-fit fabrics, but 2017 technology will also determine the silhouette and cut of the uniform.
With technology in step, expect Nike and NBA teams to partner up on fresh design, especially with the NBA rules that allow for an array of uniforms—teams get a home, road and alternate, along with special-event designs (think Christmas), a throwback look and even local cultural tie-in designs (think Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Latin Heritage Night).
That kind of leeway allows even the most stoic of teams to get funky with design and colors, even if only for a few times a year. And NBA teams aren’t all that stoic to start with.
In the conservative-minded NFL, we’ve seen only three progressive uniform designs—Seattle, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay—since Nike took over in 2012. Some of the most distinct changes in design in the NFL came from the new cuts, four-way stretch, Flywire necklines and other technology introduced.
NBA teams will have the benefit of new technology and progressive-minded designers.
And don’t think the influence of Nike design will wait for two years to start showing up. Case in point? Atlanta. The new Hawks’ uniforms include neon green and mix-and-match ability. Where did Peter Sorckoff, the mastermind of the design for the Hawks, tell SI.com he derived the inspiration for the design? University of Oregon football, the Nike testing ground for all things forward-thinking in uniform design.
With the Hawks already dipping their toes in Nike-inspired colors, patterns and edgy ambition, other teams may start taking a fresh look at their brand too. Nike will be right there to help them out.
But that’s not all. Don’t forget that Nike owns Jordan Brand and Converse, two brands that have heavy influence in basketball, even if Converse’s power comes from a historical perspective. Will the Jumpman logo appear on uniforms? We aren’t yet sure, but it hasn’t been ruled out. But can you picture the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Hornets not having the Jordan Jumpman logo adorn their threads?
What about those sleeves? Expect them to go away. The sleeved basketball uniform comes directly from Adidas. We’ve never seen it from Nike. With NBA athletes—such as lead Nike athlete LeBron James—against the sleeves, don’t expect Nike to bring out the extra material anytime soon.
Nike’s name has long conveyed a sense of respect in sports apparel, but nowhere does the name prove more powerful than on the hardwood. That power will only grow as the swoosh will live in nearly every corner of a NBA player’s style. A style defined in 2017. By Nike.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.