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The NBA’s muddled switch to Nike

With NBA uniforms changing over from Adidas to Nike for the 2017-18 season, anticipation for the new designs has been running high. Nike released some details about the new jerseys today, but many questions still remain. Here’s a Q&A-style summary of what we know and don’t know about the NBA’s new look.

Why did the NBA summer league games use Adidas uniforms? Didn’t Nike take over for Adidas?

Adidas’ contract included this year’s summer league. For that matter, Adidas is still outfitting the current WNBA season, which extends well into September.

So when will the new Nike uniforms be revealed?

No unveiling dates have been announced. According to Nike, teams will release their basic white and colored uniforms “this summer,” with alternate designs slated to be revealed “in the coming months.” Nike has also said there will be “a major launch in early fall.”

Isn’t that cutting it kind of close to the start of the regular season?

Yes. In fact, it may be cutting it even closer that you realize, because the NBA is moving up the start of the regular season this year. Although the 2017-18 schedule won’t be released until next month, commissioner Adam Silver has said that this season will begin on Oct. 17 — about two weeks earlier than usual. The idea is to extend the length of the season in order to reduce the number of back-to-back games, something players have long complained about. But that means there will be less time between the unveiling of the new uniforms and the season tipoff.

Will every team be getting new uniforms?

It depends on what you mean by “new.” Every team will be changing over from Adidas to Nike, which means there will be leaguewide changes in tailoring, fabrics and so on. The information that Nike provided today included mention of larger armholes and a “tweaked collar shape.” The Nike logo will also be added to all jerseys and shorts (except for the Hornets, who’ll be wearing the Jordan Brand logo because Michael Jordan owns the team).

We know that some teams will definitely be getting new uniform designs. But many teams will likely be sticking with their basic designs, or will be making extremely minor changes — an alternation to the striping on the side of the jersey, say, or a change in the typeface used for the players’ names on the back of the jersey. Keep in mind that some teams, like the Kings and Jazz, have introduced new uniforms just in the past year or two, so it isn’t surprising that they’d stick with those designs.

This is pretty much the standard procedure when a league gets a new outfitter. When Nike took over the NFL’s uniform contract in 2012, for example, most teams stuck with their existing looks. Just last month Adidas unveiled its new uniforms for the NHL, with most teams maintaining their previous designs. So don’t expect a full-scale league-wide makeover — that’s not going to happen.

Why doesn’t Nike just tell all the teams that they have to get new designs?

It doesn’t work that way. Nike is the vendor; the teams are the clients, and the client is king. An outfitter like Nike or Adidas can make suggestions and can call the shots on certain things, like fabrics, but the individual teams get the final say regarding their uniform designs.

You said some teams will definitely be getting new designs. Which ones?

Here’s what we know so far:

• The Cavaliers have updated their logos, with new uniforms to follow.

• The Mavericks are making a very subtle change to their shade of blue. So even if nothing else changes, their uniforms will be tweaked to reflect the color change.

• The Pistons have changed their primary logo to a “Bad Boys”-inspired retro design. While nothing has yet been said about new uniforms, teams rarely change their primary logo without making a corresponding uniform change.

• Thunder beat writer Erik Horne has reported that the team’s orange “sunset” uniform is being scrapped and that two new alternate designs are being added.

• The Timberwolves have a new logo and new team colors, which of course means new uniforms are on the way.

• The Trail Blazers have updated their logo and will be updating their uniforms as well.

There are rumors about other teams getting new uniforms, but nothing solid.

Have there been any hints of what these new designs will look like?

It’s important to stress that nothing has been confirmed yet. But if you want to try to read the tea leaves, some clues are out there, at least for a few teams:

• Although the Raptors haven’t said anything about a new uniform design, guard DeMar DeRozan is going to be featured on the cover of the Canadian version of the NBA 2K18 video game. The box photo shows him wearing what appears to be an updated Raptors uniform, complete with a Nike logo and slightly revised side piping.

• That Raptors design matches images from a wholesale catalog that were posted earlier this year on a Chinese social media site. Those catalog images also appear to show a new Suns road jersey. (Chinese social media posts aren’t normally what we’d consider solid information, but the matching Raptors image suggests that this source is probably legitimate.)

• Last week the Nuggets introduced free-agent signing Paul Millsap by presenting him with a rainbow jersey, prompting lots of speculation about whether the team might be going back to that jersey style. (For the record, the Nuggets wore that uniform as a throwback last season, so they probably had plenty of those jerseys on hand for the Millsap news conference. Still, it’s interesting that they chose to use that design instead of using one of their standard jerseys.)

