The 2017-18 NBA season saw the debut of new Nike jerseys for all NBA teams, including the Portland Trail Blazers. Along with the jerseys came changes to the rules about when teams could wear each one. Gone were the designations of “home” and “away” jerseys. Instead teams began the season with “Association” and “Icon” editions with “Statement” and “City” editions added later. The new rules allowed home teams to choose which jersey they would wear. The visiting team would then pick a contrasting color.
These changes meant that each jersey had the potential to be worn in a variety of situations. In the past, the Blazers performed best in their white jerseys, but those jerseys were worn exclusively for home games. Was there any correlation with the Trail Blazers’ performance this season and which of their new jerseys they wore?
Before you dismiss the idea that jersey color can have any kind of correlation to team success consider a couple points. First, at least one study has suggested that teams wearing black jerseys get called for more penalties. This indicates that jersey color can have subtle psychological effects. Second, compare Michael Jordan’s record when he wore red jerseys (including white with red trim) vs. his record when he wore blue jerseys (including white with blue trim). The greatest player of all time performed significantly better over the course of his career in red jerseys than he did in blue.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the analysis. Instead of using the official terms of Association, Icon, Statement, and City, I’ll be referring to the jerseys as white (Association), black (Icon), red (Statement), and plaid (City). Since the new jerseys were rolled out throughout the season, we can divide the analysis into three different sections: 1) the black/white section; 2) the red section; 3) the plaid section.
The Black/White Section
The Blazers started the season with just two jersey options: white and black. Portland played 21 games with only these two options to start the season. They went 13-8 over that time with a pretty even split between the two jerseys. They started 7-4 in white and 6-4 in black.
The Red Section
Portland debuted their red jerseys on November 30 on the first game of a four game home stand. They lost all four games. They started 0-5 in their red jerseys before getting a home win over the Philadelphia 76ers nearly a month after the red jerseys made their debut.
The Blazers played 29 games going an underwhelming 15-14 during this stretch. They wore the red jerseys 12 times, going 5-7. They wore the black jerseys for only 7 games, winning only twice in them and bringing their overall record in black jerseys to 8-9. Portland continued to play well in their white jerseys, however. They went 8-2 in white jerseys during this stretch for a record of 15-6 in white. Overall, the Trail Blazers were 29-22 at this point in the season with over half of their wins coming in white jerseys.
The Plaid Section
The final plaid jerseys debuted in a home victory for Portland on January 31. The Blazers would go on to wear their plaid jerseys 14 times in the final 32 games of the season going 9-5 in them. Their overall record was 21-11 over this stretch of games. The red jerseys were worn 11 times with the Blazers winning 5 and losing 6 of these games. Portland didn’t utilize their white or black jerseys often as they closed the season, but they went undefeated in them going 5-0 in white and 2-0 in black.
One highlight of this final stretch of games was the Blazers’ 13-game winning streak. Jersey-wise, the streak displayed excellent balance. The red, white, and plaid jerseys were each worn four times—the black jerseys only once.
Here are the final records for Portland’s different jerseys this season:
- White: 20-6
- Black: 10-9
- Red: 10-13
- Plaid: 9-5
What jumps out is their record in white jerseys. The winning percentage of nearly 77 percent would put Portland on pace for a 63-win season! Portland’s winning percentage in white vs. other jerseys is roughly the same as Jordan’s winning percentage in red vs. blue jerseys.
The white jersey record isn’t subject to any extra home game either. The Blazers played 12 home games and 14 away games in their white jerseys. The only jersey that benefited from a disproportional amount of home games is the plaid jersey. Portland played 10 home games in plaid vs. only 4 away games. The black jerseys were only used 8 times at home vs. 11 on the road. The red jerseys had a fairly even split with 11 home and 12 road games.
A Note about the Playoffs
The Blazers were swept in the playoffs. They lost twice in white, once in plaid, and once in black. They did not wear their red jerseys. a sample size of only four games, however, is too small to have any significance on a serious analysis such as this, so these games can be ignored. Also, it’s just easier to pretend they didn’t happen.
After their disappointing playoff performance there has been much discussion about what the Blazers need to do to improve for next season. In his exit interview, General Manager Neil Olshey warned against overreaction while acknowledging that the roster isn’t a finished product. Perhaps he only needs to make one change for Portland to significantly improve next season: have the Blazers only wear their white jerseys.