Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
As someone who really appreciates NBA history with my own share of retro NBA jerseys hanging in my closest, I’m changing it up a little bit in this post and decided to make up a list of the coolest NBA jerseys to have. These aren’t necessarily the best jerseys for each franchise or even the best players for those respective teams, but in my determination, the best and coolest combination of both player and jersey. The template I used for his list is if you walked into a party and someone came up to you and said, “Hey man, that’s a cool jersey. Players on this list vary greatly, ranging from NBA legends to NBA dropouts. I hope you enjoy!
Atlanta Hawks: Steve Smith (1995-1999 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: This is maybe the worst Hawks jersey ever but that’s what makes it so great. The giant Hawk with the basketball in the center of the jersey is what makes this so bad yet such a classic at the same time. I decided to not pick the best player in team history (Dominique Wilkins), but instead went with one-time All Star forward, Steve Smith. He was a very good all-around player for the Hawks while they wore these uniforms and picking Dikembe Mutombo in this jersey would have been too mainstream for my liking, so Smitty it is!
Boston Celtics: Reggie Lewis (1972-1999 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: As a die-hard 76ers fan, I hate the Boston Celtics more than any other team in professional sports. It also doesn’t help that the C’s have had basically the same green and white uniform for its entire existence and that the Celtics haven’t necessarily had a “cool” player to choose from either. Instead of going with any legend (Bird, Russell, Cousy, Pierce, etc.), I decided to go with a classier but also a bittersweet choice as well with the late Reggie Lewis. Lewis died from cardiac arrest in 1993 while playing for the Celtics and was one on his way to becoming one of the better players of his era. Choosing Lewis is somber but a classy move for any true NBA fan. Reggie Lewis RIP.
Brooklyn Nets: Drazen Petrovic (1990-1991 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: Another player heading into his prime that was taken away too soon, Drazen Petrovic died in a car crash in 1993 after having an excellent season for the New Jersey Nets. Drazen was well on his way to becoming maybe the greatest European player ever in the NBA. I chose Drazen because of his stardom in such a short time for the franchise, but also because the Nets have had some forgettable jerseys over the past 30 years. The Jason Kidd teams had awful jerseys and no one is notable enough in Brooklyn to be a “cool” jersey choice. These sky-blue Nets jerseys were ahead of its time and its only fitting if Petrovic was the selection.
Charlotte Hornets: Larry Johnson (1989-1996 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: The current rendition of the Hornets have good uniforms while the Bobcats had some terrible uniforms, but no one on the current Hornets was cooler than the former 1st overall pick Larry Johnson. I decided to go with the classy teal jersey with the pinstripes with Johnson. I could have gone with other obvious candidates like Muggsy Bogues or Alonzo Mourning, but Larry was such a unique player for his size and skill-set, I went with “Grandmama” as my choice.
Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan (1973-1985 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: MJ is the best player of all-time and is super mainstream but I decided to go with Air-Jordan anyways. The Bulls are another team that has never really changed their uniform over its history but the jersey with the cursive Chicago name is the best jersey in Bulls history. I have never been a big fan of the big, all-caps BULLS or CHICAGO on the front of the jersey, so this Bulls jersey with MJ in the infancy of his amazing NBA career repping it is the obvious choice.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Shawn Kemp (1994-1997 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: I have never been a fan of any of the jerseys that the Cavaliers have worn since they drafted LeBron James in 2003 and anything before 1983 wasn’t that cool either. So the choices were the good uniforms the Cavs dawned in the mid-80s to early-90s (Price & Daugherty era) or these awful black, blue, and orange jerseys from 1994 to 2003. I decided to go with the awful 90s jerseys for the same reasons as I went with the Hawks jersey, it’s so bad that it’s good. I went with Shawn Kemp because there was no one else as noticeable as the Reign Man at a time where he was still putting up numbers even though he was out of shape. Kemp is my Cavs choice.
Dallas Mavericks: Roy Tarpley (1981-1992 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: It seems fitting to go with an original Mavericks jersey as the choice and no Maverick was more compelling than Roy Tarpley. Tarpley was the 7th pick of the 1986 NBA Draft after a stellar career at Michigan and voted the Sixth Man of the Year in 1988, but starting in the 1989-1990 season, things went downhill fast. He was arrested for DWI multiple times and was suspended three times by the league and was eventually banned from the league for violating its anti-drug policy. A brief return to the Mavs in 1994-1995 was ended when he was banned permanently for alcohol use by the NBA. Having a sweet green 80’s jersey for a guy who was banned from the game would be pretty cool to have in the closest.
