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NBA Uniform Rankings (Primary Sets)

In the wake of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ new “kid with a creamsicle stuck in a blender at a penny factory” debacle of a uniform set, the need for a valid style standard in sports became more glaring than ever.

Who lets this happen?

I’ve found that whenever I come across NBA jersey rankings on the internet, I develop the strange temptation to pour scalding hot Pho on and around my loins. Now, as a self-proclaimed self-aware individual, it was only natural for me to ask, “why does this bother me so much?”  (and perhaps just as importantly, “why does this happen so often?”).

So after many nights thinking outdoors, often in the nude, I came to a conclusion – it’s because those rankings are horribly, terribly, and irrefutably wrong. So to correct it (as any selfless Good Samaritan would do), I offer to you the most foolproof formula for NBA Jersey Rankings around:

THE FORMULA/CRITERIA

#1: Presentation (25 points): How clean is the design? Is the font assertive/effective? Does the piping add or take away from the set? How is the uniform’s overall balance (look at all factors – from the number of characters to the size of the font to the side piping)?

Cliffs: This consists of somewhat objective criteria – forget the team history and colors etc. Just look at the balance of the design.

#2: Colors: (30 points): Do the colors work together? How is the contrast? Is the scheme unique and effective as a whole? Do the colors work with the team name? Does the team “own” the colors?

Cliffs: They’re colors, dumbass. Look at a color wheel.

#3: Cut (15 points): How is the collar? Does the overall cut of the uniform look clean? How do they fit?

Cliffs: The cut won’t make a jersey, but it can break a jersey.

#4: Distinctiveness (30 points): Are they creative? Do they have personality? Does the team’s tradition/history help their set? Are they era-appropriate, or are they dated? Are there unique team-specific details?

Cliffs: Are they forgettable? Are they iconic? Are they unique?

THE AVERAGES

To give a little context to the individual scores before the rankings (because many of you may not own a calculator, or a brain unimpaired by years of drug and alcohol abuse), here is how the 30 teams scored on average:

Presentation: 17.9/25 (71.7%)

Colors: 22.2/30 (74.1%)

Cut: 11.3/15 (75.3%)

Distinctiveness: 21.5/30 (71.7%)

Overall: 72.97/100

THE RANKINGS (broken down into late-night bar “tiers”)

Tier 7: “KILL IT WITH FIRE”

#30 Houston Rockets

Scott Halleran, Getty Images; Rocky Widner, Getty Images

Exhibit A of how cut can ruin a jersey. The shapeless, shoulder-hugging potato sacks that belong to my beloved Rockets are, well, simply #theworst. Presentation also suffers in most of the criteria listed above. The piping is semi-unique and mascot-specific, but with the rest of the set being the abortion that it is, it doesn’t add much. The colors are uninspired (#return2championshipcolors), as the red is dull, and there’s no clear second color between the bland grey and plain white. To put it simply – if your uniforms find a way to make Chandler Parsons look average and make Dwight not look like Achilles on steroids, you’re doing something wrong.

Presentation: 13/25; Colors: 17/30; Cut: 5/15; Distinctiveness: 18/30

Overall: 53/100

#29 Charlotte Bobcats

Kent Smith, Getty Images; Getty Images

“Uninspired” would be the best way to describe these. They suffer greatly in the distinctiveness category, as they feel randomly thrown together. Presentation is poor with the huge “CATS” and small “Charlotte” fonts on their two sets. The colors and cut aren’t terribad, which save these from last place. Luckily, the Hornets are on their way – though, let’s pray that MJ’s sense of style doesn’t play a role in their design.

