Pau Gasol & Memphis Grizzlies Champion Jerseys…

In my last post, I looked at the active NBA players who have a Champion jersey. Champion’s last season of producing replica jerseys was 2001-2002, so anyone drafted 2001 or prior would be eligible. My list included 11 players: Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Elton Brand, Andre Miller, Jason Terry, Metta World Peace, Mike Miller, Jamal Crawford and Tyson Chandler. Fellow Champion enthusiast Mike made a good call-out about Pau Gasol needing to be included on the list. After all, Gasol was the #3 pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. But surprisingly Gasol, along with fellow 2001 draftees Richard Jefferson (#13 New Jersey Nets via Houston) and Tony Parker (#28 San Antonio Spurs) are not on the list because Champion never produced a replica jersey for them. Champion Europe did produce Gasol Grizzlies jerseys and Parker Spurs jerseys, but Champion USA did not.

But the mention of Pau Gasol, and his recent signing with the Spurs, got me thinking about Memphis Grizzlies Champion Jerseys. It’s fascinating that Champion didn’t produce Gasol’s rookie jersey for the 2001-2002 season. Not only was he the #3 overall pick but he went on to win Rookie of the Year. Champion produced replica jerseys from 1991-1992 through 2001-2002, and Pau Gasol is the only Rookie of the Year during that span to not have a rookie-year Champion jersey. In addition, Champion made rookie-year jerseys for the top 5 draft picks in every draft between 1991-1992 through 2000-2001. For 2001-2002, Champion produced rookie jerseys for 7 of the top 10 picks, including the #6 pick Shane Battier….who was drafted by the Grizzlies. So Champion made a jersey for the Grizzlies #6 pick, but not their #3 pick who would go on to win ROY, two NBA titles and is a potential Hall of Famer. It gets even crazier when you look at the Memphis Grizzlies jerseys that Champion did produce for the 2001-2002 season, which you can see in the Team Gallery.

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Active NBA Players with Champion Jerseys…

Whenever an NBA veteran announces his retirement, my automatic response is to check Ebay to see the impact on the popularity/market value of his Champion jersey (sadly, I do the same when a former player dies). Kobe Bryant’s rookie-style Lakers Champion jersey started selling like crazy in the months leading up to his final game, and still remains tough to find. A couple of years ago you could purchase a Kobe rookie-style jersey for $30, now people are paying over $100. With Tim Duncan stepping away from the game a few days ago after 19 seasons,  I realized that in the not-so-distant future there will be no players left from the “Champion jersey era.” The last Champion jerseys rolled off the assembly lines during the 2001-2002 season…14 seasons ago! I thought it would be fun to look at the 11 active players that have been around long enough to have their names immortalized on the back of a nylon jersey with heat pressed letters. Before next season starts, this list will shrink. Andre Miller is currently the oldest active NBA player at age 40. Elton Brand came out of retirement this past season and could possibly be retired again but hasn’t made an official announcement. Jason Terry, Metta World Peace and  Mike Miller are currently unrestricted free agents but want to keep playing. Kevin Garnett and Vince Carter are signed through next season, and Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce have deals that run through the 2017-2018 season. That leaves Jamal Crawford and Tyson Chandler as the last two players remaining on this list since they are currently under contract through 2018-2019. So by the 2019-2020 season, no one will be able to rock a Champion jersey in support of an active NBA player.

UPDATE: It’s important to note that there are three additional players from the 2001 draft still active in the NBA that are not included on this list: Pau Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies via Atlanta), Richard Jefferson (New Jersey Nets via Houston) and Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs). Champion did not produce replica jerseys for these players (Champion Europe did produce Parker and Gasol jerseys).

Champion Gold Jerseys…

Michael Jordan Champion Gold BlogFrom 1991-1992 through the 1996-1997 season, Champion held the exclusive uniform license for the NBA. Champion produced the on-court uniforms for all 29 teams, and was the only licensee able to produce replica and authentic jerseys for retail. Starting in the 1997-1998 season, the NBA divided the uniform licenses between Champion, Nike and Starter. While Champion could no longer produce authentic jerseys for the 19 teams now held by Nike or Starter, they still had the exclusive license to produce replica jerseys for all 29 teams. Replica jerseys fueled NBA merchandise sales in the mid-90s, in part due to strong draft classes in 1993 (Chris Webber, Anfernee Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn) and 1994 (Glenn Robinson, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill). In addition, the Jordan-led Bulls had dominated merchandise sales in the early 90s, but in the 1994-1995 season were overtaken by the Charlotte Hornets, led by Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. Michael Jordan’s retirement prior to the 1993-1994 season officially marked the end of an era that had featured Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. There was a new group of up-and-coming superstars, and Champion was in the right place at the right time as fans scooped up jerseys of their new favorite players and teams.

