My main focus and expertise is Champion replica jerseys because of the nostalgia associated with them. But I get a lot of questions about Pro-Cut jerseys, particularly in regards to authenticity. So I wanted to dedicate a series of posts with information I’ve collected over the years about Champion Pro-Cuts, and I’m hoping the many people that read this site will also provide info in the comments below. That way we can all be more informed collectors.
Let me start by saying that while I have owned over 1,000 replicas, I have never owned a Pro-Cut. As a young teenager in the pre-internet days of the early-to-mid 90s, it was pretty much impossible to come across Pro-Cuts at the mall or in sporting goods stores. They were a specialty item that didn’t really have a niche outside of the world of memorabilia (collectors, autographs, etc). Also, the $250 price tag would have been a bit to high for my parents to stomach. And let’s not forget that Pro-Cuts are made to the player’s exact specs, so a 6th grader rocking a Pro-Cut Ewing jersey is going to look like an idiot.
Over the years as I got heavy into collecting replica jerseys, I stayed away from Pro-Cuts because the high price point attracts counterfeiting, both blatant and subtle. Blatant counterfeits would be knock-offs made overseas (China) where not a single thread on the jersey is Champion. Subtle counterfeits would be taking a legit blank Champion team-issued jersey and applying a player’s tackle-twill name/number on it by an unlicensed third party.
Champion had three tiers of jerseys: Replica, Authentic and Pro-Cut
Replica jerseys were made of nylon tricot mesh with heat transfer graphics. The NBA logo was either a felt patch or embroidered patch depending on the year, and sewn in most cases on the left shoulder strap, with the embroidered Champion logo patch underneath. They sold from $25 to $45 depending on the year and retailer. They were produced starting in the 1991-1992 season through the end of the 2001-2002 basketball season. Adult sizes were 36 (small), 40 (medium), 44 (large), 48 (XL) and 52 (XXL). Replica jerseys were made both in the USA from 1991-1992 through 1994-1995. Starting in 1995-1996, Champion started producing in Mexico and Costa Rica as well as the USA.
Authentic jerseys were made of polyester tricot mesh or texturized nylon tricot mesh (depending on year and team) and had sewn tackle twill (double appliqué) numbers/letters. The NBA logo was embroidered onto the jersey strap (not a patch). These jerseys incorporated the more intricate design details like side panels and pinstriping that the replica jerseys did not start incorporating until the late 90s. They were very similar to what payers wore on the court. Champion marked these as “NBA Game Jersey by Champion.” They sold from $90 to $150 depending on the year and retailer, and only star players were produced. They were produced starting in the 1991-1992 season through the end of the 2001-2002 basketball season. But, starting in the 1997-1998 season, when Starter and Nike obtained team uniform licenses, Champion only produced Authentic jerseys for 10 teams. By 2001-2002 Champion was only producing authentic jerseys for 8 teams. You can check out a previous blog post about NBA Jersey Licensing to see the breakdown of teams. Adult sizes were 40 (medium), 44 (large) and 48 (XL). Not until the late 90s did Champion add size 52 (XXL) for authentic jerseys. Authentic jerseys were “like the Pros, but in your size.” Authentic jerseys were made in the USA from 1991-1992 through 1999-2000. In 2000-2001 & 2001-2002 they were made in Korea.
Pro-Cut jerseys are made to the exact measurements and specifications of the athlete. These are exactly what the player would wear on the court. They are not game-used or team-issued, they are made for retail. They were produced by Champion starting in the 1993-1994 season as part of the limited edition NBA Commemorative Collection. Production was limited to only superstar players (approx 14 during any given season), and they retailed in specialty stores for $250 to $350. Pro-Cuts weren’t available at department stores or event national chains like Foot Locker or Champs. They were considered more memorabilia for collectors and not fashion, as they were usually used for autographs. As a result, they were typically only sold at team pro stores, the NBA store (which opened in 1998), Champion’s flagship specialty store at Garden State Plaza Mall, and through some catalogs. Sizes were to the players’ exact measurements, so sizes could range anywhere from 40 to 54 with added length. Pr0-Cuts were always made in the USA.
