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.
NBA Logo Patch
Let’s start with the NBA logo patch. All Champion replica jerseys produced from 1991-1992 through 2001-2002 have the NBA logo patch and Champion logo patch on the left shoulder strap (the one exception are the Atlanta Hawks “Big Hawk” black road jerseys produced for the 1998-199 season…on these jerseys the NBA patch and Champion logo are on the right shoulder strap) . The Champion logo is always an embroidered patch that has been sewn onto the jersey. The NBA logo patch however can be used to date a particular jersey . From 1991-992 through the 1994-1995 season, Champion used an iron-on NBA logo patch. The patch is felt-like and slightly fuzzy and it is ironed on to the jersey and not sewn. Starting in the 1995-1996 season, Champion switched to an embroidered NBA logo patch which was sewn on to the jersey. So if a jersey has an iron-on patch, that means it was made between 1991-1992 and 1994-1995, and if it has sewn-on patch it was made between 1995-1996 and 2001-2002. The one exception to this rule is Michael Jordan’s #45 Bulls jerseys. These were released upon his return late in the 1994-1995 season but do not have the iron-on patch. They were the first run of jerseys to have the sewn-on patch. In addition, you might find some jerseys produced from 1995-1996 onward that still have an iron-on patch. This would be typical for a team that didn’t have a uniform design change for a long period of time. For instance, the Phoenix Suns had the same jersey style from 1992-1993 through 1999-2000. As a result, Champion was able to use back-stock to produce jerseys for upcoming seasons. For instance, I have seen Jason Kidd Phoenix Suns jerseys with iron-on patches, and Kidd didn’t start playing for the Suns until the 1996-1997 season (which means the NBA logo should have been sewn on). However, Champion was using back-stock/overstock from 1994-1995 (or before) to print that particular production run of Jason Kidd jerseys.
During the 1996-1997 season the NBA celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary and selected the 50 greatest players of all time. Champion released special edition throwback jerseys to commemorate the occasion. The jerseys from this collection have a gold NBA sewn logo.
When collecting, I always like my jerseys to have the jock tag attached. This is the size tag located near the bottom left hemline. Champion replica jerseys came in five adult sizes: 36 (S), 40 (M), 44 (L), 48 (XL) and 52 (XXL). The sizes on the label represent the chest measurement. So for instance, I’m 5’10 and 160lbs, and normally wear small or medium t-shirts. I like my Champion jerseys to be somewhat snug because I’m not a fan of the oversized look, so I wear size 40 (M). A size 40 means that the width across the front chest fro armpit to armpit is 20″ (a size 44 means the with from pit to pit is 22″). So if you are unsure of what size to get, you can just measure a t-shirt that you own and get the measurement across the chest from pit to pit and multiply it by two to verify which size jersey works best. Champion jerseys for the most part proceeded the oversized craze that started in the late 90s/early 2000s, so for people used to oversized jerseys, Champion jerseys will mostly run a size smaller. The most common sizes that Champion produced are 44 (L) and 48 (XL). However, the vests (unlike the traditional tank-top style jerseys) that Champion started producing in the early 2000s began reflecting the preference for oversized jerseys, so you’ll see vest mostly produced in size 48 (XL) and 52 (XXL). Sometimes, kids removed the jock tags from earlier Champion jerseys. If the jock tag is missing, there is no other size label on the jersey (for jerseys produced from 1991-1992 through 1997-1998). So to verify the size before purchasing, just ask the seller for the chest measurement from pit to pit.
While the jock tag’s main purpose is sizing, it can also be used to date a particular jersey. For replica jerseys released by Champion during it’s inaugural season of 1991-1992, the jock tags have an attached label that says “100% Nylon” (indicating the fabric makeup of the body of the jersey). In addition, the jock tag states the jersey was “Made in U.S.A.”. The “Made in U.S.A.” designation remains on jock tags through the 1994-1995 season. So any jersey produced from 1991-1992 through 1994-1995 season will have a jock tag that says “Made in U.S.A.” Starting in 1995-1996 (the same year that Champion started using sewn NBA logo patches), Champion moved production from Winston Salem, NC to Mexico for it’s replica jerseys. As a result, the jerseys were no longer made in the United States, and the jock tags reflect this by no longer having “Made in U.S.A.” on them.
