Mark your calendars, Charlotte Hornets fans: The iconic uniform look clothing designer Alexander Julian made famous in 1988 returns Nov. 15.
In what Hornets Chief Marketing Officer Pete Guelli calls the “worst-kept secret in sports,” the local NBA team said Wednesday they will bring back the classic pinstripe-and-pleats look of the original team. The Hornets are one of eight NBA teams allowed to wear “Classic Edition” alternate uniforms for the upcoming season.
The alternate look, done in teal for now, will be worn by the Hornets in their Nov. 15 home game against the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers. That game will be nationally televised on ESPN, with an 8 p.m. tip-off at Spectrum Center.
The Hornets will wear the throwback uniforms only two additional times in the 2017-18 season, both home games: Dec. 23 versus the Milwaukee Bucks and Jan. 13 versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The limited usage of the popular vintage look is “definitely intentional, so as not to overexpose the jerseys,” Guelli said. He added that the uniforms will be used more extensively starting with the 2018-19 season, the 30th anniversary of the original designs.
Hornets President Fred Whitfield, a longtime season-ticket holder of the original Hornets before the team moved to New Orleans in 2002, said in an interview with the Observer that the vintage design (and pairing of teal and purple) reminds people of Charlotte. The look, he said, has endured with time.
“Even when the team was not here, people still related the authenticity of it to Charlotte. The Charlotte Hornets product still sold globally, even when there wasn’t (an NBA) team in Charlotte named the Hornets,” Whitfield said.
Bringing back a fan-favorite look is, of course, intended to drum up interest among fans – and ultimately to draw people into the Spectrum Center. Hornets single-game tickets go on sale Monday. With over 11,000 season ticket holders, few tickets will remain for marquee home games.
These throwbacks aren’t exact replicas of the uniforms Muggsy Bogues, Larry Johnson and Dell Curry made famous, when the NBA arrived in Charlotte in the late 1980s. That would have violated NBA trademark rules. But the league and Jordan Brand, the Hornets’ uniform maker, worked with the team to make the look as close as possible to Julian’s groundbreaking look.
“Side-by-side, they’re almost identical,” Whitfield said.
The NBA has changed uniform providers for the coming season from Adidas to Nike. Jordan Brand, a division of Nike, is the company formed around the legacy of Hornets owner Michael Jordan.
The Hornets anticipate huge demand for replicas of the throwbacks. Because of the demand on Nike to produce at least four uniforms for each of 30 NBA franchises this fall, the Hornets don’t anticipate selling throwback jerseys to fans before mid-November. Other Jordan Brand items attached to the Hornets uniforms will start showing up at the team store at Spectrum Center in early November.
Because they are the only U.S. pro team with that marketing tie-in to Jordan Brand, the Hornets are the only NBA franchise that will have a Jordan Jumpman patch on their uniforms, rather than a Nike swoosh.
The new uniform announcement comes as the Hornets are wrapping up a renovation of Spectrum Center that will expand the team store in the space previously used as a ticket office. The team hopes to open that store, at least in a preview session, when the Hornets hold a free practice, open to the public Sept. 30.
With the switch from Adidas to Nike come some additional uniform-rule revisions: Teams will no longer be asked to wear white for home games, for instance. Instead, the home team can decide game-to-game which uniforms to wear. The Hornets have previously worn white primarily at home, purple primarily on the road and teal as an alternate look.
The Hornets will have five different uniform looks this season, and can decide for each of 41 home games which one to wear. There is no maximum number of games for alternate uniforms, as there has been in the past.
Also part of the switch, the Hornets will be the only NBA team – and the only pro team in the U.S. – to have a “Jordan Brand” logo on the right-hand side of their jerseys. Its a nod to Hornets owner Michael Jordan’s decades-long relationship with Nike; Jordan Brand is a division of that company.
Earlier this summer, the Hornets unveiled new white and teal uniform designs that differ little cosmetically from the look they introduced for the 2014-15, after the NBA approved a name change from “Bobcats” to “Hornets.” At the time, the team hinted that the classic uniforms, a longtime fan favorite, could be coming back.
This isn’t the first time the Hornets have tapped into fans’ sense of nostalgia.
Last season, the Hornets gave away 7,500 little “Starting Lineup” figurines when they played the Chicago Bulls, for instance. The plastic toys were as ubiquitous in pro and college sports in the 1990s as trading cards and Starter Jackets. The season before that, the team hosted a Nickelodeon-themed night, which included ’90s music and appearances by Nickelodeon hosts.
Hornets executives say they’re open to bringing back other colors with the throwback design in the future. “Everything is on the table,” Guelli said.