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Champion Replica Jerseys – Tags & Labels

In all of the galleries that I post, if you click on a particular jersey for an enlarged view, you’ll see that I provide the season that particular style of jersey was first issued for each player. But when you are collecting, if you want to more accurately pinpoint which year a jersey was issued, you can look at the tags and labels to determine the season that Champion issued a particular jersey. For instance, Champion produced thousands of Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls jerseys from 1991-1992 through 1997-1998. For a collector, it might be important to have a first-issue or early issue Jordan road jersey. But since they basically all look the same, how can you tell which year a particular Jordan jersey actually came off of Champion’s production line? This post will tell you what to look for when trying to date a particular jersey that you otherwise can’t date by obvious traits like the style/color, team logo/graphics, player font, etc. It will show you the various labels and tags used by Champion over the years that will allow you to dive a bit deeper when collecting. This post only deals with REPLICA jerseys. I’ll address Authentic (sewn) jerseys in a future post. And of course, this isn’t an exact science…there are variations to what I layout below and I’ll be sure to address some of those.

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Washington Bullets – Champion Jersey

In 1995, Bullets ownership looked to change the name of the team out of sensitivity to gun violence in the city. After 30+ years, the Bullets officially became the Wizards at the start of the 1997-1998 season. As a result, Champion only produced Bullets jerseys for six seasons. Therefore, there aren’t many players available compared to other teams.

One of the rarest Champion Bullets jerseys is Bernard King. King had a resurgent year with the Bullets in the 1990-1991 season, becoming an All Star despite playing on a surgically repaired knee. Therefore, Champion released King replica jersey for the 1991-1992 season. However, King wouldn’t even step on the court of the 1991-1992 season due to complications with his knee, and he would never play another game for the Bullets (in fact, he was out of basketball for a year and half and only played 32 games with the Nets in 1993 before officially retiring). So there was only one limited production run of King Bullets jerseys.

 

Bernard King Washington Bullets Red

Champion issued the Bernard King jersey for the 1991-1992 season, but King would not suit up for the Bullets that year or ever again.

 

Most early Bullets jerseys are tough to find since they didn’t have much star power and were a mediocre team. So the jerseys were limited to a few players and production runs were small, with most sales locally in the DC market. The exception would be Calbert Cheany, who was drafted prior to the 1993-1994 season. Cheaney was a popular collegiate player at Indiana, so Champion did nationally distribute his jersey.

In 1994-1995, the Bullets would pickup Chris Webber from the Warriors and draft Juwan Howard out of Michigan. Having two members of Michigan’s Fab Five reunited on the same NBA team immediately created a huge demand for Bullets jerseys. As a result, Champion nationally distributed Webber and Howard jerseys, and those are the most abundant Bullets jerseys around. For Webber’s initial season with the Bullets in 1994-1995, he wore #2, because Scott Skiles had #4. So Webber’s #2 jersey was only produced for one season, but they aren’t hard to find because Champion printed a lot given Webber’s popularity. Champion Bullets jerseys produced from 1991-1992 through 1994-1995 have the player’s name in blue on the back with white outline.

 

Chris Webber Washington Bullets Red Rookie

Chris Webber joined the Bullets for the 1994-1995 season after a rookie season with the Warriors. He wore #2 for his first season with the Bullets since Scott Skiles had #4.

For the 1995-1996 season, Champion changed the players name on the back of the jersey to be white with blue outline. Scott Skiles was traded to the Orlando Magic, and as a result, Chris Webber changed to his traditional #4 jersey. That same season, the Bullets would draft Rasheed Wallace out of UNC, and Wallace’s jersey was also nationally distributed and produced in a large quantity. Champion would release white home jerseys starting in 1995-1996, but only for Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. As usual, the home jerseys were printed in very limited quantities and are extremely hard to find.

Chirs Webber Washington Bullets Red White Name

For the 1995-1996 season, Webber would get his #4 back. Champion changed the players names on the back of the jersey from blue to white.

 

While Webber, Howard, Wallace and Cheaney jerseys are relatively easy to find given their large production runs, the other player jerseys are quite scarce. Gheorghe Muresan is probably the most collectible Bullets jersey given his cult status as one of the few 7’7 players to every play in the NBA (and starring in the movie My Giant).

