This article was originally published in print on March 3, 2020.
Basketball is the fashion runway of the sports world. The game’s biggest stars are not only revered as athletes but have become some of the leading fashion icons in pop culture. Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and James Harden both capture and demand attention before they enter the arena, thanks to their unique and eye-catching wardrobes.
The fashion show does not stop once tipoff begins. Players are continually adding armbands, shooting sleeves and headbands to their look. Then, of course, comes the king of all accessories, the shoes. Players, fans and commentators alike analyze each shoe every star player is sporting. The biggest names of the game sign blockbuster contracts to release a signature shoe to the market. Just as eager as manufacturers are to sign the league’s best, fans apprehensively wait for hours to drop the big bucks on the latest drop.
While shoes are the king of basketball accessories, new items to hit the shelves have begun to sweep the league. Since the Nike acquisition of the NBA jersey contract, fans rush to collect the latest jerseys. Whether it be the Miami Vice inspired jerseys of the Heat or the callback to the days of Stockton and Malone in Utah, the jersey game has become a significant aspect of today’s NBA.
The fashion wars are not exclusive to professionals. College programs around the country are continually unveiling new looks for their basketball teams. Multi-million dollar contracts to be the brand sponsor are commonplace in the NCAA. Every school wants to ensure that when the prime-time lights turn on, their program is looking its best. Nothing caps off a victory better than a perfectly timed picture with your school’s jersey looking immaculate.
Never one to be behind the trends, the basketball programs at the University of Utah are always at work to ensure their game-time threads not only catch the eye but allow their athletes to feel a sense of pride in their school.
As with any sport, before athletes use or fans see any equipment, there is a team behind the scenes.
“We typically stay at a 2-3 year cycle for the jerseys we wear more often (black/red/white). The lifespan of jerseys also depend on new fabrics and when new styles are rolled out,” said Megan Freshour, Director of Olympic Sports & Equipment Room Operations at the University of Utah.
Some people wonder whether or not only the manufacturer has say over what styles and fabrics are available to the school or if boosters and students have any say.
“Coach Roberts and I will meet when it is time for new uniforms,” said Freshour. “I present the new styles to coach, and she gives her feedback on what she likes or what changes need to be made. It is usually just coach and me, not anyone else.” With all the insight gained from Megan, it was time to gain insight from the mind of an athlete.
Senior point guard Kiana Moore is one of quite a few college athletes that take pride in the gear they rock on game day.
“It has always been a dream to play basketball for a college like Utah. I think it is exhilarating having that passion for the game of basketball and going out and playing for the type of school you have dreamed of playing at. For me, especially as a senior, when I wear that jersey, I think about our program and what we bring,” Moore said.
To Moore there is a strong link between gameday gear and fashion.
“I think it shows your character and who you are. We don’t just play basketball — we have a sense of character to ourselves and what we bring. It shows our different identities and distinguishes us from each other.”
The gear throughout Moore’s time at Utah has been ever evolving. Things that she had her freshman year are no longer a part of the look.
“We no longer have baggy shorts. We have shorter shorts that fit us better, and I think our shoes have become better throughout the years.”
Gameday gear is not merely something to wear, but a source of pride in their program and themselves. While these collegiate athletes may not walk into the arena they’re playing in with eye-popping outfits and bizarre hats, there appears to be a common thread between professional and collegiate players.
Both appear to approach fashion, whether it be their pregame attire or what they wear on the court, as an extension of their personality. These athletes use their uniforms to express their personalities, as well as a collective pride in their team.
While shoes and jerseys may be a great marketing tool for athletes and teams, the fashion world of basketball is layered in meaning. On the one hand, the flashiest jerseys and the newest shoes draw the attention of the spotlight. On the other, fashion allows players to express their pride in their team and talents. Basketball has not only transformed the pop culture of fashion but has become an outlet of expression for those who hit the hardwood.