Presentation: 13/25; Colors: 18/30; Cut: 11/15; Distinctiveness: 13/30

Overall: 55/100

#28 New Orleans Pelicans

Layne Murdoch Jr., Getty Images; Joe Murphy, Getty Images

For a city with as much personality as New Orleans, the reveal of the Pelicans’ uniforms felt as underwhelming as your most recent 5:22am-post-Jack Daniels-reveal. The unassertive and overlong “New Orleans” on both sets pretty much guaranteed a weak (or dare I say, limp) brand. The poorly cut collars also play a large role in this low ranking. The solid but not properly utilized colors and city-specific number font are the only positives here.

Presentation: 13/25; Colors: 20/30; Cut: 7/15; Distinctiveness: 17/30

Overall: 57/100

#27 Oklahoma City Thunder

Ronald Martinez, Getty Images; Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

OKC’s recent success may give their abysmal jerseys a pass, but I think we can all agree that “Oklahoma City” is way too long to be fitting onto a basketball uniform. And, while the color-scheme is somewhat unique, the unnecessary additions of yellow and black make it convoluted at best (is five colors really necessary?). On the plus side, “Thunder” is a much better fit on the home set, and the overall cut isn’t terrible. In a nutshell, it’s a generic set which lacks stylistic personality and ties to their mascot – and trying to overcompensate for that by throwing together a bunch of unrelated colors isn’t the answer.

Presentation: 15/25; Colors: 17/30; Cut: 10/15; Distinctiveness: 17/30

Overall: 59/100

Tier 6: “Please don’t look at me ma’am, I have acid reflux”

#26 Sacramento Kings

Rocky Widner, Getty Images; Getty Images

The combination of purple, black, and a Colgate-brand-white have some collective personality, and create an aura of unpredictability, which turns out to be surprisingly fitting for a team led by DeMarcus Cousins. The sharp lettering is also unique to the Kings’ brand, which adds a point or two. That said, the piping and overall design feels AAU-ish, and tacky at best. In a nutshell, this set looks tailor-made for that forgettable early-round-inner-city-opponent in a C-grade basketball movie.

Presentation: 14/25; Colors: 21/30; Cut: 10/15; Distinctiveness: 17/30

Overall: 62/100

#25 Memphis Grizzlies

Getty Images; David Sherman, Getty Images

The last Grizzly I saw in Memphis was playing a harmonica and stole my hat. But outside of that strange, isolated experience, the lack of ties between the mascot and the city hurts this set, particularly in the “distinctiveness” category. The colors are fairly decent and the font is somewhat unique, but the piping is overdone and the font is probably too small to be memorable. The home set generally looks better than the roads, but the strange collar doesn’t help on either.

Presentation: 15/25; Colors: 21/30; Cut: 9/15; Distinctiveness: 18/30

Overall: 63/100

#24a Phoenix Suns

Barry Gosage, Getty Images; David Liam Kyle, Getty Images

This set strikes me as one that had potential, with unique colors (and ties to their history) and some neat team-specific details (see: Sun “rays” from the 90’s), but unfortunately the execution fell far short of expectations. The poorly cut collars, mediocre presentation (the word-mark is placed lower than the average cut of Lil Kim’s wardrobe), and the lack of any borders on the numbers (some sets don’t need it, but this one does) are the main issues. The unique colors are still an overall plus, and I’m still a fan of the “ray lines,” even if they’re not utilized as well here. Overall, they’re meh.

Presentation: 13/25; Colors: 23/30; Cut: 8/15; Distinctiveness: 20/30

Overall: 64/100

#24b Detroit Pistons

Getty Images; Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

The Pistons have stuck with this set for something like 13 years, and that’s the main complaint here. It’s a standard, clean design, with colors that are tied to the team’s history, but the lack of recent team success has cheapened the brand to some extent (the Spurs on the other hand, have seen the opposite occur), and this has caused the set to look dated (the bubbly letters are the most obvious example of this). And luckily I’m just ranking the primary sets, because those “Motor City” alts are just…

Presentation: 15/25; Colors: 19/30; Cut: 11/15; Distinctiveness: 19/30

Overall: 64/100

#22 Atlanta Hawks

Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images; Cameron Browne, Getty Images

On the surface, the Hawks’ unis don’t look so bad – the general presentation is solid, and the colors work fairly well together. One might go so far as to call them “clean.” But if you look deeper, you’ll find a Nietzschean emptiness under it all. “A template of feigned creativity” might be the best way to describe this set, as they ditched their historic, mascot-suitable colors for an over-designed, poor man’s Team USA look, which they don’t properly “own.”

