Again, let me preface this post by saying that I do not collect Champion Pro-Cut jerseys. Counterfeiting is way too rampant since the price-points are so high. As mentioned in my previous post, there are two types of fakes/counterfeits, 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. The following will help you start deciphering between real and fake Pro-Cuts.
Jock Tags & Sizing
The jersey should be to the exact measurements and specifications of the player for the particular season that it was produced. I always use Michael Jordan as an example since his jersey size is the most well known. A Pro-Cut Michael Jordan Bulls jersey from the 1990s should be sized at 46 with body length +3.
The Pro-Cut jersey should have two jock tags (double-tagged). The traditional jock tag with Champion logo indicates the chest size (in Jordan’s case, size 46). This tag should always say Made in the USA. Although Champion shifted manufacturing of its replica jerseys out of the country in the mid 90s, Pro-Cuts were always 100% manufactured in the USA.
The double-tag has team info (Designed & Tailored Exclusively for Chicago Bulls), season (1996/1997) and then Body Length stamped onto it (Body Length +3). Again, the Body Length is stamped on (printed), whereas the rest of the label is embroidered. The double-tags are made in bulk by Champion for all jerseys for a particular team for that season and the area for Body Length is left blank until it is applied to a tailored jersey, at which time it is stamped.
Starting in the 1998-1999 season, Champion began affixing a separate non-stamped tag indicating body length to the jersey, underneath the jock tag.
There should also be a white flag tag on the left in-seam of the jersey that indicates fabric content and extra body length. For instance, below is the hemline tag from the 1996-1997 Michael Jordan Bulls Pro Cut.
Champion only made Pro-Cuts in very limited quantities for the league’s most popular players at the time (about 15 players at most per season). I do not have an official list, but here’s a general idea:
- Michael Jordan
- Scottie Pippen
- Anfernee Hardaway
- Shaquille O’Neal
- Grant Hill
- Patrick Ewing
- Nick Van Exel
- Alonzo Mourning
- Larry Johnson
- Charles Barkley
- Dan Majerle
- Reggie Miller
- Glenn Robinson
- LaPhonso Ellis
- Dikembe Mutombo
- Shawn Kemp
- Jason Kidd
- Jimmy Jackson
- Karl Malone
- John Stockton
- Hakeem Olajuwon
- David Robinson
- Damon Stoudamire
- Bryant Reeves
- Shareef Abdur-Rahim
- Allen Iverson
While this isn’t a complete list, it does account for most of the players that Champion produced Pro-Cut jerseys for retail. This is just to give you an idea and starting point. You might come across a Champion Pro-Cut of a star player not on this list that is 100% legit, but the point is Pro-Cuts were limited to popular players.
There were some third party vendors (memorabilia dealers) with specific licenses who were able to get blank Pro-Cut jerseys from Champion with letter/number kits and customize the jerseys. Overtime ProWear in Huntingdon Beach, CA was the top seller of Champion Pro-Cuts during the mid 1990s. I go into a bit more detail on Overtime ProWear in a follow-up post, but these third party vendors kind of muddied the water because they produced jerseys of any player you wanted. So when you see a Pro-Cut of a random player, it’s either from Overtime ProWear, team-issued and found its way to market, or fake.
Champion did not make Pro-Cuts for retail during the first two years it was the official provider of NBA uniforms (1991-1992 and 1992-1993 seasons). Other than Replicas, they only made Authentics for a handful of players during these two seasons. When Champion took over as the official uniform supplier for the NBA from MacGregor Sand-Knit in the summer of 1990, they needed to put all of their focus and manufacturing capacity into producing uniforms and warm-ups for every player in the league. In fact, MacGregor Sand-Knit still produced jerseys for multiple NBA teams for the 1990-1991 season, but Champion just removed Sand-Knits jock tags and replaced them with their own. In fall of 1991 Champion started releasing replica jerseys to the retail market and really focused on building that market for the 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 seasons.