Denver Nuggets: Fat Lever (1983-1999 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: These jerseys, in my opinion are the best jerseys in NBA history. Worn by members of the Nuggets from 1983 to 1993, the rainbow Denver skyline in the middle makes this a truly beautiful jersey. Instead of going with Alex English, the best Nuggets player of that era, or even Dikembe Mutombo who wore this jersey for a short time, I decided to go with Fat Lever, because his name is freaking Fat Lever. Not to mention that he was a pretty good player as well (two-time All-Star as a Nugget).
Detroit Pistons: Jerry Stackhouse (1997-2001 Alternate Jersey)
Reasoning: There is no dispute that the jerseys that the Pistons wore from 1981 to 1996 (Isiah Thomas era) were the best jerseys in its team’s history. The worst jerseys, however, were the ones following the 81-96 jerseys: the infamous Grant Hill-era teal jerseys from 1996 to 2001. I thought it was too mainstream once again to go with the best player of that team with those uni’s, so I went with former-Sixer Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse appeared in his only 2 All Star games as a member of the Pistons as an outstanding scorer. Stack in the red alternative jersey is my choice for Detroit.
Golden State Warriors: Sleepy Floyd (1984-1987 Home Jersey) & Chris Webber (1989-1997 Home Jersey)
Reasoning: The Warriors have had so many great uniforms since they moved out to the Bay Area, including the jerseys right now (love the sleeved black slate unis), I had to go with two of the teams white jerseys, with Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and Chris Webber. Sleepy will go in NBA history for his nickname and his record: the most points scored in a playoff game in a quarter (29) and a half (39) in NBA history. He did this for the Dubs against the Lakers in Game 4 of the 1987 Western Conference Semifinals. These slick, white uniforms were worn between Rick Barry’s Warriors (1971-1984) and Chris Mullin’s Warriors (1989-1997). Chris Webber was my other choice for the coolest Warriors uniform. He played just one season during his first tenure with the team (1993-1994) as the #1 overall pick in the draft and is better known in his career for what he did with the Washington Bullets/Wizards & Sacramento Kings, but he was the Rookie of the Year during that season. Webber ended signing with the Bullets for reasons too long to get into, but his impact in that one-year with that jersey is worth it. Floyd & Webber are my Dubs choices.
Houston Rockets (1976-1995 Home Jersey)
I have never been a big fan of any Houston Rockets jersey since the team moved there in 1971. To me, nothing really stands out and besides, Hakeem Olajuwon, there is no one notable to pick. I decided to choose one of the key members of the back-to-back championship teams in 1994 and 1995: Vernon Maxwell. “Mad Max” was a feisty defender but was also known as a clutch shooter for the “Clutch City” Rockets. I picked Maxwell because of his personality and his ability to make shots in the clutch. These simple red, yellow, and white home uniforms that the Rockets wore for 20 years are solid but nothing really stands out. I couldn’t be convinced with these jerseys. Oh well, next team!
Indiana Pacers: Chuck Person (1984-1990 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: There was nothing really cool or flashy about the Indiana Pacers once Reggie Miller appeared on the scene and I haven’t been impressed by any of the jerseys from 1990-on, (although I almost picked Rik Smits). I went with former top-5 pick Chuck Person in these beauties from the late-1980s. Person was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1987 and was nicknamed the Rifleman because of three-point ability. An underrated player during his era, Person is a good choice to represent the Pacers on this list.
Los Angeles Clippers: Bill Walton (1978-1982 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: I have never liked any of the uniforms that the Clippers have had since they have been in Los Angeles (especially now), so my choice was between Bob McAdoo’s blue & white Buffalo Braves uniforms and these blue & orange San Diego Clippers jerseys. I decided to go with Bill Walton as the jersey name. Walton would have been one of the greatest players ever if he had stayed healthy for his whole career. Health wasn’t on his side when he was in San Diego, as he only played in 102 of a possible 410 games before the team moved to LA. Having a Bill Walton San Diego Clippers jersey would be really cool but also very rare.
Los Angeles Lakers: Nick Van Exel (1978-1999 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: Since switching team colors in 1966 (blue & white to purple & gold), the Lakers have never really made any dramatic changes to its jerseys over the years so I wanted to go with a player who is maybe forgotten by the average NBA fan. Between the Magic Johnson era & Shaq/Kobe era, there was Nick Van Exel running the show from 1993 to 1998. This second-round pick came out of nowhere and was the headman for the Lakers for a few years until Shaq signed in 1996. An All-Star in 1998, Van Exel’s time as a Laker was largely passed over because of the success of the Shaq & Kobe Lakers from 2000 to 2002, but having his Lakers jersey would be cool.