Presentation: 21/25; Colors: 18/30; Cut: 12/15; Distinctiveness: 14/30

Overall: 65/100

Tier 5: “I’ll talk to you, but do NOT expect anything else”

#21 Philadelphia 76ers

Getty Images; Stephen Gosling, Getty Images

The return to the old-old-ollld school look seems to be loved by some, and loathed by others. I can’t put my finger on it, but something just feels a tad off with this set, and that keeps them from being ranked higher. It might be the lack of any borders on the lettering/numbers, or it might be a more general complaint about the blatant simplicity. Either way, the presentation is generally solid, but they feel forgettable. The cut would work, but it’s dropped a point or two because the collar fits better with a more modern set. The 1950’s look also clashes with the youth movement in place in Philly.

Presentation: 20/25; Colors: 18/30; Cut: 10/15; Distinctiveness: 18/30

Overall: 66/100

#20 Minnesota Timberwolves

Jordan Johnson, Getty Images; Jesse D. Garrabrant, Getty Images

This set suffers from similar criticisms as the Hawks’ set. The Wolves’ set ranks higher overall largely for their unique color scheme (which has evolved a bit over the years, but hasn’t completely changed), and for for their forest detail (which adds a point or two). But, as was the case with the Hawks’ unis, the overall design feels forced – particularly in the overdone piping, which adds nothing of value and feels like stylistic filler. Also, “Minnesota” looks to be overlong on the road set.

Presentation: 17/25; Colors: 21/30; Cut: 11/15; Distinctiveness: 18/30

Overall: 67/100

#19 Milwaukee Bucks

Gary Dineen, Getty Images; David Liam Kyle, Getty Images

Most would rank the Bucks lower, but the deep Forest Green color has a comparable effect on me as Molly does on a 19-year-old girl at Coachella (pre-heat stroke). The addition of red makes this set a little too Christmas-y for some, but it works aesthetically, and isn’t too commonly found in pro sports otherwise. All that said, the font and piping add very little, and the homes aren’t as enticing as the roads (refer to this age-old formula: less Forest Green = less appeal). The lack of team success has also cheapened the brand over the years.

Presentation: 15/25; Colors: 25/30; Cut: 12/15; Distinctiveness: 16/30

Overall: 68/100

#18a Cleveland Cavaliers

David Liam Kyle, Getty Images; Bill Baptist, Getty Images

Not unlike the Sixers’ set, the Cavs’ set is divisive for its blatant simplicity. Many of the same comments apply to this set, but the differences lie in the Cavs’ superior color scheme and more effective bordering and cut. However, it suffers in its detail (i.e. both “Cleveland” and “Cavaliers” feel overlong with their current font), and in its overall lack of pizazz (simplicity tends to work better with a winning tradition, for whatever reason).

Presentation: 19/25; Colors: 23/30; Cut: 11/15; Distinctiveness: 16/30

Overall: 69/100

#18b Denver Nuggets

Doug Pensinger, Getty Images; Getty Images

When the baby blues came out in silk just over a decade ago, Rocawear and FUBU enthusiasts across the country rushed to stores to grab a Carmelo jersey (which, according to unconfirmed rumors, came with a free 40oz of O.E.). Little has changed with the uniform over the years (no more silk, thankfully), but unfortunately for the Nuggets, quite a bit has changed in the outside world. Ultimately, the colors are still unique, but the design and bubbly lettering are definitely up for an update.