In 1993-1994, as part of the NBAs limited edition Commemorative Collection, Champion issued it’s first series of Pro-Cuts for retail. They were limited to a handful of players, and limited in quantity per player. I go into more detail about this limited edition collection in a follow-up post, but if I were to buy a Pro-Cut, I would only buy from this 1993-1994 collection.
Also keep in mind that starting in the 1997-1998 season, Champion lost its license as the exclusive uniform provider of the NBA. During the 1997-1997 season, the league split the uniform licenses between Champion, Starter (later Puma when Starter went bankrupt) and Nike. While Champion remained the exclusive manufacturer of Replica jerseys, they were no longer able to produce Authentic or Pro-Cut jerseys outside of the teams that fell under their license. You can read all about how the teams were divided among brands here and here, but below is an overview of which teams Champion provided uniforms for:
1991-1992 through 1996-1997: Champion official uniform provider for all NBA teams
1997-1998 & 1998-1999: Champion official uniform provider for 10 teams: Atlanta, Indiana, Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle, Utah and Vancouver (Starter and Nike split remaining 19 teams)
1999-2000 & 2000-2001: Champion official uniform provider for 10 teams: Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle, Utah and Vancouver (Puma takes over for Starter and gets Indiana while Champion gets Charlotte)
2001-2002: Champion official uniform provider for 8 teams: Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Utah (Reebok begins its deal with the NBA and gets Seattle and Vancouver/Memphis from Champion)
Knowing the licensing history for Champion is another very important tool when figuring out if a Pro-Cut jersey is legit. For instance, I see a lot of Tracy McGrady Toronto Raptors Rookie Pro-Cut jerseys made by Champion, but they are all fakes. McGrady entered the league in 1997-1998, the same year that Nike obtained the Toronto Raptors uniform license. Therefore, only Nike could make a Pro-Cut McGrady jersey, Champion could only produce his Replica jersey.
Cross-referencing Game Used jerseys
Another valuable tool in verifying the authenticity of a Pro-Cut jersey is cross-referencing Game Used jerseys. It cannot be stressed enough that a legit Pro-Cut jersey has to be the exact same measurements as the jersey worn on the court by the player (for a particular season). Unless you a hardcore collector, you wouldn’t know what Patrick Ewing’s jersey size was for the 1994-1995 season (size 48 body length +6). But if you see a Patrick Ewing 1994-1995 Champion Pro-Cut on Ebay, you’ll want to make sure the sizing matches up with what Ewing wore that particular year. There are some great auction sites that archive passed sales, and you can search there databases to pull up images of Game Used jerseys and then cross reference the size tagging:
Keep in mind that while some players maintained consistent sizes throughout the 90s (Michael Jordan), others changed sizes year-to-year (Shaquille O’Neal). So the Pro-Cut size should always sync up with what a particular player wore during the season on the dual-tag. This takes research, but is invaluable in helping you avoid purchasing a counterfeit. For instance, Shaquille O’Neal wore a Size 52 with Body Length +4 for his rookie season in 1992-1993 and for the 1993-1994 season. But for the 1994-1995 season, he went to a Size 54 with Body Length +4. When he joined the Lakers for the 1996-1997 season, he was a Size 56 with Body Length +6.
And as mentioned, a lot of times when sizing doesn’t match up this is what I refer to as a “subtle” counterfeit. Most likely, a third party vendor got ahold of a blank Champion Pro-Cut jersey and added a name/number kit to it. All the pieces are legit, but it wasn’t produced in a Champion factory and doesn’t reflect the true sizing of the player, so a whole it’s a fake. For instance, below is a Patrick Ewing New York Knicks Pro-Cut home jersey Size 44 with Body Length +2 from the 1995-1996 season. That would be a crop top for Ewing, who wore a Size 48 with Body Length +6. The size 44 jersey itself was most definitely made in a Champion factory and double tagged, but at some point it made it to a third party as a blank jersey, and that third party applied Ewing’s name/number kit to it. So it’s not a legit Pro-Cut, and whoever purchased it overpaid when they could have bought a size 44 Champion Authentic jersey for a fraction of the cost and basically had the same jersey.
