Ah, those dastardly sleeves. The ones that suddenly sprouted from NBA jerseys on Christmas, constricting shoulders and shooting strokes. The ones that turned NBA uniforms into kiddie pajamas and triggered relentless mockery across the basketball blogosphere.
Portland's Robin Lopez called for a "mass burning." A bonfire is probably out of the question. But NBA officials are seriously reconsidering the efficacy of those extra inches of mesh, and they just might clip them entirely—if the players demand it.
Commissioner Adam Silver intends to revisit the issue after the season. He plans to meet with LeBron James, one of the loudest critics of the jerseys. The NBA could decide to curtail the use of the sleeved jerseys, leave it up to individual teams or simply kill the program for good. Commissioner Adam Silver stated he intends to revisit the issue after the season. He plans to meet with LeBron James, one of the loudest critics of the jerseys. The NBA could decide to curtail the use of the sleeved jerseys, leave it up to individual teams or simply kill the program for good.
James is hardly alone in his opinion. Although some players have praised the sleeved jerseys, many have complained about the look. Several have claimed the short, tight sleeves affect their shooting form. The NBA disputes that claim, citing statistics that show a nominal difference in shooting percentages in games played with sleeved versus unsleeved jerseys.
This may be a vanity issue. Some players simply like the tight look, to show off their muscular torsos and shoulders. They could, as Silver suggests, simply ask the equipment manager for a bigger jersey. Some have. On the same day that James blamed the sleeves, the Spurs' Manu Ginobili told reporters he had moved up one jersey size, "because I need the freedom." It's not uncommon for players to wear T-shirts, and even long-sleeve workout shirts, under their jerseys on practice days. But those shirts are generally looser.The snug, short-sleeve jerseys—which have been likened to pajama tops, volleyball jerseys or, more recently, a bike cop uniform, according to Cleveland's Jarrett Jack, via The Plain Dealer's Jodie Valade—actually made their debut last season. That's when the Golden State Warriors trotted onto the court with them, to the chagrin of self-appointed fashionistas everywhere.
But the NBA ramped up their use this season, with 13 teams adopting the sleeved jerseys as part of their rotation of "alternate" uniforms, or for special occasions, including St. Patrick's Day and the NBA's Latin-themed nights. The teams that have worn the jerseys this season are Chicago, Brooklyn, Oklahoma City, New York, Miami, Minnesota, Houston, San Antonio, Golden State, Phoenix, Boston and both Los Angeles teams.
The league was thinking more about its merchandise-buying fans than its players when it adopted the new uniforms. The rationale: Not all fans want to wear tank tops to show off their allegiance.
On that front, the sleeved jerseys have been a success. According to the league, the Christmas Day jerseys sold out at the NBA store two weeks before the games. Sales of the sleeved All-Star Game jerseys are up 14 percent over the non-sleeved 2013 All-Star jerseys. And sales of the sleeved Latin nights jerseys are up 37 percent over last season's non-sleeved version. Those figures do not necessarily reflect a significant increase in profit, though, because of the way the NBA's contract with Adidas is structured, league officials said. So while the league is pleased with the popularity of the new jerseys, it does not view them as a major source of revenue.
Silver also dismissed a common conspiracy theory: that the sleeved jerseys were designed to make room for eventual sponsor logos. There is already ample room on the tank-top jerseys, as well as on shorts and warm-up gear, if the league decides to add sponsorships, Silver said. "That was not a consideration," Silver said of the sponsorship possibility. "It was based entirely on trying something new and making something available to our fans that they would feel more comfortable wearing." Even if the NBA ditches the sleeves for official competition, it might still sell them to the public. Silver also said the league could market looser shooting shirts, instead of the tight-fitting jerseys. The players union has taken no official stance on the sleeves, although the matter will be on the agenda for its summer meeting. Silver said he will decide the jerseys' fate on a more subjective basis—how many players raise their voice, and how strenuously they object. The feedback so far, he said, has been mixed.
"I take the feedback from all the players very seriously," Silver said, adding, "We're not going to do anything without taking into account how they feel."
So it's now up to the players: to sleeve or not to sleeve.