Memphis Grizzlies: Bryant Reeves (1995-2000 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: C’mon, did anybody think the Grizzlies’ best uniform wasn’t when the team was in Vancouver with these awful (yet beautiful) teal uniforms? The lettering for the Grizzlies as well as the stitching around the borders put this jersey over the top and who else but Bryant “Big Country” Reeves to use as the player rep. Reeves was the first ever draft pick of the expansion Grizzlies in 1995 and this 7’0 foot, 290 pounder from the plains of Oklahoma was the face of the franchise while the team was in Vancouver. This is one of the best jerseys in NBA history.
Miami Heat: Jamal Mashburn (1995-1999 Alternate Jersey)
Reasoning: I really have never been a big fan of the Heat jerseys since the turn of the century but I am a huge fan of the team’s 1995-1999 red alternative jerseys with black lettering and white shadowing. I really wanted to use either Harold Miner or Rony Seikaly for this jersey but both had already left the Heat by the time these were first introduced. My options were down to Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning, and Jamal Mashburn, deciding to go with Mashburn. Mashburn was a solid player for the Heat during his four years with the team but was limited due to injury. Those injuries kept Mash from becoming one of the best forwards of his era but a Mashburn red Heat jersey would be great for any collection.
Milwaukee Bucks: Glenn Robinson (1995-1999 Alternate Jersey)
Reasoning: While I absolutely love the current Bucks uniforms and admire the simplicity of the original Bucks uniforms (with Oscar & Kareem), this alternative jersey from 1995-1999 is my favorite. Like the Hawks jersey, the giant deer on the front of the jersey with the purple BUCKS on the front make this an unforgettable NBA jersey. I went with “Big Dog” Glenn Robinson over Ray Allen because I thought he was an underrated player during his era and I felt that this uniform better suited Big Dog.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Latrell Sprewell (1996-2008 Alternate Jersey)
Reasoning: I haven’t been a huge fan of the team’s uniforms ever since Kevin Garnett was traded to the Celtics in 2007, so I had two options. For me, it was between Christian Laettner’s early T-Wolves blue uniform or Latrell Sprewell’s black uniform. I went with Spree because of his personality (choked his own coach), his importance on the T-Wolves team that went to the Western Conference Finals in 2004, and the jersey itself. The black with the white writing, the tree borders, and Latrell’s number 8 looks like it’s upside-down. It’s a great uniform that represented the best era in Timberwolves history.
New Orleans Pelicans: Pete Maravich (1974-1979 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: I don’t think any of the current Pelicans’ jerseys are cool and don’t think any of the ones that preceded them are either. “Pistol” Pete Maravich played for the Jazz franchise (now in Utah), but since the Pelicans/Hornets have never had a cool jersey, Maravich’s New Orleans Jazz uniform will fill in. In my opinion, this Jazz jersey with “Pistol” as the name in the back is the coolest jersey in NBA history.
New York Knicks: Bernard King (1983-1987 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: I haven’t liked New York Knicks jerseys since they incorporated black into them in 1997 and the Knicks jerseys of the 1960s & 70s are too old for my liking so I went with one of the jersey of one of the most underrated players in NBA history: Bernard King. King could flat out score, making 3 All-Star appearances as a Knick, while wearing a simple yet elegant Knicks blue jersey that was not as flashy as the 1990s jerseys but cooler than the 1970s jerseys.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Shawn Kemp (1985-1995 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: Not going with any Thunder jersey here, all of them are boring, dull, and just plain bad. I went with a Seattle Sonics jersey instead so making a second appearance on this list is the Reign Man Shawn Kemp. This simple green, yellow, and white road jersey worn from 1985 to 1995, represented Kemp and the Sonics well. It was in the home version of this jersey where Kemp had one of the greatest dunks of all-time over Warriors’ center Alton Lister. It still pains me that Seattle doesn’t have a team today.
Orlando Magic: Penny Hardaway (1994-1998 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: To me, there are four really good options to use with the Magic: (1) Shaquille O’Neal in black, (2) Shaquille O’Neal in blue, (3) Penny Hardaway in black, & (4) Penny Hardaway in blue. I went with the fourth option because Hardaway represents how good that Magic team was for a short period of time and his injuries were a huge reason why they were never won a championship in the 1990s. Shaq is one of the 15 greatest players of all-time, probably known more for his time with the Lakers, so I decided on Penny in the blue jersey. I love how the white lettering goes well with the white stripes and the blue background.