The NBA logo should be stitched into the left shoulder strap. There are some exceptions where the NBA logo is stitched on the right shoulder strap (Suns, Heat and Hawks). But the logo should always be stitched directly onto the strap and not a patch sewn onto the jersey. Keep in mind that during the 1996-1997 season, the NBA celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary and had the gold NBA logo embroidered on its jerseys. So any Pro-Cut from the 1996-1997 season should have the gold NBA logo.
No Pro-Cut (or Authentic) should have the Champion logo on the shoulder strap. The Champion logo was only on Replica jerseys. The NBA did not allow uniform providers to put their logos on game uniforms (jerseys or shorts) until the most recent Nike deal that took effect in 2017-2018. Nike paid $1 billion for the 8-year uniform license deal with the NBA, which was apparently enough money for the league to finally cave-in and allow the brand logo on the jersey.
The material will either be 100% Polyester or 100% Nylon (texturized nylon tricot) depending on the team and year. There should be a white flag tag on the left in-seam that indicates the fabric content. The mesh is breathable and has larger holes, and the jerseys have side-slits at the bottom hem.
Letters & Numbers
For the most part, letters and numbers are tackle twill stitched onto the jersey (“cut-and-sew”). If letters/numbers are double appliqué (meaning two layers), then the layers should be stitched together. Swingman jerseys (introduced by Nike in the late 1990s) screen print the double appliqué letters/numbers and the stitching onto one layer of tackle twill and then sew that one piece onto the jersey. This makes the production process quite simple and is why Swingmans retail for so much less than Authentics and Pro-Cuts. Authentics and Pro-Cuts should always have actual stitching when letters/numbers are multi-layered.
There are some teams in the early 1990s that did not use tackle twill letters/numbers, and they are worth noting. The Bulls, Sonics, Pistons and Jazz heat-pressed names/numbers/logos onto their game jerseys during the noted seasons below:
- The Bulls used heat pressed team name/players’ names/numbers for the 1990-1991 and 1991-1992 seasons before going to tackle-twill in 1992-1993 (this is the season where the players names on the back of their road jerseys went from solid white to black with white underlay/outline).
- The Pistons used heat pressed team name/players’ names/numbers from 1990-1991 through 1994-1995. They switched to tackle twill for the 1995-1996 season (a year prior to their uniform redesign). So a Grant Hill Pro-Cut jersey from his Rookie of the Year season in 1994-1995 should be heat pressed, otherwise it’s fake.
- The Sonics heat pressed team name/players’ names/numbers from 1990-1991 through 1994-1995. When they redesigned their uniforms for the 1995-1996 season they went to tackle twill. You’ll see quite a few Gary Payton Sonics Authentic Champion jerseys from the early 90s where his name and number are tackle twill/sewn. These are subtle fakes (the blank Sonic jerseys was made by Champion, but some third party applied a Gary Payton letter/number kit).
- The Jazz used a hybrid; From 1990-1991 through 1995-1996 the team name and numbers were heat pressed while the players names were tackle twill letters stitched onto the jersey. When they redesigned their uniforms for the 1996-1997 season they went to tackle twill.
- The Milwaukee Bucks also used heat pressed team name/players’ names/numbers for from 1990-1991 through 1992-1993. When they redesigned uniforms for the 1993-1994 season, they went to tackle twill.
As previously noted, Champion did NOT produce Pro-Cut jerseys until the 1993-1994 season for the limited edition NBA Commemorative Collection. So for 1991-1992 and 1992-1993, Champion only produced Replica jerseys & Authentic jerseys. The Authentic jerseys were produced in very limited quantities and players (the Authentic Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas jerseys pictured above are from 1990-1991). Champion did NOT produce Pro-Cut jerseys for the 1991-1992 or 1992-1993 seasons. If you see any jerseys on the market for those times that are double-tagged, they are most likely Game-Issued or were blank Team-Issued jerseys that were later retrofitted with a players name/number by a third party.
