NBA 50th Anniversary 1996-1997 – NBA at 50 Champion Jerseys (Part 1)

During the 1996-1997 season the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary. The NBA’s goal was to spotlight the history of the league and the early superstars and teams. Unlike the NFL and MLB where young fans were familiar with old-time stars of those leagues, the NBA had notoriously been bad at promoting its history and former legends. The league had experienced a boom in popularity during the 1980s (Larry Bird & Magic Johnson) and the 1990s (Michael Jordan and the Bulls), but those current superstars overshadowed stars of the past. During the 80s and early 90s the league was focused on the future and growing into a global brand, and thus never took time to reflect on its past. As a result, kids like myself in the mid-90s had no clue who Bill Russell, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Pistol Pete Maravich or George Gervin were and didn’t even know about the ABA. The NBA’s 50th Anniversary gave the league the perfect opportunity to tell its story and finally give past superstars their due.

On June 6, 1996, during the 1995-1996 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Sonics, David Stern officially announced the “NBA at 50” celebration for the upcoming 1996-1997 season. Julius Erving was named spokesman for the campaign.

To kick-off the season-long “NBA at 50” celebration, David Stern announced the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History at a press event in New  York City on October 29, 1996. The announcement was made at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which was built on the former site of the Commodore Hotel where the original NBA charter was signed on June 6, 1946. Voters consisted of media, former players and coaches, current and former general managers and team executives. Players were chosen without regard to position and were not ranked (they were announced alphabetically and vote totals were not revealed). The final list of the 50 Greatest Players consisted of 11 current players and 16 who retired in the 1980s or 1990s. It also included 6 players who spent time in the ABA and 2 players who played in the National Basketball League (NBL), which in 1949 merged with the Basketball Association of America (BAA) to officially form the NBA.

NBA 50 Greatest Players List

The 11 current players on the list consisted of: Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Parish, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton and Shaquille O’Neal. At the time, Shaq was considered the most surprising and perplexing choice given that he had only been in the league four seasons and his team (the Orlando Magic) had been swept from the playoffs for three straight seasons. Some notable omissions from the list were David Thompson, Alex English, Bob Lanier, Connie Hawkins, Bob McAdoo and Bernard King.

NBA 50 Greatest Guards     NBA 50 Greatest Centers      NBA 50 Greatest Forwards

On Saturday November 2, 1996 during the opening weekend of the NBA season, Ahmad Rashad hosted “NBA Special: The Greatest Ever” where he and Marv Albert presented the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players to a national television audience on NBC. The special included interviews with select players, including a rare interview with both Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

NBA Special: The Greatest Ever

On Wednesday November 13, 1996 TNT aired the NBA’s official documentary “NBA at 50”. The two-hour documentary was hosted by Denzel Washington and for the first time celebrated the league’s history with rare footage.

NBA at 50 Documentary TNT Denzel Washington November 1996

During halftime of the 1997 NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players were officially honored. The ceremony was the culmination of all the activities that surrounded the NBA at 50 celebration, and 47 of the 50 honorees attended the ceremony. Pistol Pete Maravich was the only deceased player on the list, having passed away unexpectedly in January 1988 of heart failure at the age of 40, but his two sons represented their late father. Shaquille O’Neal was recovering from a knee injury and could not attend, and Jerry West was unable to travel due to an ear infection which required surgery.

NBA at 50 Halftime Ceremony - 1997 All Star Game

 

 

 

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 12 players: Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Elton Brand, Andre Miller, Jason Terry, Metta World Peace, Mike Miller, Jamal Crawford, Tyson Chandler and Tony Parker. 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 draftee and current Cleveland Cavalier Richard Jefferson (#13 New Jersey Nets via Houston) are not on the list because Champion never produced a replica jersey for them. Champion Europe did produce Gasol Grizzlies 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, Paul Pierce and Tony Parker 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 four additional players still active in the NBA that are not included on this list: Manu Ginobili (1999 San Antonio Spurs), Pau Gasol (2001 Memphis Grizzlies via Atlanta), Richard Jefferson (2001 New Jersey Nets via Houston) and Zach Randolph (2001 Portland Trail Blazers). Champion did not produce replica jerseys for these players. In the case of Ginobili, although he was drafted in 1999 he continued to play overseas until joining the Spurs for the 2002-2003 season, at which point Champion was no longer producing 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 – Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls

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.

 

jordan champion jerseysAt 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.

1991-1992

Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Road Jersey 1991-1992 with Tags

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.

1992-1993

Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Road Jersey 1992-1993 with Tags

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.

1994-1995

Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Road Jersey 1994-1995

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.

1995-1996

Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Road Jersey 1995-1996 with Tags

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.

1996-1997

Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Road Jersey 1996-1997 with Tags

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.

1997-1998

Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Road Jersey 1997-1998 with Tags

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.

1998-1999

Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Road Jersey 1998-1999 with Tags

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.

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.

 

 

Authentic vs Swingman vs Replica Jerseys….

How the NBA defines the three categories of jerseys available for retail:

Authentic

The authentic jersey features the same fabrications and embellishments worn by players on-court but offered in regular apparel sizing.

Swingman

The swingman jersey includes nearly all the same visuals as an authentic jersey but integrates a consistent performance mesh fabrication and one layer twill wordmark, name and number applications.

Replica

The replica jersey is a screen-printed derivation of the jersey that highlights basic inserts and design elements.