The NBA’s Vice President Of Global Merchandising Reached Out To Set The Record Straight About Short Sleeve Uniforms

  • Jake O'Donnell

A week ago, I wrote a critique of the NBA’s recent short-sleeve uniform trend, on the heels of a leaked photo of the 2014 All-Star jerseys (which, to my taste, looked like ugly warm-ups). So, because the internet is the internet, my humble musings caught the eye of the NBA — as in, the National Basketball Association — and I was contacted to speak with the Vice President of Global Merchandising, Mr. Sal LaRocca.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what there was to talk about. I thought the jerseys were ugly, informal, unnecessary, and forced. Was he going to try and convince me otherwise? The only question I really had (and you probably have as well), is why?

Why the sleeves? Why now? What was wrong with the tank tops?

When we spoke, Mr. LaRocca made it crystal clear that the uniforms were, at the end of the day, a way to make more money for the league and players. His insistence that all things change and “we try to stay ahead of the curve” was a sufficient explanation as to why the league has begun such a drastic transformation of their in-game apparel. After all, anything the league does in regards to merchandise is to improve the product, which in-turn improves their image, and revenue, etc. — and that’s the singular goal of any corporate entity.

But it was a bit confusing when he tried to defend the move as inevitable. His analogy was that video games were perfectly fine 10 years ago, but they’ve gradually changed. Developers added new components to improve the games, which he equated to the addition of sleeves on the NBA outfit as a similar step in product evolution.

It could be argued that video games and NBA uniforms aren’t particularly analogous (analogies never fully explain anything, anyways). For instance, video games are a vastly more diverse product than “NBA game jerseys.” To this day, there still are very simple, popular games, that mimic the very earliest games, like “Pong,” running on my Xbox One right now. (By the way, if you haven’t played “Peggle 2,” it’s $12 to download and insanely addictive.) My point is that authentic, current NBA jerseys are unique products.

If you’re a Golden State Warriors fan and you don’t like the sleeves, then you’re screwed.

You don’t have another option if you want to wear the latest Stephen Curry uniform — you’ll have to grit your teeth and bear it.

However, if you don’t like the newest NBA Live (no one does), there’s always NBA 2k14 waiting for you with something different. He seemed to miss the point that most people only buy their favorite team/player’s uniform, and are thus at the mercy of the NBA’s discretion when it comes to stylistic additions. It’s ok to be angry if those additions seem frivolous and ill-advised, because that puts you in a funny spot.

Mr. LaRocca pointed out, however, that the outrage hasn’t affected sales. He claims you HAVE been buying the controversial jerseys, as they are “selling very well,” suggesting that the backlash to said sleeves has been merely rhetorical. Just good old fashioned stubborn bitching (my words, not his) because something new is replacing something more traditional and those of us who take issue with it are the same people who didn’t like the baggy shorts of the ’90s or the introduction of cheerleaders to the Celtics sideline (both instances were specifically referenced by Mr. LaRocca).

So does that mean the new design was a good idea? Do good sales numbers mean the short sleeve project is a success?

Not necessarily.

In fact, if you asked any of the 21 current, anonymous, distinguished NBA players who were polled by Bleacher Report regarding the new unis, you’d come away thinking they were a total mistake. In the piece, the players clearly expressed that the uniforms were not something they were in favor of. Here are some of the reviews:

[Bleacher Report] “I don’t think they look good. Or feel good. But I’ve come to accept that the NBA doesn’t care what we think.”

“[Introducing sleeved jerseys is] not a decision that is up to the players.”

“The jerseys themselves aren’t better than the traditional ones.”

“I think our sport is tough to have stuff on your shooting arm with shooting being so key.”

“They do not wick sweat away from the skin well. You end up with a wet, cold, sticky shirt. In Milwaukee (or any other cold-weather city), you will freeze your tail off.”

“I actually think it’s the V-neck that makes it look bad. If they just went to a round neck it would basically look like a soccer jersey and that would be OK.”

When asked about the article, Mr. LaRocca said he did not think these players were speaking from a well-informed place (for example, soccer jerseys generally have V-necks, so that last quote doesn’t make much sense). He frequently referenced the fact that players share in profits of jersey sales, and, once again, they do have a say in the uniform design. Specifically, they’re given options on the tightness of said uniforms, as they are with the traditional tank top, whereby someone like Kobe, Mr. LaRocca says, “wears his game jersey much more loosely than LeBron.” This was news to me.

I now know that Dwight Howard opts for the über tight Houston Rockets jersey, and that, were I to buy one, it wouldn’t look like that on me.

Were they actually as tight as Dwight makes them look, I’d probably resemble a pot-bellied pig in a wet-suit.

This seemed to be the purpose of our conversation for Mr. LaRocca: Dispelling the myths that the short-sleeved jerseys were especially tight and, to a lesser extent, forced on the players. Ok, they’re not tight, and they’re not forced on ALL the players. They’re just a bit of extra fabric that most players wear anyways during practice, brought out for special occasions for a handful of unlucky teams.

So what about the theory that supposes the sleeves are just extra space to eventually put advertisements on? From a managerial standpoint, it makes more sense than defacing the front or back of the jersey, which could appear sacrilegious to some. The idea, as it has been rumored, would be that the NBA introduces a new part of the jersey (like sleeves), puts a patch there that says “Oracle,” and makes an extra billion dollars per season.

His response was that he jokingly thought it “Was a great idea,” but no, the development of the Warriors sleeved uniforms began well before discussions about ads on jerseys ever took place.

He also confirmed that plans to put ads on jerseys are not in the works.

I found this as a relief, though I’m still fairly certain the NBA will figure out a way to incorporate sponsorships on uniforms. Shane Battier called it “inevitable.” Plus, they do it in every other professional basketball league. You do the math.

The bottom line, is that regardless of what you think of the sleeves, they’re here, and the NBA doesn’t really care what you — or the players — think about them, as long as people are buying them. So get used to it or simply buy the tank top versions in protest.

Let us know what you think…