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The Evolution of the Basketball Uniform

Basketball has come a long way since its establishment in 1891. As the game evolved from a peach basket ring to steel rims, so did the uniform.

Follow the evolution from the first uniforms ever to the current high-tech designs.


The very first basketball uniforms, weren’t even uniforms – the players just played in what they were already wearing or their gym clothes, which was most often baggy trousers and wool undershirts. As basketball gained popularity amongst college students in the early 1900s, more effort was made to have matching uniform to avoid unintentionally passing the ball to the opposition.

1895: Wichita YMCA Basketball Team. 1910: An early female basketball team, The Spartan Girls of Brooklyn.


By the 1920s trousers and long woollen shirts were replaced by mid length shorts and jerseys made from more breathable wool. The jerseys were fastened underneath the crotch to avoid them becoming untucked (photo below). The “more delicate” group, the women and children were also required to wear kneepads during games.

Women wore bloomers to the knee, which over time got shorter and shorter. This led to complaints that the uniform was “too revealing”. Ironically, as the bloomer length rose, so did the attendance at games.

In 1917, Converse released their famous high top shoes named after Charles “Chuck” Taylor who travelled around America playing for the Converse All-Stars, teaching kids the game of basketball and selling shoes!


Come the 1940s, synthetics have now taken over wool as it became too hot to play in and difficult to launder. The introduction of polyester/nylon marked the start of a new era - the introduction of short shorts and fitted jerseys.


Following trends of the late 60s and 70s, basketball uniforms became more vibrant, socks got longer (and stripier), and headbands held long hair back.

In 1982, the “MacGregor Sand-Knit” became NBA’s exclusive outfitter and offered a more breathable cotton/polyester jersey that would better control moisture.

Wilt Chamberlain Larry Bird & Julius Erving Magic Johnson


In 1987, Michael Jordan personally asked the president of the then NBA uniform manufacturer Champion to make his shorts longer so that he could have something to hang onto when he was out of breath. The following season his wish was granted and the image of NBA is headed on another path.

The 1990s uniforms became baggier, but also had a change of fabric, moving away from nylon and mesh. By 2001, Nike started to develop a Dri-Fit/Cool-Dry mesh for jerseys and shorts.

In hip-hop, celebrities wore loose baggy shorts and equally long sleeveless tees. These designs almost outshone the game itself and became a part of the current culture and street wear.


Come 2017, NBA arguably has the best jerseys in world sport. The Nike uniform is tailored by looking at things such as how athletes move to the position they play and even their body type. As part of the design process, digital body scans were taken of players to allow them to see which areas of the body sweat the most, or are under the most physical stress on the basketball court. With this data, designers could decide on the placement of air vents and arm holes. The extremely light weight design has come a long way since the woollen uniforms used in the very first basketball games ever.

Nike has also introduced the “connected” jersey, which allows fans to scan a chip sewn inside the bottom left of the jersey and have access to real time scores and statistics, as well as news stories, fixtures and exclusive content.

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