Pro-Cut jerseys are double-tagged. They have the traditional Champion logo jock tag with the chest size and a second tag that states the team name, year/season and is stamped with the additional length of the jersey. It’s this second tag that makes Pro-Cuts easily identifiable from Authentics. That tag makes all the difference. For instance, a Michael Jordan Pro-Cut will sell for $1,000, whereas a Jordan Authentic will sell for around $250. The tag displaying the team/year/length changed design from year-to-year.
In addition to the jock tags, a Pro-Cut jersey should also contain small tags on the interior hemline that state the fabric content as well as the extra body length.
Pro-Cut jerseys are made to the exact measurements and specifications of the player. So whereas Authentic jerseys were produced in four sizes (40, 44, 48 and 52), Pro-Cut jerseys were produced in sizes 42 (Mugsy Bogues), 44, 46 (Michael Jordan), 48, 50, 52, 54 and 56 (Shaquille O’Neal). Remember, these numbers reflect chest size:
- 40 (20″ chest) = M
- 42 (21″ chest) = M
- 44 (22″ chest) = L
- 46 (23″ chest) = L
- 48 (24″ chest) = XL
- 50 (25″ chest) = XL
- 52 (26″ chest) = XXL
- 54 (27″ chest) = XXL
- 56 (28″ chest) = XXXL
Lengths of jerseys increase about 1″ for each increase in chest size:
- 40 = 28″ length
- 42 = 29″ length
- 44 = 30″ length
- 46 = 31″ length
- 48 = 32″ length
- 50 = 33″ length
- 52 = 34″ length
- 54 = 35″ length
- 56 = 36″ length
This is where extra length factors in to compensate for the varying body sizes of NBA players. Let’s take Manute Bol for example. He was 7’7…so you would immediately think a XXL (54) jersey. But remember his stick-figure physique weighed in at only 200lbs. He would be swimming in a size 54. So he actually wore the same chest size as 5’3 Muggsy Bogues (smallest player in NBA history). But whereas Muggsy had to take length off of his jersey, Manute Bol had 6″ added to the length of his jersey (Body Length +6). This extra length would be indicated on the double-tag. Meanwhile, Shaquille O’Neal tipped the scales at over 300lbs, so you would expect him to be a size 54, which he was (with +4 length).
Remember, a legit Pro-Cut jersey is made to the exact measurements of the player during that particular season. If it’s not made to the exact specs, it’s a fraud. For instance, Michael Jordan was a size 46 with +3 length throughout his championship runs with the Bulls in the 90s. So if you see a Jordan Pro-Cut jersey in a size 48 with +4 length, it’s not legit.
Pro-Cut vs Team Issued vs Game Worn
Pro-Cut jerseys are produced for retail, with the target audience being collectors who want a piece of memorabilia of their favorite player at a reasonable price point (usually these jerseys are autographed). Pro-Cut jerseys never see the inside of the locker room, and the player never touches it let alone puts it on his back.
Team Issued or Game Issued jerseys are basically Pro-Cut jerseys that do indeed make it into the equipment/locker room, but never see in-game use. Players are issued multiples of each style of jersey, and may or may not use them. Unused jerseys sometimes make it into the marketplace through equipment managers or team staff. Normally these are priced exactly as Pro-Cut jerseys because they are hard to authenticate, and since they weren’t ever worn by the player, there is no added value.
Game Worn jerseys are exactly what the name implies, the jersey was worn by the player during a game. These are obviously highly collectible and there is a significant premium attached, not only because the player wore the jersey, but also due to the level of authentication needed to verify the jersey is legit. Only buy Game Worn jerseys through legit auction houses with proper paperwork, as the Game Worn market has the most counterfeit since the returns are so high.