One of the biggest stories in the NBA this week was how its teams looked.
It may not have a massive impact on the league this season, but the short-sleeved jersey phenomenon is certainly one of the most polarizing.
The new style, it was learned earlier this month, is set to make debuts in two-thirds of the league this season. A few specific teams announced their use of the jerseys this week, including the Phoenix Suns (with an entirely rebranded uniform rotation) and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The new look from adidas was met with varying amounts of criticism, both from players and others. Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, Suns guard Kendall Marshall and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry all spoke out against the jerseys for visual appeal. Other critics, including SB Nation’s Matt Ufford, are also cynical of the changes.
With these negative opinions becoming all-too-common, both from consumers of the sport and the players themselves, you have to start wondering whether the change is the correct one.
Simultaneous to the jersey change, the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) elected Chris Paul as the new president of their union this week. Paul, who served as a vice president prior to his election, succeeds Derek Fisher in the Union’s top role.
As written about on Canis Hoopus, a Minnesota Timberwolves companion blog on SB Nation, Paul becomes the union’s biggest name as president since Patrick Ewing from 1997-2001.
Paul’s main role as president will be the acting voice of the Union in various discussions. A primary goal will be hiring a replacement for Billy Hunter, the NBPA’s previous Executive Director. Additionally, due to Paul’s stature in the league (both on the court and off it), it’s arguable that emphasis on the treatment of star players becomes a discussion again—something Fisher received criticism for somewhat ignoring during the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement deal.
Much of that discussion, if it indeed occurs, will be about money, from maximum salaries to salary cap. But you have to think, though, some of the discussion could revolve around player perception and branding.
Which brings us back to the short-sleeved jersey. If the common belief about the jersey is that it’s "ugly" (Curry’s description), could it be possible that one of Paul’s talking points will be about the new jersey? After all, the foundation of a marquee player’s brand is built on the court.
Obviously this isn’t the largest issue facing the NBPA this offseason. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, it’s quite a minimal issue. But like gym shorts getting longer and wearing suits to games instead of street clothes, perception is everything. It’s why advertising on jerseys has become such a polarizing issue. A person like Cliff, er, Chris Paul understands how that affects money earned off the court.
This goes beyond just Paul though. Players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are interested in how they look on the court (it’s a great way to advertise various apparel like shoes and socks). Even a player like Damian Lillard, now a top icon for adidas, is learning about perception, from his sneakers to other clothing.
So for those that don’t like the short-sleeved jerseys, Paul's election represents a glimmer of hope that this particular design might not necessarily be here to stay. In fact, his appointment almost sets the expectation that the players will have a louder voice in such matters when they are led by a well-respected, highly-visible superstar.
Representing the financial interests of the players is clearly Paul's priority. But preserving, and hopefully enhancing, the collective image of the players should be another one of his duties.