The History of Basketball Jerseys

In the beginning….

The term “jersey” as it relates to sportswear fabric dates all the way back to 1836 and used to simply refer to the clothing of a basketball player. But today, it refers to the shirt worn by any type of athlete. The first basketball uniform included long, close-fitting woolen knitted tunics that buttoned at the groin area.

Early fabrics-

Just like the first baseball uniforms, the first type of basketball jerseys was made of wool. I sweat enough just by running, I sure don’t need a blanket draped over me. After the phase of wool fabric, polyester made its way in. Polyester was lighter in weight, but again, it was not very breathable. During those times, the NBA was paying more attention to the durability of the athlete’s uniforms rather than the comfort of the athletes themselves. Those athletes were only given a couple of uniforms that were supposed to last them an entire year.

The 1980s-

MacGregor Sand-Knit became the NBA’s exclusive outfitter in the early 1980s. The company used a new, more breathable cotton/polyester blend so that the jerseys were able to handle moisture better. Jerseys were only offered in standard sizes even though the fabric continued to improve.

Towards the end of the 1980s, uniform manufacturers began to adopt the new styles and created jerseys that we’re able to facilitate movement much better than before. This is also when teams began to get creative, the NBA saw an increase in graphics and designs on the uniforms. Clothing became a marketing tool for the NBA, as replicas of famous players’ jerseys became very popular status symbols in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The NBA’s logo was added to the uniforms in 1986.

The 1990s to Present Day-

Basketball jerseys are becoming increasingly lighter, softer, and more breathable with new technologies coming into play; rather than using embroidery and such, they use new digital technology to put designs and logos onto the jerseys. Today, most teams have a “home” and an “away” jersey with the same concept but slightly different color schemes. Every now and then, some of the teams will play a game with the older versions of their jerseys or “throwback jerseys”.

Names and Numbers-

At first, teams would have local vendors manufacture the uniforms for them so that every team would have a distinct style instead of everyone having a commonality. But then in the 1960s, teams started using a common vendor. Soon after, players’ names were being added to the uniform so that the NBA would have more of a consistent look.

“One of the most recognizable jersey numbers of basketball or any other sport –  23 — was held by the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan, commonly regarded as one of  the greatest athletes of the 20th century.” -taken from

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