PORTLAND, Ore. -- Adidas America Inc. on Monday introduced arguably the biggest aesthetic change to the National Basketball Association since the end of the short shorts era.
Sleeves are coming to the shoulders of the NBA's Golden State Warriors later this month, and to several other NBA franchises starting next season, said Lawrence Norman, who runs the German athletic footwear and apparel company's global basketball business from its Portland-based U.S. headquarters.
Adidas introduced the new yellow, short-sleeved jersey during an event in Oakland, Calif.'s Oracle Arena Monday afternoon, officially making the Warriors the first modern-era NBA franchise to don the court in something other than the traditional tank top. The team will first wear them competitively against the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 22.
While company and team officials tout the uniform's technical attributes (even with sleeves, the jersey is 26 percent lighter than the Warriors' regular jersey) the introduction of sleeves has a practical application aimed at juicing sales of NBA fan gear.
Though fans can certainly wear NBA jerseys during all seasons with shirts underneath, they seem far less consumer-friendly than their sleeved counterparts in the National Football League or in soccer leagues worldwide. (As a jersey consumer, I own five football jerseys, two baseball jerseys, and a half dozen soccer jerseys, but haven't bought a replica NBA jersey since I was in junior high, largely because I shun tank tops.)
The sleeved NBA jersey is Adidas solution to that problem.
"I think that the cool thing about this is that there is the opportunity to change the way the players play on the court and the way fans support their team forever," Norman said. "Kids can support (their teams) in the city, but also wear them in the hallways and malls in ways that they can't do with a tank top."
Adidas says it's been working with the Warriors for 18 months to develop the uniform, and Norman calls the team the perfect candidate to launch the sleeved jerseys. It's a young, aggressive team, near the heart of the nation's Silicon Valley innovation hub, with a new ownership group led by venture capitalist Joe Lacob and renowned Hollywood producer Peter Gruber that Norman calls visionary.
"It was cool because we were presenting to Peter, a Hollywood icon, and he stopped us midstream and said, 'I get it. We're in,'" Norman said. "It made sense to launch it in the Bay Area. This is the most innovative hub in the United States."
The Warriors coincidentally or not, one of two NBA teams (the Brooklyn Nets being the other) to employ in-stadium Adidas-run team shops are far from the only team to hear this pitch from Adidas.
Close to two years ago, while sitting in the office of Adidas America President Patrik Nilsson, I spotted a large, bound book with a white cover that said "Brooklyn Nets." The Nets at the time were still in New Jersey but had announced their plans to move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn beginning with this season.
The book, as Nilsson showed me, had Adidas' design concepts for the Brooklyn Nets which included some sketches for a short-sleeved basketball jersey.
"We've made the presentations. We expect other NBA teams to come on board as early as the 2013-14 season," Norman said. "The interest has been strong across the board."
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