Iconic jerseys of the NBA then and now
NBA jerseys have been popular garments for decades, in both current and throwback variations. In the early 2000s, popular rappers made vintage jerseys the hot new trend and new audiences were introduced to players like George Gervin, Julius Erving, and Pete Maravich.
It is interesting how NBA jerseys change over time. Sometimes a team is looking for a fresh restart after years of mediocrity and squalor. Other times, a team relocates and necessitates a new look (although it’s not uncommon to hang on to old colors from the past location for a few years). Plenty of trends have emerged—bright blues, stars, italicized letters, and even pinstripes, which are usually found on baseball jerseys. Some jerseys not only represent a team, but an entire era. The Atlanta Hawks’ jerseys could have replicated an interior design of a trendy 1970s hangout, while the New York Nets jerseys oozed the style and individuality on which the American Basketball Association prided itself.
Stacker compiled a collection of photos showcasing the uniform history of each NBA team, plus images of their current jersey. Many teams now have several jerseys they wear throughout the year, as sales have become big business in the NBA. This allows for a variety of tributes and tests of new color combinations, but there are some teams who feel that less is more. For decades, a certain team from Boston has barely deviated from the script, adding a certain cachet to their simple two-color approach.
While you may have laughed or even cringed at some jersey styles of years past, some of those same beleaguered looks are making a comeback as what is old becomes new. Somewhere, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves is probably smiling, knowing that a 7-foot farm boy from the South maybe didn’t look all that awkward in turquoise. Click through to see how other NBA jerseys have withstood the test of time.
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Then: Atlanta Hawks
The classic Hawks jerseys worn by Lou Hudson (pictured) and Pete Maravich were drastically different from what we know today. Green and blue in what only can be described as a truly 1970s design vastly differs from the Hawks’ look of the past 30-plus years, which has been dominated by red. This blue style is also notable for including Maravich’s nickname “Pistol” on the back, instead of his surname.
Now: Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks unveiled a new uniform in July 2020 for the 2020-2021 season. The design features nods to team history, with colors that speak to the team’s drive, commitment, and history stretching back to 1968.
[Pictured: New uniform released July 2020.]
Then: Boston Celtics
Few NBA jerseys are as recognizable as the Celtics jersey. Home white with green piping, letters, and numbers have been the standard throughout the franchise’s glory days, worn by Tommy Heinsohn (pictured), Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, and several other Hall of Famers.
Now: Boston Celtics
Although the Celtics now have a GE sponsor patch, not much has changed about one of the most classic looks in sports. Boston's green-and-white palate was ranked in 2020 by ESPN as the second-best NBA jersey ever, although the uniform that topped them won't sit well with many in Massachusetts (more on that later).
Then: Brooklyn Nets
When the Nets played in Long Island and New Jersey, their jerseys screamed patriotism. Red, white, and blue with stars along the sides also make for a look that aligned well with the ABA, where the Nets franchise played before joining the NBA. The red, white, and blue ABA ball is one of the league’s lasting images.
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Now: Brooklyn Nets
When the Nets moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey in 2012, the team switched to black and white at its primary colors—a minimalist design that came with input from Jay-Z (who owned a small stake in the franchise at the time). The Nets also helped introduce a circular logo that, while not primarily featured on their jerseys, has been copied by several NBA teams since 2012. The team's alternate Notorious B.I.G.-inspired jerseys (pictured on Spencer Dinwiddie) have been popular with fans from every borough.
Now: Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets in November 2020 rolled out a “City Edition” uniform that plays up Charlotte’s past. The mint-colored jersey is a nod to Charlotte’s historic place as home to the first U.S. Branch Mint. Gold and granite pinstripes refer to the 19th-century Caroline Gold Rush and the state rock of North Carolina, respectively.
[Pictured: Charlotte Hornets’ previous uniform ahead of the November 2020 redesign.]
Then: Chicago Bulls
Most noted for being the jerseys worn in Michael Jordan’s rookie season, the mid-1980s Bulls jerseys were infamous for the script lettering across the chest. The numbers on the lower side were another unique touch, usually seen on baseball jerseys. Before Jordan’s arrival, Artis Gilmore (pictured) made four All-Star teams for the Bulls sporting these threads.
Now: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have introduced new alternate jerseys over the years (like the black ones seen here), but their main home and road kits have remained the same for almost 30 years. A Zenni Optical logo is the only noticeable tweak since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen made the Bulls jersey a worldwide fashion statement.
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