The 30 best NBA throwback jerseys ever
Nike will release classic uniforms for eight teams this year, but we’re doing the whole league
The NBA just got some new swag. After 11 years with Adidas as its official apparel provider, the league is now with Nike. The partnership that makes Nike the NBA’s exclusive on-court uniform and apparel supplier as of Oct. 1 was originally announced in June 2015. Nike recently revealed a first-glance look at the league’s new uniforms earlier this week.
For the first time in history, the logo of an apparel partner will appear on the NBA’s uniforms, which Nike crafted using Alpha Yarns and recycled plastic bottles. How does that translate? Compared with Adidas’ current product, the Nike uniforms are more flexible, dry 30 percent faster and also feature larger armholes and a reshaped collar. Nike has even re-envisioned uniform designation by eliminating the traditional concept of “home” and “away” jerseys. With four options to choose from at the beginning of the season, each NBA team will select the jersey it will wear at all home games for the entire year, while visiting teams will decide on a contrasting uniform. This means teams won’t be restricted to wearing white at home.
Lastly, yet most importantly to the culture, Nike will provide eight teams with “Classic Edition” uniforms — aka throwback jerseys, set to be unveiled in October — to celebrate the most memorable on-court looks of the past.
But why do just eight? The NBA’s other 22 teams deserve throwbacks too. So, which oldie-but-goodie jerseys would we like to see each team wear during the 2017-18 season? Man, there are a lot to choose from, and The Undefeated is here to throw it all the way back — to the times of Afros, short shorts, O.G. franchises and now-legendary hoopers — with the best throwback jerseys for all 30 NBA teams.
Dikembe Mutombo, 1997
*Wags finger* “No, no, no,” as Hall of Fame big man Dikembe Mutombo would say — there is no jersey in Atlanta Hawks history that’s better than this red, black and yellow edition from the ’90s that features a hawk clutching a ball in its talons. In 2016, the Hawks retired Mutombo’s No. 55. Hope this one is in the rafters.
Bill Russell, 1967
The Boston Celtics’ jerseys have barely changed in the 71-year history of the franchise. Same colors. Same font and lettering. Same classic feel. However, back in the days of Boston legend Bill Russell, Celtics players didn’t have names on the backs of their jerseys. So, if you ever see Isaiah Thomas with just his No. 4 behind him, you’ll know Boston is going retro.
Julius Erving, 1975
The Brooklyn Nets were once the American Basketball Association’s New York Nets. This was when Julius Erving, a three-time ABA MVP, was at the peak of his powers — and so was his beautiful Afro — and wearing the iconic American flag-themed uniforms. A cartoon version of Erving, donning the same jersey and glorious ’fro, appeared on the 2003 video game NBA Street Vol. 2.
Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues, 1991
From 1988 to 2002, before the franchise relocated to New Orleans, the Charlotte Hornets were a force in style. It’s hard not to reminisce about strongman Larry Johnson, 5-foot-3 point guard Muggsy Bogues, a young Alonzo Mourning and Steph’s sharpshooting pops Dell Curry in their white, teal and purple pinstriped uniforms. After a two-year layoff without a pro hoops team in the city, the NBA established the Charlotte Bobcats as an expansion team in 2004. The Bobcats wore less-than-memorable blue, orange and white uniforms for 10 years before the team got its Hornets name and colors back from New Orleans in 2014. Atop franchise majority owner Michael Jordan’s to-do list should be finessing Nike into bringing back these classic uniforms. With the Jordan Brand Jumpman logo on the jerseys, of course.
Michael Jordan, 1984
Nothing says rookie-year Michael Jordan more than the images from the 1985 dunk contest, in which the then-21-year-old version of the greatest of all time took flight, with his gold chains swinging in the breeze, while he wore a red Bulls jersey with “Chicago” in slanted cursive. This is no question the best Bulls jersey of all time. You know who would wear it with some swag?
Jimmy Butler. Actually, never mind.
Terrell Brandon, 1997
Even doper than these late ’90s alternate Cleveland Cavaliers uniforms in black, blue, orange and white (which are much sleeker colors than the Cavs’ wine and gold) are the team’s warm-ups, featuring a ball swishing through a hoop on the backs. LeBron James would look too tough in these during his final season in Cleveland. Just kidding. Kind of.
Grant Hill, 2000
In the summer of 1996, the Detroit Pistons revamped their uniforms, changing their colors from red, white and blue to teal, black, yellow and red. They also introduced one of the fiercest logos in league history. The new design takes the engine part after which the team is named, a piston, and plays off the concept of a car’s horsepower by incorporating a stallion with a flaming mane. To add to the flair, the S’s in “PISTONS” on the front of the jerseys elongate into exhaust pipes. Nike needs to bring back whoever created this design ASAP.