Milwaukee Bucks – Champion Jersey

Champion produced replica jerseys based on team popularity and player popularity….basically on what fans would purchase.  Therefore, on a team level, there are lots of Bulls, Knicks and Lakers jerseys. On a player level, there are a ton of Michael Jordan, Grant Hill and Penny Hardaway jerseys. These teams and players were distributed nationally. The Milwaukee Bucks in the 1990s were terrible and lacked star power (other than Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen). Add to that ugly jersey design, and that’s a recipe for limited production runs and jerseys that were mainly sold locally in the greater Milwaukee market (again, not counting Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen).

 

Champion produced very few Milwaukee Bucks jerseys for the 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 seasons. In fact, for the 1991-1992 season they only released Alvin Robertson. I personally really like these jerseys. When I was young I never even saw one of these in person, and rightfully so. No kid would possibly spend money on a Blue Edwards jersey when given the choice of buying a Jordan, Magic Johnson or Bird jersey. So I imagine these were mainly sold at the Milwaukee Bucks arena and local Milwaukee sports stores. As a result they are extremely rare and you seldom see them. As with most Champion replica jerseys, these lack some of the side detail that you would find on the authentic jerseys that the players actually wore on the court. As mentioned in my previous Trailblazers post, lack of detail was due to printing limitations. And Champion at this time was not sewing separate side panels onto jerseys…they were simple monochromatic  nylon jerseys with the only color variation coming on the neckline trim. And Champion only produced green road jerseys…there are no white home jerseys in existence.

Alvin Robertson Bucks Front

Champion produced this style of Bucks jersey for the 1991-1992 & 1992-1993 seasons.

 

For the 1993-1994 season, the Bucks completely redesigned their logo and uniform colors. Despite the redesign (which is generally considered one of the uglier uniforms), the Bucks were still horrible and lacked star power, so again, there were limited production runs. When the Bucks drafted Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson in the 1994 draft, Champion mass-distributed his jersey, and as a result you’ll see a lot of Robinson jerseys around. These new replicas were spot on with the authentic jerseys that the players actually wore on the court. As with most teams, Champion released most players and quantities in the purple road version, while the white home jersey were limited and are hard to find.

Glenn Robinson Bucks Purple Front

For the 1993-1994 season the Bucks redesigned their logo and uniform colors. The following season, Glenn Robinson was drafted and the Bucks finally had a replica jersey that was nationally distributed.

 For the 1995-1996 season, the Bucks introduced an alternate jersey (which they would wear for the next three seasons). The jersey went back to the classic green color and featured the big buck on the front. They were extremely hard to find during their initial release and mainly sold locally in Milwaukee. The awesome design and scarcity have thus made these extremely collectible. The print on these jerseys was not great, so a lot of times the buck image has disintegrated since people have washed them. So to find these in pristine condition is difficult and makes them that much more valuable.

Ray Allen Bucks Alternate Front

1995-1996 Bucks alternate jersey

Champion made a minor adjustment to the Bucks replica jerseys for the 1999-2000 season. The neckline went from a crew neck to a v-neck. I have never seen a white home version of this jersey.

Glenn Robinson Bucks Purple Vneck front

1999-2000 Bucks replica jersey had a v-neck instead of a crew neck

In 2001-2002, the Bucks went to a vest style jersey and added side panels. Champion replicas were spot on with what the Bucks wore on the court, as Champion was now sewing side panels onto their replica jersey vests. As usual, the white home versions were limited and are very difficult to find.

Sam Cassell Bucks new Front

2001-2002 Bucks went to a vest style jersey with side panels

Portland Trailblazers – Champion Jersey

Although Champion began producing jerseys for all NBA teams for the 1990-1991 season, they didn’t start producing replica jerseys for resale until 1991-1992 (most likely the summer of 1991, prior to the start of the season). Evidence of this can be seen in the Portland Trailblazers jersey design. For the 1990-1991 season, the Trailblazers had the “lower case” Blazers logo. No Champion Trailblazers replica jerseys exist with the older “lower case” Blazers logo from the 1990-1991 season.

clyde drexler hoops card

1990-1991 Blazers “lower case” logo jersey

For the 1991-1992 season, the Trailblazers updated their logo to the “upper case” Blazers logo. All Champion Trailblazers replica jerseys have this logo. However, the heat-transfer/screen-printing techniques that Champion used during the 1991-1992 production run were primitive. In fact, it appears that Champion rushed jerseys to market. A lot of the initial replicas from the 1991-1992 season were very basic and lacked the detail of the jerseys that teams actually wore on the court. For instance, the Trailblazers didn’t even have their signature stripes (blaze) on the 1991-1992 replicas jerseys:

