Old school: NBA players stock up on retro jerseys

Published: Thursday, Oct. 8 2015 11:36 p.m. MDT

From retro to modern, NBA jerseys feature stars from past and present (Deseret Morning News graphic) From retro to modern, NBA jerseys feature stars from past and present (Deseret Morning News graphic)
Back in Michael Jordan's day, NBA players, especially those from glamorous, big-city franchises, impressed each other by wearing expensive suits to and from games. Football, baseball and hockey players did the same.
Now, many have turned to a new standard to catch the eye — the throwback jersey.
"It went from everybody wearing suits to games to wearing retro jerseys to games," says Utah Jazz rookie Mo Williams. "You look at all the teams. It's a jersey thing right now."
Williams' collection numbers more than 20, but he is quick to say, "I don't have as much as DeShawn," deferring to teammate DeShawn Stevenson, who long ago stopped counting his jerseys. He admitted to having spent more than $100,000 on them as of last February, when they were going for $400-plus.
Now, a number of top-line jerseys in the four major American sports can be had for a mere $250-$350.
The rather amazing thing is, people pay these big bucks for shirts that aren't original-issue. "They're authentic," says Stevenson, meaning that they're licensed by the league and the player involved. "They're not worn by the player, but they are authentic. They're made now — much bigger. They're made to fit people now."
In fact, they're not even made by the original manufacturer. The most prized retros are made by Mitchell and Ness of Philadelphia, which makes an old Adrian Dantley green Jazz road shirt and a Pete Maravich New Orleans Jazz shirt. Utah's old uniforms were made by Starter, then by Champion. Team owner Larry H. Miller has most old Jazz stuff warehoused away, except for the few Karl Malone gave away and the set that was once stolen from a trainer's car.
Doesn't matter. What's hot now is made now.
The major sports leagues have caught the trend, seeing big dollars in merchandising and having their teams wear old-style uniforms to promote it.
The Jazz join in starting Jan. 15 when they celebrate their 25th anniversary in Utah by wearing 1979-80-style home white uniforms with the Mardi Gras-colors gold, green and purple Jazz note and trim, manufactured by Reebok. They'll wear throwbacks at least five times, including once on the road, said senior vice president of sales and marketing Jay Francis.
It's part of the NBA's "Hardwood Classics" promotion that began last season; replicas will be available for purchase starting around Jan. 1.
Jazz players are pumped about it, even those who don't purchase retro, like Andrei Kirilenko. "I like that. It will be fine. Trying to feel like the old generation," he says. "I like it. I don't think it's silly," Kirilenko added of the vintage trend. "It's a good idea. New generation. I like something new every time."
"Oh, I'm looking forward to that," says guard Raja Bell about wearing the new old uniforms. "I've seen them, and they're really nice. It gives me a chance to wear something a little different and give people something. They've got the little Jazz note on the front.
"And I think we get a chance to wear some cool socks with the stripes. It will be fun.
"Better if we get a win that night, though," added Bell.
He has about 10 of his own retro jerseys in football, basketball and baseball. "They're a very fun thing to wear, although sometimes it's hard to wear jerseys of people who are playing against you every night," he says. "It gives you an opportunity to wear something that isn't in circulation, and some of the older ones are cooler looking than some of the new ones anyway.
"Everything is retro now. All the retro suits are back. People are going with the vintage look, so the jerseys are just another part of it."
While Stevenson and Williams stick with jerseys of people they admire, Bell buys for the look. "My only sentimental one is (quarterback) Warren Moon. He's my favorite. The rest of them are just for color," he says.
Says Williams: "I buy them for the person. My prize is an Alabama, Joe Namath. I love that one."
Williams came across it a few weeks ago. A man was selling it at the Jazz's Los Angeles hotel. Williams played the last two seasons at Alabama before declaring for last April's NBA Draft. He was picked in the second round by Utah.
"I never thought in my life I'd get that (Namath)," Williams says. "I called my old teammate in Alabama. He was ecstatic. He wanted me to send it to him, and I said, 'No.'
"I take pride in them. I just don't buy anybody's," Williams says. "I go with (Dan) Marino, Willie Stargell — guys that made a mark in their game.
"I've got to know who I'm wearing. Some guys have jerseys, they don't even know who's on the back. They just like the color or style or something like that."
Says Stevenson: "Everybody has different reasons. Some people buy them for colors. Some people buy them because of the particular player. And some people just like jerseys.
"The appeal is just having a jersey that somebody wore a long time ago that you probably couldn't get. And when people see them, a lot of older people remember the player, and it just brings back some memories when you have it on."
Value is an individual taste. It depends on whose it is, the color, team and how well it's made. Some have the names and trim stitched on, others are just printed. Some are stylized to the point of having the lettering and trim in "Gucci" plaid.
"It depends on how much you like it," Stevenson said of value. "If I like a jersey a lot, I'll get it, but if not, I'll wait until the next time I come across it.
"You can get them at the NBA Store, urban stores, hip-hop stores, Fanzz, just a lot of sport places where you can get hats."
Internet retro gear sites abound — starting perhaps with NBA.com and the NBA Store and MitchellandNess.com, which sells to the public or lists authorized sellers and Web sites. Nike, adidas and Reebok are among other throwback manufacturers.
None of the three Jazzmen look at it as an investment.
"I never did, but you can," says Stevenson. "A lot of them, I just wear. I spend that much money, I'll at least wear them a couple times to get the use out of them. Then hopefully I can get them signed."
Says Bell: "I really don't. That's why I don't have a whole lot of them. I buy only the ones I think are really cool-looking."
Says Williams: "It could be, but I don't. I'll probably grow out of jerseys one day. When I do that, I'm going to just hang them up, put them somewhere, in a trophy room.
"Everything changes. I guess it will be another thing — sweaters, it will be sweaters in 10 years," says a bemused Williams, perhaps foreseeing NBA players coming to games dressed in Argyle cardigans with snazzy matching socks in 2013.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com

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