Philadelphia 76ers: Moses Malone (1991-1994 Road Jersey) & Allen Iverson (1994-1997 Home Jersey)
Reasoning: I’m a diehard 76ers fan, so I went with my two favorite Sixers jerseys ever worn by Sixers legends who were better known in other Sixers uniforms: Moses in the classic 80s jersey and Iverson in the black and gold jersey. The 76ers wore those hideous things on the left from 1991 to 1994 and the jerseys on the right were short lived as well (1994-1997). Moses had a second stint with the 76ers in the 1993-1994 season (at age 38) and had to wear that “star-studded” Sixers road red jersey.Meanwhile Iverson came into the league as a rookie wearing this simple Sixers white home jersey in 1996-1997. Both NBA legends wore these forgettable jerseys for one year each but that’s what makes it so great. I am glad to call myself a proud owner of these two jerseys (as seen partially here with the Moses jersey [and yes, I was “that guy” with the Trust The Process sign at the NBA draft).
Phoenix Suns: Dan Majerle (1992-2000 Alternate Jersey)
Reasoning: These black Suns alternative jerseys from 1992 to 2000 are my favorite jerseys of all team. I just love the basketball (shaped like the sun) scream across the jersey with the Suns above it. It’s the signature look of one the most memorable teams in NBA history, the 1992-1993 Phoenix Suns, led by MVP Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Danny Ainge, Mark West, Richard Dumas, Tom Chambers, Cedric Ceballos, and my choice for the jersey Dan Majerle. “Thunder Dan” was one of the best guards in the NBA in the 1990s and a major reason why the Suns were so successful in the ‘90s (3-time All Star as a Sun). He’s my choice for the coolest Suns jersey ever.
Portland Trail Blazers: Arvydas Sabonis (1991-2002 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: Sabonis was one of the best European basketball players ever and it’s a shame basketball fans didn’t get to see him play in the NBA until he was 30 years old, injured, and past his prime, joining the Trail Blazers in 1995, nine years after he was drafted by Portland in the first round in 1986. He was a key piece of Portland teams that went to the playoffs every year he was with the team, including two trips to the Western Conference Finals in 1999 and 2000. He was such a skilled big man who didn’t get to show off his best stuff in the NBA but his Portland black road uniform in the coolest in Blazers history.
Sacramento Kings: Mitch Richmond (1994- 1997 Alternative Jersey)
Reasoning: I really wanted to go with a Jason Williams black Kings jersey here but this half-black, half-purple jersey is too good not to pick. Added with the checkered sides, this jersey is one of the best jerseys that most people forget about. This jersey would have to be a Mitch Richmond jersey because he was the franchise for the 1990s. He was a terrific scorer and a six-time All Star during his Kings run even though the Kings didn’t do much winning during the decade. Richmond is the obvious choice for this jersey.
San Antonio Spurs: George Gervin (1976-1982 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: With respect to Dr. J, George “Iceman” Gervin was the coolest player in the coolest league (ABA) in the coolest era, and wearing the coolest jersey, the Spurs road uniforms from 1976 to 1982. The black San Antonio & 44 text with the white outlining makes this an awesome jersey that really represented the era that he played in. The plainness and dullness of the current Spurs jerseys make the case for Gervin’s #44 to be the coolest Spurs jersey.
Toronto Raptors: Tracy McGrady (1995-1999 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: This was such a close call between T-Mac and Vince Carter, but ultimately decided to go with McGrady in these purple road uniforms. The giant Raptor along with the white pinstripes and the black border around “McGrady.” Such an awful jersey but so great at the same time, McGrady was a Raptor for such a short time that he better represents this uniform than Carter does. Tough choice, but I picked McGrady.
Utah Jazz: Greg Ostertag (1996-2004 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: You gotta love the jerseys the Jazz wore during the team’s only two appearance in the NBA Finals (1997, 1998) with the giant white mountain in the center of the jersey (the first tweak to the jersey that moved away from the New Orleans Jazz). Going with John Stockton or Karl Malone seems too simple so I went with the 7’2, 280 pounder from Texas, Greg Ostertag. Ostertag was a mainstay for the Jazz from 1995 to 2004 as he was known as a white-stiff with a buzz cut on some very good Jazz teams.
Washington Wizards: Gheorghe Muresan (1987-1997 Road Jersey)
Reasoning: This was one of the hardest jersey selections to make because, except for the awful teal jerseys from 1997 to 2011, the Wizards/Bullets franchise has had very similar jerseys over the team’s history. I was thinking maybe a classy look with a Wes Unseld or Elvin Hayes jersey but I decided to pick the tallest player in NBA history: Gheorghe Muresan. The 7’7 giant from Romania was drafted by the Bullets 30th overall in the 1993 NBA Draft and enjoyed a mildly successful career (1996 NBA Most Improved Player) but was derailed by injuries. I decided to go with the simple red Bullets jersey, while it is red, white, and blue, it doesn’t go crazy with those colors like the current Wizards and the Unseld Bullets jerseys do. Also, Muresan starred in one of my favorite “This is SportsCenter” commercials ever in that jersey.
I hope you enjoyed the list and let me know what you think!