Pity the poor, impoverished NBA: At the end of the 2014/2015 season, the league’s 30 teams only managed to generate $5.18 billion in revenue, almost half of which went to player salaries. That left each team—worth, on average, a measly $1.245 billion apiece—with an average of only $93 million in walking-around money, which may explain the league’s decision to permit the placement of advertising on player jerseys beginning in the 2017/2018 season. The sponsor patches, which will be no larger than 2-1/2 inches square, are expected to generate $100 million in new revenue. No doubt that’s just a start, and we can all look forward to the day when our favorite basketball stars will drive to the hoop or step back for an impossible three-pointer wearing jerseys resembling NASCAR apparel, which is practically held together by corporate logos for everything from beer and bourbon to cures for erectile dysfunction.
For basketball fans, the end of sponsor-free jerseys is just the latest landmark in the evolution of the sport’s uniform. In 2013, on Christmas Day, 10 teams played in sleeved jerseys. While some players and fans complained about the look of these garments, the Golden State Warriors wove these “shirseys” into its rotating attire, which today includes jerseys with Chinese lettering and “throwback” styles from the 1960s.
Regardless of the look, though, basketball jerseys of the 21st century are lighter than the woolen tops worn by players at the beginning of the 20th. They are also looser than the form-fitting uniforms worn until the late 1980s, when Michael Jordan’s preferences for baggy tops and longer shorts were embraced by the entire league. Naturally, game-used Jordan jerseys, which are typically sold signed, are in high demand, as are jerseys worn by the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, LeBron James, and Stephen Curry.