For better or worse, NBA jersey designs can carve places in the annals of basketball history as timeless symbols of excellence or infamous laughingstocks some organizations seemingly never live down. Neither status is exactly etched in stone. The respective imagery synonymous with the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have barely changed at all after decades of consistency. However, teams such as the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Brooklyn Nets have undergone various aesthetic evolutions before their present likenesses. Whatever iconography and palettes may have graced their custom team logo apparel in the past, these five teams each make their own striking cases for laying claim to the best jersey designs in the NBA today.
Los Angeles Lakers
Since first unveiling their enduring slanted insignia and purple-and-gold color scheme in 1966, immortal icons from Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson to Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James have ensured the Lakers’ mostly unchanged look remained synonymous with championship glory and electric, uptempo performances. There’s a pop to those vibrant hues that invokes a certain classic regality, more than 50 years of unforgettable hardwood excellence and constant eye-catching entertainment whenever the lords of Los Angeles take the Staples Center court. Some teams eventually need to change things up to redefine and freshen up perceptions and conversations surrounding them. When your colors are already indelibly associated with a half-century of some of the greatest professional basketball ever played, what else could you possibly want your jersey to bring to mind?
It should be expressly illegal to reference the Lakers’ purple and gold as the NBA’s signature shades of championship excellence without acknowledging the greatness brought to mind by the rival Boston Celtics’ timeless green-and-white look. Their unmistakable home jerseys display the team’s name in white with a gently curved, no-nonsense font across an emerald backdrop. The motif speaks to a straightforward simplicity that speaks to how the Celtics have always taken care of business at their best: perfectly executing solid basics. No decals. No splashy logos. Let the 17 championships their classic kit brings to mind speak for themselves. Few designs exude everything a team stands for quite like vintage Beantown basketball couture, and Boston fans wouldn’t want to see their lads any other way.
Oklahoma City Thunder (Statement)
When the Seattle Supersonics bid the Pacific Northwest farewell to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, they unfortunately fell from superbly designed green, gold and white attire built on an appealing vintage sensibility to gaudy Association and Icon kit missteps that never quite hit home like their old duds. However, the Thunder seem to have finally hit an aesthetic stride with an alternate navy look built on subtle-but-striking accents. The gradient back panel is a cool touch of flair, but the slightly skewed, glitched-out OKC lettering in a basic sans-serif font lends a small, distinctive touch in orange against a bold and dark backdrop. Let’s face it, this is an approach the franchise might do well to extend into its mainstay uniforms. Every so often, less really is more.
Golden State Warriors
For most of the franchise’s history, the Golden State Warriors’ uniform designs have never established a full-fledged identity anyone could get behind. Some teams’ kits invoke something geographically identifiable and endearingly familiar about the franchise’s hometown that fans could rally around. Others just happen to be regarded hand-in-hand with legacies of excellence and classic appeal after enduring as iconic representations throughout the NBA’s ongoing cultural evolution. The Warriors have always boasted a handsome color scheme of blue and gold, but the current design introduced several years ago added a big, gorgeous Bay Bridge logo front and center to firmly establish their regional loyalty. It is not hard at all to imagine Steph Curry proudly donning this uniform until his playing days are done.
Sacramento Kings (Association)
It took years for the Kings to dial in the perfect stylistic recipe, but California’s most underwhelming NBA organization currently makes a strong argument for having the single most handsome uniforms in the league. Wiping black entirely out of their road and home kits was a somewhat risky call, but their Association uniforms sport light-gray side piping that creates a much less jarringly contrast against their pristine white base. The overall layout also incorporates a tasteful, clean number font and a neat wordmark in dapper purple at a slightly lower position on the jersey than where most teams would place them. If the goal of any uniform design is to further define a team’s identity through a distinctive fashion sense, the Kings have set themselves apart by acknowledging the huge difference those smaller considerations can make.
Nothing takes precedence in the NBA above winning, but an appealing, marketable team persona doesn’t fall into second by much. The only thing sweeter than hoisting a trophy at the end of the season is looking sharp while doing it. These five organizations are certainly not the only well-dressed lords of the hardwood. They just happen to be the “starting five” who set the highest bar when it comes to dressing for success.