This is a follow-up to my previous post about using the jock tag, NBA logo and collar label to determine the exact year that Champion released a particular jersey. Often times, you can pinpoint the year a jersey was produced by obvious aesthetic traits like the color, graphics/logo, and font of the player name. Or you can use simple logic based on team rosters and players that might have only played for a particular team for one season. But there are teams like the Bulls that didn’t change their jerseys the entire time that Champion produced replica jerseys from 1991-1992 through 2001-2002, and there are players like Michael Jordan who played for the same team for many years. So if you are a hardcore collector and want a Michael Jordan jersey from a particular year, how can you decipher between the thousands and thousands of red Michael Jordan Bulls road jerseys that exist? Using the information provided in my previous post, let’s look at the Michael Jordan Bulls jerseys released between 1991-1992 and 1997-1998 and how I’m able to determine the exact year each jersey was produced by Champion.
At first glance, there are two versions that stand out as different and thus are easy to date…the 1991-1992 jersey and the 1994-1995 jersey. But the other five jerseys all look identical, but if you look at the label in the collar, the NBA logo and the jock tag, you can decipher the exact year Champion printed each jersey.
The 1991-1992 Bulls road jerseys have the player’s name in white font. So the 1991-1992 first-issue Michael Jordan jersey from Champion is easy to identify just by looking at Jordan’s name on the back of the jersey. However, you can still look at the jock tag and NBA logo patch. As you can see, the jock tag has the “100% Nylon” label attached to it. This was only done on jerseys produced in 1991-1992, and as a result, there is no label sewn into the interior torso hemline with information about fabric content. And you can see that the NBA logo is an iron-on felt patch and not a sewn on embroidered patch. This was the case for Champion jerseys produced from 1991-1992 through 1994-1995. Also there is no collar label, which weren’t sewn into collars until 1995-1996.
In 1992-1993, the Bulls switched the nameplate font on their road jerseys from solid white to black with white outline. So from 1992-1993 onward, all Jordan jerseys have the same font for the name on the back of the jersey, so you can no longer pinpoint the year of production based on this characteristic. Therefore, you have to look at the jock tag, NBA logo and collar label. Champion did not sew labels into the collars of jerseys produced from 1991-1992 through 1994-1995. So the absence of a label in the collar most likely signifies that jersey was produced sometime between 1991-1992 and 1994-1995. However, the label in the collar was often cut off by kids since it was kind of irritating when wearing the jersey. So you need to look at the jock tag and NBA logo patch to further verify it is indeed from this timeframe. As you can see on the jock tag, it says “Made in U.S.A.” which means it was most likely produced between 1991-1992 and 1994-1995, since in 1995-1996 Champion moved production to Mexico and thus removed “Made in U.S.A.” from the jock tags. Furthermore, by looking at the NBA logo, you can see it is the iron-on felt patch and not sewn on embroidered patch, which means it was produced between 1991-1992 and 1994-1995. Finally, instead of sewing a label into the collar with information about fabric content and washing instructions, Champion sewed a label into the interior side hemline (left side of torso). They did this for all jerseys produced from 1992-1993 through 1994-1995. You can see this jersey has all the characteristics and be accurately labeled a 1992-1993 Jordan Bulls jersey.
Jordan’s 1994-1995 jersey is completely obvious. On March 19, 1995 Jordan returned to basketball after his stint in minor league baseball following his father’s murder in August 1993. Upon his return Jordan wore #45, which was his high school basketball and baseball jersey number as well as the number he wore playing minor league baseball. Jordan didn’t want to wear #23 upon his return (the Bulls had also retired it) because that was the last number his father had seen him play basketball in, and he wanted a new beginning. However, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Orlando Magic, Nick Anderson stole the ball from Jordan late in the game which led to Horace Grant’s game winning basket for the Magic. For Game 2, Jordan reverted back to #23 and kept that number for the remainder of the playoff series against the Magic (5 games). The Bulls lost in 6 games to the Magic, and at the conclusion of the series the Bulls were fined $100,000 ($20,000 per game) for Jordan switching his jersey number from #45 to #23 without league approval. So Jordan wore #45 for only 22 games, but Champion produced at least 240,000 Jordan jerseys with the #45 (this would include road red and home white). These jerseys were still made in the USA, so the jock tag contains the text “Made in U.S.A.”. And these were the first jerseys made by Champion that had the embroidered NBA patch sewn onto the jersey (although some did still have the iron-on felt logo). The interior torso hemline still had the fabric content label with washing instructions. And there were no collar labels.