Presentation: 16/25; Colors: 24/30; Cut: 10/15; Distinctiveness: 19/30

Overall: 69/100

#16 San Antonio Spurs

Getty Images; Getty Images

This set is difficult to rank, as the Spurs’ success has likely played a large role in pushing them up this list, as their brand gained some much-needed prestige. Some positives would be the “U” Spur detail, solid cut, and a color scheme that is now synonymous with the city. The font feels slightly dated however, and that may or may not be influenced by their roster composition (it definitely is). Another negative would be the overly thick side piping, and cutting them out altogether would make a more fitting product for the all-business mentality of the organization.

Presentation: 16/25; Colors: 19/30; Cut: 12/15 Distinctiveness: 23/30

Overall: 70/100

Tier 4: “I’m tipsy and feeling kinda bad about myself, so…”

#15a Los Angeles Clippers

Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images; Ron Hoskins, Getty Images

What I like most about this set is the shade of each of the colors, as they pop in contrast with one another (other red/white/blue teams don’t “own” their colors to the same extent). The cursive “Clippers” looks far better than the small “Los Angeles,” making the home set look better overall. The strange piping and equally strange collars are net negatives, however.

Presentation: 17/25; Colors: 24/30; Cut: 9/15; Distinctiveness: 21/30

Overall: 71/100

#15b Toronto Raptors

Getty Images; Getty Images

The Raptors are the most obvious example of a team that got it somewhat “right” with presentation and cut, but ditched much of what made their set unique. Everything looks clean, from the Chicago Bears-ish number font, to the color contrast to the arrows on the piping … but what the fuck does any of that have to do with Raptors or the team’s history? Marry the two ideas and they might have something special here.

Presentation: 22/25; Colors: 20/30; Cut: 13/15; Distinctiveness: 16/30

Overall: 71/100

#13 Dallas Mavericks

Getty Images; Getty Images

While I prefer the classic blue/green colors that Dallas rocked for most of their history, the ’11 championship added some points to their current brand and color scheme. There isn’t too much else to say, as the lettering, cut, and overall brand is very solid (but unspectacular). Some may not like the off-center numbers, but it serves as a nice touch. But Bobby Brown thinks that this set has too many lines, and you do not want to see that man’s coffee table.

Presentation: 20/25; Colors: 21/30; Cut: 12/15; Distinctiveness: 20/30

Overall: 73/100

#12 Brooklyn Nets

Getty Images; Jesse D. Garrabrant, Getty Images

The distinctiveness and “ownage” of a unique B/W color scheme and simple design are definitely the main calling points for Brooklyn’s set. The cut and simple piping looks solid on the roads, but suffers on the homes. That said, “Brooklyn” is too small, and this set would improve tremendously with a simple enlargement procedure (I happen to know a guy…). The home set simply looks considerably worse than the roads overall, as the small font makes the uniforms look unflattering on anyone past their physical prime (see: Brooklyn’s roster). If nothing else, the simple faux-back look proves to be successful in that it’s one of a kind.

Presentation: 14/25; Colors: 24/30; Cut: 12/15; Distinctiveness: 25/30

Overall: 75/100

Tier 3: “Why hello there, miss…and no, I don’t have HPV anymore”

#11 Orlando Magic

Fernando Medina, Getty Images; Layne Murdock, Getty Images

There’s more going on here than in Russell Westbrook’s closet (okay, maybe not). So maybe this set is a tad over-designed, yet it still finds a way to work, as the pinstripes are actually a part of team-history, the font is fitting/assertive, and the colors mesh quite well together. The piping is a bit overdone, which is, coincidentally, what she said. Overall, it’s a modern look that would benefit from just a bit more simplicity (also, the 90’s straight pinstripes > the current curved look).