So that’s the level of information we’re dealing with here: Canadian video game cover photos and Chinese social media posts. That’s what happens when all the legitimate info is on lockdown.

But at least we have two bits of indisputably solid information: On Tuesday, Nike released a photo of a new Warriors jersey that clearly shows a revised collar treatment and thinner numbers. Shortly after that photo was released, the Kings posted photos showing their new white and purple uniforms, which show very small tweaks.

I’ve seen lots of the new designs floating around on the internet. Why haven’t you written about them?

The anticipation for the new uniforms has led some fans to create their own Photoshopped mock-ups of how they think the new designs could (or should) look. They post their creations to social media, where they begin circulating, and some people then mistakenly end up thinking the fan-created designs are the real thing. In some cases, jersey counterfeiters have even created real jerseys from these fan concepts and offered them for sale, creating additional confusion.

But I also saw photographs, not Photoshop renderings, of new Hornets and Nets uniforms. What about those?

It’s true that two photographs — one showing a Hornets throwback jersey and another showing an updated Nets design — began circulating late last month. But attempts to determine who took the photos, and under what circumstances, have come up empty. The jerseys shown in the photos could be what the Hornets and Nets will be wearing this season — or they might be preliminary prototype designs, or fashion designs, or any of several other possibilities. The best rule of thumb to follow is this: If you don’t know the source of a photo or mock-up you’re seeing, treat it very skeptically.

What’s this I’m hearing about home jerseys not being white anymore?

In conjunction with the changeover to Nike, standard home and road uniform designations are being scrapped. Each team will now have at least four uniform “editions,” as follows:

• The Association Edition: This will be a standard white uniform, or what we used to think of as the home design.

• The Icon Edition: A standard colored uniform, or what we used to think of as the road design.

• An edition “inspired by the community.” This sounds similar to what the NBA currently refers to as “pride jerseys,” like the Trail Blazers’ “Rip City” design.

• An edition “inspired by the athlete’s mindset.”

Also, eight teams will have a Classic Edition that “celebrates some of the most iconic uniforms in league history.” In short: throwbacks.

Under this new system, teams can wear any uniform they like at home, with the road team required to choose a contrasting design. In theory, this sounds like a big change from the league’s longstanding “white at home” protocol. In practice, though, the NBA has had an increasing number of color-versus-color games in recent years, as wearing white at home has become more of a suggestion than a steadfast rule. The new system of allowing teams to choose their own home uniform just codifies what was already taking place.

Last year Nike introduced a slimmer tailoring template for the Olympics and college basketball. Will the NBA uniforms be using that same template?

The jerseys will reportedly be a modified version of the ones worn by Team USA at the 2016 Olympics.

Will Nike be getting rid of the sleeves that so many NBA teams have worn in recent years?

It’s too soon to say for sure, but a report from six months ago indicated that the sleeves were probably on their way out.

What’s the latest on the ad patches?

Starting this season, NBA teams are permitted to wear advertising patches on their jerseys. At present, nine of the league’s 30 teams have announced plans to do so: the 76ers (whose ad patch is from StubHub), Kings (Blue Diamond Almonds), Celtics (GE), Nets (Infor, whose patch was originally shown in red but has now been changed to black and white), Jazz (Qualtrics), Cavaliers (Goodyear), Magic (Disney), Timberwolves (Fitbit), and Raptors (Sun Life).

Only nine teams with the ad patches? That seems like a pretty small number for a 30-team league.

Yes, it does. But there are still nearly three months until the start of the regular season, which is plenty of time for many or even all of the remaining 21 teams to get on board. Still, the ad patch program is voluntary, and some teams have reportedly had difficulty getting the price they wanted from prospective advertisers. It remains to be seen how many teams will participate.

Will the jerseys sold at retail include the ad patches?

Jersey sold at most retail outlets will not include them. But teams will have the option to include the ad patches on jerseys sold at their arenas. It’s not yet clear how many teams will go that route.

What’s this I’ve been hearing about a new logo for the league?

The NBA has made some extremely minor tweaks to its familiar Jerry West-inspired logo. There’s a good side-by-side comparison here. Most fans won’t even notice the difference. And due to long-lead production schedules, the updated mark won’t appear on game uniforms or retail merchandise until the 2018-19 season, so it’s a bit odd that the league didn’t wait until then to announce the logo revision.

Paul Lukas writes about uniforms for ESPN.com. If you like this column, you’ll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, be added to his mailing list so you’ll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.

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