Clyde Drexler Blazers No Stripe Red-White Trim Front

1991-1992 Blazers replica jerseys didn’t even have their signature stripes

Much of this was probably due to the limited platen size available on the heat presses that Champion was using in their production facilities.  The platen is the heated upper plate on the heat press and most likely was 14″ x 14″, which means that printing outside of this size range wasn’t possible. Therefore, all designs would be limited to a 14×14 area on the jersey. Therefore, while the authentic Trailblazers jerseys had stripes that run across the entire front torso, the replica jerseys initially had stripes that were short and limited to the width of the “Blazers” logo. Champion would add the stripes to the Trailblazer replica jerseys for the 1992-1993 season.

Clyde Drexler Blazers Partial Stripe Black Front

1992-1993 Blazers replica had stripes, but they didn’t run across the entire torso due to limited printing capabilities

In addition to adding the stripes for the 1992-1993 season, Champion also changed the neckline from a multicolor white/red trim, to a solid red trim. They also released white home jerseys, although they were extremely limited in both player availability and quantities printed. It was common for Champion to mainly release road jerseys for most teams, while home jerseys were limited and harder to find.

Champion wouldn’t change the Trailblazers jerseys until 1998-1999. It appears during this time that they finally were able to update their printing techniques and print across the entire front torso of jerseys (for instance, other teams like the Utah Jazz finally had logos that stretched across the entire chest). The stripes stretched across the entire torso, replicating what the players actually wore on the court. The only other change was the players names on the back of the jerseys went from straight orientation to a rounded/curved orientation. Also, Champion issued more white home jerseys in a wider variety of players, although quantities were still limited, and they are still scarcer than the black road versions.

Rasheed Wallace Blazers Full Stripe Black Front

1998-1999 Blazers replica jersey with stripes across entire torso

 

While most teams eventually transitioned to vests by the 2000-2001 season, the Trailblazers were one of the few teams that still had the traditional tank-top style jerseys when Champion ceased production of replica jerseys after the 2001-2002 season.

 

 

Champion NBA Licensing Timeline (1990-1991 through 2001-2002)

This is a the follow-up to my recent posts on NBA uniform licensing. The following just focuses on recapping Champion’s NBA licensing history….

  • For 12 seasons (1990-1991 to 2001-2002), Champion was involved in NBA uniform licensing in some capacity
  • Champion produced replica jerseys for all NBA teams for 11 seasons (1991-1992 through 2001-2002)
  • Champion was the official uniform provider for all NBA teams for 7 seasons (1990-1991 through 1996-1997).
  • For the next 4 seasons (1997-1998 to 2000-2001), Champion was the official uniform provider for 10 NBA teams.
  • In 2001-2002, Champion was the official uniform provider for 8 NBA teams.
  • At the conclusion of 2001-2002 season, Champion’s license with the NBA expired and it no longer provided uniforms nor produced replica or authentic jerseys for any NBA teams

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NBA Jersey Licensing – Overview by Brand

In the following post I look at the brands that have had NBA uniform licenses over the past 30 years. I begin with MacGregor Sand-Knit, who in 1986 signed the first exclusive NBA license to outfit all NBA teams and produce replicas jerseys. I then look at all the other team uniform suppliers over the years, including Champion, Starter, Puma, Nike, Reebok and Adidas. This is a good resource if you are looking for a particular replica jersey and want to know who produced it, or if you are trying to authenticate a jersey.

Pre 1986-1987

  • NBA teams purchased uniforms directly from major manufacturers like Rawlings, Wilson, Russell Athletic, Medalist Sand-Knit/MacGregor Sand-Knit. There were also smaller manufacturer like Powers Mfg. (Denver Nuggets), Tiernan (LA Lakers) and Spanjan (Phoenix Suns). Some teams used local distributors who bought blank jerseys from the major manufacturers and customized them at their facilities. For instance, the New York Knicks used local distributor Gerry Cosby who in turn used Sand-Knit jerseys.

MacGregor Sand-Knit

1986-1987 through 1989-1990 (4 seasons)

  • MacGregor Sand-Knit exclusive NBA uniform provider for all teams
  • MacGregor Sand-Knit exclusive producer of replica jerseys for all teams

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