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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
How the NBA defines the three categories of jerseys available for retail:
The authentic jersey features the same fabrications and embellishments worn by players on-court but offered in regular apparel sizing.
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.
The replica jersey is a screen-printed derivation of the jersey that highlights basic inserts and design elements.
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
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.
- 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.
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
These days, sports apparel brands pay top dollar to be the exclusive uniform provider for professional sports leagues, and when those deals are made, the sports media reports on them. For instance, Nike’s recent $1 billion dollar deals with the NFL and NBA were widely reported. But prior to Reebok’s exclusive uniform deals with the NFL (winter 2000) and the NBA (summer 2001) , financial figures for the uniform deals were never released in the media. In fact, even mere mentions of the deals are difficult to find. As a result, the history of NBA uniform licensing is difficult to piece together. But as a jersey collector, it’s important to have a basic comprehension of uniform licensees over the past 30 years. It will help you determine which players and teams might be available from a certain brand like MacGregor Sand-Knit, Champion, Puma, Starter, Nike, Reebok or Adidas. It’s also an important first step in determining which jerseys are legit and which are counterfeits.
Several years ago when I first started trying to establish the timeline of Champion’s uniform licensing agreement with the NBA during the 1990s, I was not able to find one resource that accurately laid out NBA uniform licensing deals. I bounced around to different collector forums to try to piece it together, but found a lot of conflicting information and inaccuracies. Furthermore, no one had any supporting documentation backing up their claims. So I spent substantial time researching and piecing it all together. This series of posts are dedicated to providing an accurate, comprehensive look at the history and evolution of NBA jersey licensing. I have included links throughout this post to numerous articles, advertisements, product photos, etc. that backup my research.
For the past 15 years I have collected and sold Champion basketball jerseys. Over that time I have documented over 1,200 different jerseys. All of that content just collected in a folder on my computer….until now. For the past ten years I have wanted to create a blog-o-site that contained a comprehensive photo archive of every Champion NBA replica jersey ever made. But I didn’t have time, and I thought since the internet has everything, someone would eventually come along and create it. But, as the popularity of Champion jerseys continues to increase, there still is no place on the web where enthusiasts/collectors can go to see/discuss/learn about Champion basketball jerseys. Maybe I’m the only one who cares that much, and maybe that’s a problem…my girlfriend tends to think so. But nonetheless, this is my gift to the internet…which is now one step closer to containing everything ever.
Over the next several months, I’ll attempt to post one team gallery per week. Eventually as more content is posted, you’ll be able to search by player as well. And hopefully at some point, I’ll create galleries for the NCAA jerseys and for the NBA Authentic jerseys as well. But for right now, my focus is just on adult Champion NBA replica jerseys.
My blog posts will be aimed more at collectors and enthusiasts…more heavy on detail and history. But this site is for all NBA fans who grew up during the 90s and want to take a look back at uniform designs, players, etc. Champion jerseys capture a moment in time for the NBA from 1991 through 2002….my favorite period in basketball.
There are no jerseys for sale on this site, this is merely for historical purposes and for reference. If you own a jersey that is not posted on a published team page, send me photos and I’ll post it and give you credit. The whole goal of this site is to be a complete archive, so definitely appreciate any help from fellow collectors!