Team Logos and Graphics
Team names in most instances should also be tackle twill letters stitched onto the jersey. But any graphics associated with the team name are printed on the jersey, usually through dye sublimation, where the graphic feels like it’s part of the fabric. For example, on a Pro-Cut mid-1990s Phoenix Suns jersey, the team name “SUNS” is tackle twill letters sewn on to the jersey but the sunburst graphic is printed.
Same with a mid-1990s Houston Rockets jersey, the team name “ROCKETS” is tackle will letters sewn on the jersey, but the underlying graphic of the basketball with orbiting rocket is printed.
Champion first used dye sublimation on the New Jersey Nets uniforms for the 1990-1991 season (the first season that Champion produced uniforms for the NBA). The jerseys had a faded, tie-dye look which was achieved with dye sublimation. The jerseys were designed by Apex One, which in the early 1990s was a popular sports apparel brand (Apex One was eventually acquired by Converse in 1995, only to be closed months later because of declining sales). The Nets were a horrible franchise at the time, and they were hoping a rebranding might give them boost. The uniform design was said to depict “constant motion.” They were hated pretty much by everyone and the Nets only wore them for one season, and as a result the Game Used and Game Issued jerseys from that season are very rare and highly collectible.
For the 1991-1992 season, Champion designed it’s first NBA jersey for the Philadelphia 76ers. The shooting stars graphics and team name were applied with dye sublimation. The design was ridiculed at the time and only lasted three seasons.
For the 1991-1992 season Champion also started using dye sublimation on the classic Denver Nuggets rainbow jerseys. Prior to 1991-1992, the rainbow pattern was solid fabric swatches and the mountains were tackle twill.
Champion also started using dye sublimation on the stripes for the Portland Trailblazers jersey for the 1991-1992 season (the Blazers redesigned their logo that year going from lower case to upper case letters). Prior to 1991-1992, the stripes were solid fabric inlays.
Champion also used dye sublimation for the All Star jerseys they produced starting with the 1991 All Star Game (1990-1991 season) through the 1996 All Star Game (1995-1996 season). Starting in the 1997 All Star Game, players wore their team uniforms, and by the time they switched back to specially designed uniforms for the 2003 All Star Game (2002-2003 season), Reebok had obtained the official NBA uniform license.
By the mid-90s Champion was using dye sublimation for graphics on numerous additional redesigned jerseys: Bucks (alternate), Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Hawks, Jazz, Magic, Pistons, Raptors, Rockets, Sonics and Suns.
This leads to another important point when verifying authenticity of a Pro-Cut. The year/season on the dual-tag should sync up with the style of the jersey that team wore that particular season. As noted, a lot of teams in the mid 90s redesigned their uniforms and/or started introducing alternate/third uniform kits. Sportslogos.net is a great resource for researching uniform histories for all teams.
Most likely you will be looking at Pro-Cuts on Ebay. Despite Ebay’s attempts to curb counterfeiting, it’s too big of a site to catch everything and honestly, they don’t care. I have flagged blatant counterfeits on the site before and they never removed them. For every one legit Pro-Cut on Ebay, there are probably twenty fakes. If you follow the guidelines I layout above, you will be able to filter out the fakes easily. Here are some other common sense pointers:
- The more photos the better. Make sure you can see the jock tag clearly, up close photos of the numbers/letters and stitching, as well as inside-out photos of the garment to see the stitching. Also see if the white tags are on the in-seam with the fabric content and body length.
- Make sure measurements are listed (pit-to-pit & top of shoulder strap to bottom hem). Those measurements should sync up with the jock tags. A lot of times, counterfeit jock tags do not sync up with the actual measurements of the jersey
- Do not buy anything from overseas (Sorry to my overseas collectors with legit Pro-Cuts!)
- Look at the Sellers other items for sale, especially past sales (this is an Advanced search option). This way you can see if they’ve sold the same Pro-Cut before, and if they have, they’re probably selling fakes.
- Price and number of bidders is the big indicator. Someone who is confident they have a legit Pro-Cut will price it accordingly, show you lots of photos and give an in-depth description. But more importantly, it will attract numerous knowledgable bidders (collectors). Look at the bid history to see how many different people are bidding and their feedback. Collectors usually have high feedback numbers.