Presentation: 17/25; Colors: 24/30; Cut: 12/15; Distinctiveness: 24/30

Overall: 77/100

#10 Washington Wizards

Ned Dishman, Getty Images; Getty Images

This is another set that’s tough to rank, as the modernized Bullets design makes this set amongst the most distinctive in the game, but a few gripes keep it from being in the top group. One of those is the dull shade of red, and the other is the overlong “Washington” (both of which are featured on the inferior road set). But, overall it’s a fairly sharp uniform that manages to weave together the old/new quite well.

Presentation: 17/25; Colors: 21/30; Cut: 13/15; Distinctiveness: 29/30

Overall: 80/100

#9 Portland Trailblazers

Getty Images; Getty Images

The Blazers’ set checks off most of my criteria, as they’ve stuck to their history and updated accordingly. The font (plus the underrated fact that “Portland” and “Blazers” are of ideal character length), solid cut, and personality added by the diagonal stripes (which flow nicely onto one side of the shorts), are the highlights of this set. The color scheme, which is tied to team history, and obviously works aesthetically, ends up taking away from the Blazers in this ranking, as they simply don’t own the scheme like a few other teams do.

Presentation: 21/25; Colors: 23/30; Cut: 13/15; Distinctiveness: 25/30

Overall: 82/100

Tier 2: “Well her elbows were a bit pointy”

#8 Golden State Warriors

Grant Ellwood, Getty Images; Christian Peterson, Getty Images

If you polled fans across the country, chances are the Warriors would win “best uniform” more often than not. I can’t blame them for the most part, as the design is as distinctive as they come, the colors/cut work well, and details such as the bridge on the shorts only add to the overall product. But my attention to detail holds a few lingering complaints which keep this set from reaching elite-status.The well-designed and incredibly distinct logo may be featured on the front of this set, but I’d argue that it could be made even more prominent, and that a visit to the aforementioned enlargement specialist (currently rated at 4.3 on Yelp) would benefit them greatly.

Presentation: 19/25; Colors: 25/30; Cut: 12/15; Distinctiveness: 29/30

Overall: 85/100

#7 Los Angeles Lakers

Getty Images; Getty Images

As with any ranking where the Lakers don’t get the top spot, I expect 90% of the comments/mail (that is, if I get any) to consist of horribly vulgar personal shots at me and my mother. That said, the fact is that the Lakers have one of the most iconic brands and color schemes in all of sports, and still remain amongst the best overall sets in the NBA. They do however suffer in one or two aspects which keep them from the very top, with the most obvious one being that the side pipes are just a tad too thick (which takes away from an otherwise clean design).

Presentation: 18/25; Colors: 27/30; Cut: 12/15; Distinctiveness: 29/30

Overall: 86/100

#6 Miami Heat

Getty Images; Getty Images

Now here’s a set that’s clearly benefited from recent team success. The design, cut and brand has been clean for years, but the image of LeBron and Wade in them (plastered all over NBA history books, circa May 2034) has rightfully catapulted them into the upper echelon of Uniform-hood (plus they ditched the shiny silk a few years back, which just looked baaaaad). The font is team-specific with a nice detail touch on the “T”, and the piping actually adds to the set. The italicized numbers remain a bit iffy to me, though. 

Presentation: 23/25; Colors: 24/30; Cut: 14/15; Distinctiveness: 26/30

Overall: 87/100

#5 Chicago Bulls

Getty Images; Getty Images

There’s a decent chance that there are more red/black/white uniforms in pro sports than there are sleazy magazines in your weird uncle’s apartment, so naturally it can be hard to stand out amongst that group (even with a combination that works so well). But if any team owns that scheme, it’d be the Bulls, who feature an iconic yet minimalist design. In addition, the distinctive shorts design adds a few points to their overall score. But even in the MJ-era, the choice of putting “Bulls” on both sets over “Chicago” puzzled me, when most teams choose to feature their city name on their road set, and “Chicago” actually looks more substantive and fitting.