Reggie Miller, 1995
This is the uniform in which Reggie Miller, the greatest Indiana Pacer of all time, had the two greatest moments of his career: his eight points in 8.9 seconds and his infamous choke sign directed at filmmaker and Knicks superfan Spike Lee. Honorable mention: The 1989-90 away jersey in a more pale blue, with “PACERS” in a yellow panel stretching across the front. Both uniforms are way nicer than the hideous Hoosiers-themed “Hickory” jerseys that Indiana wore in 2015.
Alonzo Mourning, 1996
Simply put, these red alternate Heat jerseys from the ’90s are flame emojis 🔥 🔥 🔥.
Glenn Robinson, 1996
This is the best jersey the Milwaukee Bucks have ever worn, an alternate hunter green number with a huge buck on the abdomen and the team’s name that fades from white to purple. Born in 1994, Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo was a toddler when these jerseys popped in the mid-1990s. If Nike brought them back, the Greek Freak would surely make them pop.
Shaquille O’Neal, 1993
The most iconic uniform pinstripes belong to the New York Yankees. But a close second are certainly the stripes on the jerseys that the Orlando Magic wore in the 1990s. Is there a swaggier tandem in NBA history than Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway? Nope, and it’s not even close. They changed the game in their white, royal blue and black uniforms, embossed with stars on the chest as the letter A in either “ORLANDO” or “MAGIC.” And don’t get us started on the warm-up jackets. Too much sauce.
New York Knicks
Patrick Ewing and Larry Johnson, 1997
As with the Boston Celtics, the uniforms of the New York Knicks haven’t changed much over the years. Yet, in the mid-’90s, the team added a nice touch of black trim to its road jerseys, which were worn by countless Knicks, from Patrick Ewing, John Starks and Charles Oakley to Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell. One player who never got to rock this jersey — and probably never will, with his days as a Knick numbered? Carmelo Anthony.
Allen Iverson, 1996
A rookie Allen Iverson with no cornrows, one tattoo and “SIXERS” on the chest of a bright red jersey — paired with his red and white Reebok Questions, of course — is nothing short of iconic. Take notes, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. This is where #TheProcess began.
Vince Carter, 1999
The Toronto Raptors should’ve kept the 1995 uniforms that they entered the league with forever. In more than two decades, the franchise has yet to top its 1990s purple away jersey, with red, black and gray trim, featuring a roaring raptor dribbling a basketball. Swagged by both Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter early in their careers, this is one of the greatest NBA jerseys of all time. To celebrate the team’s 20th anniversary during the 2014-15 season, the Raptors broke out the “Dino” uniforms in throwback fashion. It won’t be another anniversary year, but why not do it again for the 2017-18 season?
Earl Monroe, 1969
Forget the classic red, white and blue Washington Bullets jerseys that inspired what the Washington Wizards currently rock on the court. Bring back the blue, orange and white Baltimore Bullets uniforms from the late 1960s. Nowadays, they would be dubbed the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” jerseys, given the extended-arms design of the L’s in “BULLETS.” #BlackLivesMatter
Adrian Dantley, 1989
The Dallas Mavericks should definitely return to the logo that features a big blue letter M topped with cowboy hat — inside a green basketball. For decades, this classic design made its way onto the shorts of Mavericks uniforms, the best of which came in the form of alternate green jerseys with Wild West-esque font on the front. Pull some strings, Mark Cuban!
Alex English, 1990
Sweet 8-pound, 6-ounce, newborn infant Jesus, these multicolored Denver Nuggets uniforms from the ’80s and ’90s are sweet. Name a throwback NBA jersey with a centerpiece logo as loud as Denver’s rainbow city skyline. But it works, as there certainly isn’t one as bold and beautiful as what Hall of Famer Alex English wore on his chest before several players on Denver’s current roster were born.
Golden State Warriors
Al Attles, 1968
In eight games during their 73-9 NBA record-setting 2015-16 season, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green balled out in the alternate yellow edition of the team’s vintage “The City” uniforms, originally released for the 1966-67 season, nearly 10 years before the franchise won its first NBA title. Like Golden State’s current uniforms, the throwbacks, worn by the likes of Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond and Al Attles, feature the Bay Bridge in a circular illustration on the front of the jersey, with the words “The City” in bold letters over it. The best part of the jersey is each player’s number on the back, which is illustrated in a Bay Area cable car above his name. As the Warriors chase their third title in four years, these uniforms must be in rotation.
Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, 1997
The season after winning back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995 in legendary red, yellow and white uniforms (which the team still frequently wears), the Houston Rockets switched it up with a completely different color scheme to complement its Hall of Fame trio of Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. The pinstriped red, navy and white uniforms are complete with an intricately designed rocket ship that swirls around the team’s name on the front of the jersey. Perhaps a new Rockets big three of Chris Paul, James Harden and Anthony could take the court in these this season. Not so fast, though. Houston has to lock up that trade for Anthony first.
Los Angeles Clippers
Bob McAdoo, 1974
This was a tough decision. It was hard not to go with the throwback Zeke McCall cursive-lettered Clippers jersey, worn by a young Quincy McCall in Love & Basketball. Long before the 2000 film, and current Clippers stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the franchise began in New York as the Buffalo Braves, led by Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo. As simple as the baby blue jerseys that McAdoo and the Braves wore for eight years before the team moved to California in 1978 were, they’re superclassic. Even Jay-Z knows about the retro McAdoo jersey.
Los Angeles Lakers
Magic Johnson, 1988
Imagine rookie point guard Lonzo Ball dropping dimes in the purple road uniforms in which Magic Johnson and the “Showtime” Lakers dazzled en route to five championships in the 1980s. C’mon, Nike. Bring these back for Lonzo, and for the people.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, 1997
The 1995-2001 teal Vancouver Grizzlies jerseys are the dopest uniforms in NBA history — don’t @ us. The bold team name sprawling across the chest, the funky color scheme and trim that includes red, brown, black and white, the ferocious logo of a grizzly bear clawing a basketball on the shorts — what is not to like about this jersey? After six seasons in Canada, the franchise relocated to Memphis while maintaining the same mascot. So it’s only right that Nike allows Memphis to pay homage to the team’s former city with these glorious jerseys.
Kevin Garnett, 1998
A young Kevin Garnett in the black alternate Minnesota Timberwolves uniforms, with Frankenstein-esque lettering and green pine trees lining the jersey and shorts — SO tough. As Minnesota pushes to make some noise in the deep Western Conference this season, the team’s young core could use some intimidating flair — like Garnett and the Timberwolves had way back when.
New Orleans Pelicans
Chris Paul, 2011
What’s the best throwback jersey for a 15-year-old franchise that gave up its first mascot to another city? Look no further than the Mardi Gras-themed “NOLA” uniforms the team formerly known as the New Orleans Hornets wore several years ago, when Chris Paul was still the point guard of the squad that drafted him. It’s hard to imagine that folks in the Big Easy wouldn’t welcome a return of these purple, green and gold jerseys, especially come next February.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Gary Payton, 1991
How crazy would it be if Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder paid tribute to the franchise’s former city by taking the floor next season in throwback Seattle SuperSonics jerseys, circa the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp days? It was a sad time when the team left Seattle in 2008. Hope the city will get another franchise one day. But until then, it’s only right that Nike and the Thunder pay respect to the team’s roots.
Jason Kidd, 2000
You can’t tell us that the Phoenix Suns’ talented young trio of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson couldn’t swag these black alternate throwbacks out. The Valley of the Sun needs these blast-from-the-past jerseys.
Portland Trail blazers
Clyde Drexler, 1992
We can already see it: the starting lineup of the Portland Trail Blazers being announced to the tune of the Drake, Quavo and Travis $cott More Life track “Portland,” before the players take off their warm-ups to reveal the vintage Blazers uniforms that Clyde Drexler & Co. made iconic. What a moment that would be.
Nate Archibald, 1975
Before journeying to Sacramento in 1985, the franchise was known as the Kansas City Kings, with royal blue, red and white uniforms and a logo that’s been updated to fit the team’s new purple, black and gray color scheme. If the Kings threw it back with jerseys to the Kansas City days, Nike would definitely have to make rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox a visor.
San Antonio Spurs
George Gervin, 1980
The San Antonio Spurs still wear the old-school gray jerseys with the letter U in “Spurs” illustrated as a cowboy boot spur. Another subtle throwback could come through the reissue of the black 1980s Spurs jerseys that feature “SAN ANTONIO” on the front in white trim. These are definitely not too flashy for the modest Kawhi Leonard.
Karl Malone and John Stockton, 1997
Karl Malone, John Stockton and the Utah Jazz took back-to-back L’s in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls — but they did it in style, with purple road uniforms adorned by a Utah mountain. Too bad Gordon Hayward never got to wear this jersey before dipping out to Boston this summer in free agency.