In 1995-1996, Champion started producing jerseys in Mexico. As a result they removed “Made in U.S.A.” from the jock tag. In addition, they now sewed a small white label into the collar that reads “Assembled in Mexico of US Components. Contents on Reverse.” And for all jerseys in 1995-1996 and onward, Champion used an embroidered NBA logo patch that was sewn onto the jersey (they no longer used the felt iron-on NBA logo patch). As you can see, this jersey has all of these characteristics and therefore can accurately be labeled a 1995-1996 Jordan Bulls jersey.
In 1996-1997, Champion updated the label that was sewn into the collar. It was now a larger blue label with the Champion logo that reads “Authentic Athletic Apparel. Assembled in Mexico of US Components. Fiber Content on Reverse.” Again, the jock tag no longer contained the text “Made in U.S.A.” and the NBA logo is an embroidered patch sewn onto the jersey. This jersey has all of these characteristics and can accurately be labeled a 1996-1997 Jordan Bulls jersey.
In 1997-1998, Champion once again updated the label that was sewn into the collar. The label now read “Authentic Athletic Apparel. Made in Mexico. Fiber Content on Reverse”. And once again, the jock tag doesn’t contain the text “Made in U.S.A.” and the NBA embroidered logo patch is sewn onto the jersey. This jersey has all of these characteristics and can accurately be labeled a 1997-1997 Jordan Bulls jersey.
The Bulls ended their 1997-1998 season by wrapping up their second three-peat and winning their 6th championship by defeating the Jazz in Game Six of the NBA finals on June 14, 1998. The euphoria only lasted a week, because on June 21, 1998 Phil Jackson didn’t resign with the Bulls and walked away from coaching (Tim Floyd would replace Jackson). Many saw Jackson’s departure as an omen that free agent superstars Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman would follow in Jackson’s footsteps and leave Chicago. But on July 1, 1998 the NBA lock-out began and wouldn’t be resolved until January 20, 1999, so all player negotiations and roster moves were put on hold. When the 1998-1999 NBA season (reduced to a 50 game schedule due to the lockout) officially began on February 5, 1999 the Bulls roster had been decimated by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Jerry Krause. On January 13, 1999 Jordan announced his second retirement from the NBA. On January 21, 1999 (the first day teams were able to make roster moves) Dennis Rodman was released and Steve Kerr was traded to the Spurs for Chuck Person and a 1st round pick in 2000. The next day on January 22, 1999 Scottie Pippen was traded to the Rockets for Roy Rogers and a 2nd round pick in 2000, and Luc Longley was traded to the Suns (that trade did lead to a 1999 1st round draft pick which netted the Bulls Ron Artest/Meta World Peace). The Bulls finished the strike-shortened season 13-37. To put that into perspective, during the Bulls second three-peat from 1995-1996 through 1997-1998 they only lost 43 regular season games (203-43)
While Jordan never played a game for the Bulls during the 1998-1999 season, Champion still produced his jersey. In order to continue producing and marketing Jordan’s jersey, Champion had to strike a licensing deal with Jordan and the NBA. At the time, licensees like Champion could only use Jordan’s name and likeness for 70 days after his retirement (until March 24, 1999). The 70 day deadline was part of a group licensing agreement between the league and the NBA Players Association as was designed to give licensees time to sell their existing inventory of a player’s merchandise after his retirement. Back in 1999 the throwback jersey craze was in it’s infancy, so when a player retired demand for his uniform dried up. Prior to Jordan, Champion had only signed extension deals with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson to continue producing their jerseys after retirement. But by the March 24, 1999 deadline, Champion reached an agreement to continue producing and selling Jordan jerseys until the end of the 1998-1999 season.
In 1998-1999, Champion once again updated the label that was sewn into the collar (this label would remain the same through 2001-2002 when Champion stopped producing replica jerseys). The collar label now had the size of the jersey and read “Authentic Athletic Apparel. Made in Mexico.” And once again, the jock tag doesn’t contain the text “Made in U.S.A.” and the NBA embroidered logo patch is sewn onto the jersey. This jersey has all of these characteristics and can accurately be labeled a 1998-1999 Jordan Bulls jersey.
The 1998-1999 season marked the final year that Champion produced Jordan’s Bulls jerseys. From 1991 through 1999 Champion sold on average 300,000 Jordan jerseys in the United States annually. It was by far Champion’s best selling jersey and most widely produced.