Nike Design Team Develops Color-Rich NBA Uniforms

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LOS ANGELES – John Hoke, Nike’s chief design officer, says that getting the call that the NBA was bringing a new challenge to his creative team started the most fun he’s had working on a project in his 25-year career with the brand.

“We have 1,000 creatives,” Hoke tells HOW during the launch of the Nike’s official partnership as the on-court apparel designer for NBA, everything from the new uniforms for all teams to warmup apparel. “And hundreds of those creatives are passionate fans who love the game. It is such an amazing partnership and an opportunity to take this league into the future and make it a global brand.”

The effort starts with design. A uniform design, specifically. While each of the 30 NBA teams worked with Nike separately to either tweak or reenvision a uniform set that will include four different options, there was ample opportunity for Nike to approach the opportunity with a fresh perspective. “You start with reverence for the past and add depth and dimension” Hoke says. “We are extremely proud of what we have started out with.”

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Approaching each team individually presented a challenge simply in terms of mass, as each franchise has decades of iconography to look back on. “The challenge is humbling and exciting,” Hoke says. “We want to be respectful (of the past), but pull forward. We want to be familiar and future in a package bundle.”

Sure, Nike touts the technological innovations embedded in the uniform. The uniforms have a more tailored cut meant to fit the players more comfortably. In an effort to wick sweat faster, Nike has both made a jersey lighter than any in the past and with a special thread that raises the uniform just slightly from the body to promote air movement and drying. On a technology side, all the “jock tags” of the adult uniforms sold to the public come with near-field communication chips that allow a smartphone scan to launch the Nike NBA Connected Jersey app for access to team and player content. Nike’s happy to share about all that new technology, but Hoke says the brand has progressed its design to the point where each new technological adaptation no longer needs an aesthetic aspect to show it off. “We are continuing to evolve our point of view,” he says. “We still show science, but want a perfectly balanced design of form and function. Nobody wants ugly function.”

The biggest aesthetic change Nike brings to the NBA uniforms comes in a full embrace of color. Hoke says from the start they worked with the NBA to bring more color to the floor, from sneakers and socks right up through the entire warmup, base layer and, especially, the uniform.

Kevin Durant

“You will see a far more colorful game, which is scripted,” Hoke says about the full-body design. “You will have a color explosion.”

Of course, Hoke says the design required a reverence to colors of past, but juxtaposing that with a future-looking design perspective. And the players love it.

Paul George, one of the NBA’s stars now playing for Oklahoma City, says he relishes the colors and the fact it allows teams to get more creative with their uniforms. He cites the NFL’s move to color rush—a Nike creation—as a new aspect in that league that gives it a modern twist and hopes the embracing of color in the NBA will help draw more people to the game.

So far, NBA teams have introduced three of the four uniforms. With new rules allowing the home team to select which of their four uniforms they will wear on a given night and the visiting team selecting a contrasting look, the uniforms are no longer called home, away and alternate. Now the league has Association and Icon edition uniforms—really, the old home and away. The Statement Edition, revealed in September, comes as the team’s third uniform and was inspired by the player mindset. The yet unreleased fourth uniform comes inspired by the community.

George, wearing the Thunder’s Statement Edition blue—a more vibrant color than Oklahoma City has used in the past—says he appreciates the opportunity to pair the blues and oranges of Oklahoma City. When asked what other teams’ colors caught his eye, he says simply having so many colorful options to choose from was a bonus. His favorite, though, was the bright green seen on the Minnesota uniform set. “It is all about flash,” George says.

Maurice Harkless of Portland, one of the more progressive franchises when it comes to embracing new designs, says he loves that the Blazers have embraced new colors. The Statement Edition uniform he will wear has a darker shade of red and eliminated all the white and gray to focus on just red and black. “It is a lot cleaner,” Harkless tells HOW. “They have modernized all the jerseys and we all love them.”

His favorite in the Portland set is the new red/black Statement Edition, but he expects the fourth uniform to come in all black, so he reserves the right to change to making that his favorite, he jokes. When it comes to the uniforms around the league, he says the bright yellow with a strong, colorful logo from Denver and the Sacramento design have really caught his eye as some of the best out there.

Orlando’s Elfrid Payton says he appreciates having so many colorful options.

And one of the league’s biggest stars, Kevin Durant, says he “loves the color,” as he debuted Golden State’s new Statement Edition uniform with a fresh oak tree logo on the front of a “The Town” uniform in grey and yellow.

When it came time for Nike to reinvent the uniforms of the NBA, they took to technology and design, a design that put a premium on a fresh perspective of forward-looking color.