However, there are exceptions to this general rule-of-thumb. For instance, the Houston Rockets changed uniform design and color for the 1995-1996 season. Champion produced these new jerseys at the end of the 1994-1995 season for unveiling/release during the early summer of 1995 (prior to the 1995-1996 season) to get fans excited. So you’ll see jerseys from the 1995-1996 season for the Rockets that are still made in the USA because Champion made these early in their production cycle for the 1995-1996 season before moving production to Mexico. The same is true for the Vancouver Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors. They were both expansion teams for the 1995-1996 season, but you’ll see Damon Stoudamire and Bryant Reeves jerseys for the 1995-1996 season that were still made in the U.S.A. rather than Mexico. Again, this is because Champion produced these blank jerseys prior the conclusion of the 1994-1995 season in their US production facility, and therefore could print them quickly following the June 1995 draft and get the Stoudamire and Reeves jerseys on the market immediately. In addition, the 1995-1996 All Star replica jerseys that Champion released for the game in San Antonio were produced in the USA. And the 1996-1997 NBA 50th Anniversary special edition throwback jerseys were also made in the USA. I have also seen jerseys like the Milwaukee Bucks 1995-1996 alternate jersey that were made in the USA rather than Mexico.
It should also be noted that if you see a jock tag that does not have a numerical size, but rather has S, M, L or XL, that is a European-issued jersey. I’ll dedicate a future post to Champion jerseys that were released overseas in Europe.
From 1991-1992 through 1994-1995, Champion did not sew a label into the collar of replica jerseys. In 1991-1992, the manufacturing information (made in USA) was contained on the jock tag, as well as the fabric content of the jersey (100% Nylon). Starting in 1992-1993 and continue through 1994-1995, Champion sewed a tag into the left, interior side hemline that contained the fabric makeup of the jersey, as well as washing instructions (which were the same word-for-word as the washing instructions contained on the jock tag). So any jersey produced from 1991-1992 through 1994-1995 will not have a tag sewn into the collar. If you don’t see a collar label that most likely indicates the jersey was produced from 1991-1992 through 1994-1995. To confirm, you can just look at the jock tag. If the jock tag says “Made in U.S.A.” that means the jersey can be dated between 1991-1992 and 1994-1995. If “Made in U.S.A.” is not written on the jock tag, that means someone cut out the collar tag (which is common) and the jersey was produced from 1995-1996 onward. And as mentioned, if there is no collar label and the jock tag is cutoff, you can still date the jersey by looking at the NBA logo. If it is ironed on, it is from 1991-1992 through 1994-1995.
Starting in 1995-1996 (when production moved from the USA to Mexico), Champion no longer sewed the fabric/washing instruction label into the interior side hemline. Instead, Champion began to sew a label into the collar. You can use these collar labels to help date jerseys produced from 1995-1996 through 2001-2002
For the 1995-1996 season, Champion used a small white collar label that simply read “Assembled in Mexico of US Components. Contents on Reverse.”
For the 1996-1997 season, Champion used a larger blue collar label that included the Champion logo along with the text “Authentic Athletic Apparel” followed by “Assembled in Mexico of US Components. Fiber Content on Reverse.”
For the 1997-1998 season, Champion used the same larger blue collar label that included the Champion logo and text “Authentic Athletic Apparel.” However, the label now simply read “Made in Mexico. Fiber Content on Reverse”.
For 1998-1999 (and continuing through 2001-2002), Champion added the size of the jersey followed by “Authentic Athletic Apparel” and “Made in Mexico”.
You might also see jerseys produced between 1995-1996 and 2001-2002 that have the larger blue collar label with “Made in USA” printed on it. If the jersey has this label, then the jock tag will also say “Made in U.S.A.” The 1996-1997 NBA 50th Anniversary special edition throwback jerseys have this tag inside the collar. I’ve also seen this tag on some of the 1995-1996 Milwaukee Bucks alternate jerseys. While Champion did most of it’s production in Mexico starting in the 1995-1996 season, they still produced some jerseys in the USA after that, and those jerseys have the “Made in USA” collar label, as well as “Made in U.S.A.” jock tag.