The purpose of uniform colors is to help us distinguish between rival clubs on game day. After all, if spectators could tell which squad was which, life would become clear. But did you know that home teams specifically chose to wear white?
Basketball home teams wear white uniforms because they have access to laundry facilities. The visiting team could better conceal the stains that had accumulated on their uniforms throughout the series by wearing gray or another dark color.
The Early Years of Uniforms
The A.G. official 1901 catalog The sporting goods store Spalding and Brothers sold long padded shorts that ended just below the knee and form-fitting jerseys with quarter-length sleeves and a sleeveless option. The company first introduced specially designed basketball shoes with suction cups on the soles to prevent slippage on hardwood floors in 1903.
Basketball cemented its standing and legitimacy in the years preceding World War I, having been played as a demonstration sport in the 1904 Summer Olympics and several intercollegiate federations adopting basketball as part of their annual athletic competition. As a result, additional efforts were made to differentiate opposing teams to avoid confusion among players, officials, and fans. Colored knickers and shirts were made from dyed wool and cotton. To identify teams and instill pride in their supporters, uniforms were adorned with letters and insignias.
Basketball outfits became more functional in the 1920s to meet the demands of an increasingly competitive sport. Long pants and sleeved shirts gave way to mid-length shorts and sleeveless jerseys to allow for greater movement and mobility. To avoid getting untucked mid-game, the jersey was fastened beneath the crotch, similar to an infant’s onesie. Women dressed in knee-length bloomers, sleeveless shirts, and knee pads. Both men and women were dressed in knee-high socks. (Source: This is Basketball)
Improving the Fabric of Basketball Uniforms
Stretchable wool and cotton were used to make uniforms. These natural fabrics were staples of daily wear at the time. The term “jersey” originally referred to a type of knit used for woolen pullover sweaters worn by fishermen from the English Channel island of Jersey. Wool is an unsuitable fabric for athletic wear for today’s basketball players. But there weren’t many options back then.
Wool absorbs sweat quickly, making it heavier as the game progresses. Itching and irritation can result, especially in sensitive areas of the body. It’s good that the game was shorter and slower-paced, so players didn’t have to endure too much discomfort.
In the 1930s, the invention of synthetic fibers, such as nylon, transformed a wide range of industries. Nylon was initially developed as a low-cost silk substitute and used in everything from women’s stockings to parachutes. (Source: This is Basketball)
What were Uniforms Like in the 40s and 50s?
By the 1940s, blended synthetic uniforms featured shorter shorts and body-hugging sleeveless jerseys. The Basketball Association of America (BAA) and the National Basketball League (NBL) would merge in 1949 to form the NBA, necessitating the need for more recognizable, distinct team uniforms. The Harlem Globetrotters, founded in 1928 and now famous worldwide, wore a striking, flashy uniform that would serve as a model for future basketball uniforms.
While amateur and professional baseball teams have been numbering their uniforms since 1916, basketball teams began numbering their jerseys in the 1950s. Built-in belts made of fabric and aluminum or plastic buckles made shorts even shorter. (Source: This is Basketball)