The NBA may be largely about basketball, but there's also a layer of fashion attached to it. It's apparent in the jerseys NBA players wear. As long as the league has been around—it's going on 70 seasons now—jerseys have remained one of the oldest constants among teams. They're more than just identifiers— they've become symbols of allegiance, proving that function and aesthetic are capable of workin hand in hand.
The truth is that not all jerseys are created equal, nor are they received by the public in the same way. Some are horrible beyond words (the sleeved jerseys!), some are too corny to even bring up (the '90s cartoon rush!). On the other hand, there are also jerseys that have become larger-than-life in different ways, either through team success or because they look timeless and iconic. This list is a rundown of the league's most memorable and influential.
New Jersey Nets (Home) 1979-1990
One of the most underrated NBA jerseys of all time is the New Jersey Nets' home jersey from their days in the NBA. Most of today's NBA fans don’t remember these journeys other than the time they were brought back in the early to mid 2000's by the Jason Kidd-led Nets. But back then, they were arguably the best jerseys this side of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Since they pre-date their NBA existence, it was fitting that the red, white, and blue colors were used in the American Basketball Association. The absence of any black thread on the jersey made it look cleaner and they were rocked by no less than the Doctor himself, Julius Erving.
Los Angeles Lakers (Home) 1978-1999
21 seasons. That's how long the Lakers, arguably one of the most decorated franchises in all of sports, wore these gold jerseys on their home floor. On the surface, the colors purple and gold don't actually mesh well together, but through history and championship pedigree, the Lakers have made these colors their own. It's understandable that even as the NBA has gone through numerous design eras in the jersey department, the Lakers have retained their colors and logo since moving to Los Angeles in 1960. The jerseys have since undergone changes since the turn of the millennium, including an alternate white jersey that doesn't look as cool as it should. But the gold home jerseys from the days of Kareem and Magic to Kobe and Shaq have lasted the test of trends and more importantly, time.
Chicago Bulls (Away) 1985-present
If the Lakers and the Celtics remain in the pantheon for having the most classic of all classic jerseys, the Chicago Bulls' red away uniforms are just a step below them. Three things come to mind when looking at this jersey. One is how it fits really well with the team's name. Two is how the jersey has become synonymous with greatness. And three because, well, Michael Jordan. No player has ever elevated a jersey's style and perception more than Jordan has to the Bulls red away jerseys. That's a big reason why Chicago has never even come close to changing its name, logo, and jersey. Those red away threads will always be synonymous with the GOAT.
San Antonio Spurs (Road) 1989-present
The NFL's Oakland Raiders may have popularized the silver and black color scheme, but nobody has infused it with championship quality more than the San Antonio Spurs. These jerseys have become even more popular because the perception attached to the colors have always been about ruthless aggression, and yet they were worn by arguably the most emotionless superstar in NBA history, Tim Duncan. For the longest time, the Spurs were the only NBA franchise to feature black road unis, and they've certainly staked claim to that corner by still using one of the best road jerseys of all time 28 years after it was launched.
Charlotte Hornets (Away) 1989-1996
No jersey in the history of the NBA has had as much cultural impact as the Charlotte Hornets' pinstriped teal and purple road jerseys from the 1990s. Maybe the Celtics' green units or the Lakers gold home jerseys come closest, but the Hornets' teal and purple threads literally sparked a logo and branding revolution that spread all the way to the NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball. True story. The Detroit Pistons. The Colorado Rockies. The San Jose Sharks. The Jacksonville Jaguars. These are only four of many teams that adopted the teal and/or purple colorway because the Hornets popularized it so much that everybody wanted them. If there was ever a pantheon for the most trend-setting NBA jersey of all-time, the Hornets’ teal road jersey is head and shoulders above everybody else.
Atlanta Hawks (Road) 1982-1992
The jersey itself has a nostalgic element to it, similar to the Nets' home ABA jersey and the Bulls' red away jersey. It wasn't so much the way it looked, although the red, white, and gold color scheme still pops out on any screen to this day. This jersey’s cool factor is attached to the swag of no less than the Human Highlight Film himself, Dominique Wilkins. He may never have ascended to the pantheon of all-time greats the way Dr. J and His Airness have, but ask anybody who grew up in the '80s if they remember this jersey. There's a good chance you'll get a "yes," and a longing reply of wanting one now.
Denver Nuggets (Home) 1982-1993
We're not fans of cartoonish-looking jerseys. That explains why the Raptors' dinosaur jersey isn't on this list. Same goes for the Houston Rockets' angry rocket face jersey and the Detroit Pistons' stallion jersey. We're making an exception for the Nuggets' home white jersey from the '80s, which featured a horizontal rainbrow strip on the chest with an imagery of the Rocky Mountain skyline inside. This jersey was completely ahead of its time that if it was locked in a time capsule in 1985 and unearthed in 2017, it'd still be one of the coolest looking jerseys in the league. It may be a little too campy for some people, but it remains era-proof, which is more than what most jerseys can say about themselves.
Golden State Warriors 'The City' (Home) 1966-1971
No, we're not talking about the current Warriors home jerseys, although we will admit it that they're probably one of the best-looking jerseys today. We're talking about the iconic gold home jerseys the team rocked from 1966 to 1971. Today, they're called 'The City' jerseys and they remain one of the most iconic jerseys of all-time. Back then, they were revolutionary for being one of the first jerseys in professional sports that eschewed any city or team name. Instead, all it said in the front was 'The City,' where just below it was a circular logo that contained the player's number and a depiction of the Golden Gate Bridge. The uniqueness of this jersey didn’t end in the front either because at the back was a cable car motif that included the player's jersey number inside it. Say what you will about the Warriors' current digs, but the history behind them dates specifically to 'The City' jerseys from five decades ago.
Boston Celtics (Road) 1965-present
This is the most iconic NBA jersey of all-time, and for good reason. It remains timeless because of the tradition behind the minimalist green and white colors of the uniform. It remains timeless because of the championship legacies that were created while wearing the exact same jersey. It remains timeless because it was worn by the single biggest collection of championship winners and Hall of Famers in NBA history. It remains timeless because it represents of what Boston is a sports city. Outside of maybe the New York Yankees’ pinstripes, no jersey in all of sports will ever be as iconic as the Celtics’ green road jerseys. Facts.
Photos from NBA Store