Presentation: 20/25; Colors: 27/30; Cut: 13/15; Distinctiveness: 28/30

Overall: 88/100

#4 Indiana Pacers

Ron Hoskins, Getty Images; Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

With a small change or two, this set would be in the running for the top spot. It’s simply the best modern look in the game, as the piping, font, cut and design are all assertive and clean without being overdone. The navy/yellow/white contrast is fantastic as well. Unfortunately, the random inclusion of grey on the piping and the unnecessary yellow sides on the homes drop them a few points.

Presentation: 24/25; Colors: 25/30; Cut: 14/15; Distinctiveness: 26/30

Overall: 89/100

Tier 1: “Girl, if you say no, I’ll jump. Are you REALLY in a good enough place psychologically to deal with that?”

#3 New York Knicks

Nathaniel S. Butler, Getty Images; Cameron Browne, Getty Images

I can’t take much away from the Knicks’ semi-new set, as the modernization to the classics were done about as well as it can be done. The presentation is pretty much flawless, as the cutoff sleeve borders and flat “New York” have slowly grown on me like a staph infection (but an enjoyable, aesthetically pleasing version). The cut is great, and the colors remain synonymous with the city. The only detail that bugs me is the slightly darker-looking blue on the home set, as the roads’ shade of blue is perfect. The two sets above get the slight edge for factors that are out of the Knicks’ control.

Presentation: 25/25; Colors: 24/30; Cut: 14/15; Distinctiveness: 27/30

Overall: 90/100

#2 Utah Jazz

Melissa Majchrzak, Getty Images; Doug Pensiner, Getty Images

“…but the team sucks!”

“…but they don’t have the tradition/history of Team X!”

“…but the body of the last Jazz musician in Utah was found behind a Burger King back in ’86!”

Some of those are fair, and many don’t see the Jazz unis to be anything special, but when you mix three unique/assertive colors (one of them satisfying my Forest Green fetish), a fantastic overall design balance of old/new, and a perfect word-mark (in size and design), you get a set deserving of a top spot. The cut is solid and the overall personality of the set comes through, while still remaining classy. And like with the Lakers, the general disconnect of mascot and city is so far gone that it’s no longer an issue. Also, it’s necessary for me to add that if I were to include the green alts, this set would be on top of this list.

Presentation: 22/25; Colors: 29/30; Cut: 13/15; Distinctiveness: 27/30

Overall: 91/100

#1 Boston Celtics

Alex Trautwig, Getty Images; Jesse D. Garrabrant, Getty Images

The most iconic look in the league, and amongst the most iconic in all of pro sports. The design and cut is as standard as they come, and needless to say, they work about as well as Heisenberg in an enclosed space. The lack of variation in color is not really a gripe, but TD Bank Garden does feature more green and white than your local douche-bro frat-house.This ranking is quite simply a case of not questioning what’s worked for decades, even if the creative element isn’t satisfied like it is with a few other sets. Also, the use of “Celtics” for both sets is not as bothersome as it is with the Bulls, as the number of characters in “Celtics” simply works better aesthetically. This is quite simply simplicity at it’s finest.

Presentation: 23/25; Colors: 26/30; Cut: 13/15; Distinctiveness: 30/30

Overall: 92/100

The Best and Worst by Category (just because)

Best Presentation: New York Knicks (followed by the Pacers and the Heat)

Worst Presentation: (tie) Charlotte Bobcats; Phoenix Suns; Houston Rockets; New Orleans Pelicans

Best Colors: Utah Jazz (followed by the Bulls and the Lakers)

Worst Colors: (tie) Oklahoma City Thunder; Houston Rockets

Best Cut: (tie) Indiana Pacers; New York Knicks; Miami Heat

Worst Cut: Houston Rockets (followed by the Pelicans)

Most Distinctive: Boston Celtics (followed by the Lakers, Warriors and Wizards)

Least Distinctive: Charlotte Bobcats (followed by the Hawks)

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1 Comment on NBA Uniform Rankings (Primary Sets)

  1. Great article… very good one. You should hit me up sometime.

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