A Comprehensive History Of The New York Knicks’ Jerseys

Well, the New York Knicks have finally, officially, unveiled their new uniforms. In preparation for the showcase, the Knicks released “Jersey Vault”, a neat little application that gives us a look back at all of their previous jerseys. I’ve brought Robert Silverman of KnickerBlogger, jersey aficionado, to help me break down all of the Knicks’ game-day attire since their inception. Well, not every jersey, but a lot of them…

Now, this is quite a long piece, so feel free to read some of it and come back to finish it at a later time. Our thoughts on the uniforms follow the graphics, so you can read in order, or jump around. Be sure to leave a comment letting us know what your favorite Knicks jersey is!

 

Jonah: Clean and simple, the original New York Knickerbockers jerseys featured their primary colors, and not too much else. As the years pass, the jerseys become more complicated, but like fashion, where trends go through cycles, jerseys do, too. The team is set to return to a simple state this upcoming season. These jerseys did not feature player’s names on the back, but rather just their number – which was the norm until the Knicks introduced names on the back of their jerseys in 1969.

Also, as you can see from image of Harry Gallatin and Nathaniel Clifton in the uniform, the Knicks actually used real belts. In 1968 they transition away from it, but for a little more than 20 years, the player wore real belts to help keep their shorts up.

Robert: While this is a a very basic jersey without much trim or piping, I think it holds up remarkably well. The illustration listed does have some errors. In what we’ll find as a recurring theme, in the illustrations seen here, the number on the front of the jersey is depicted as being smaller than one on the back. In reality, both the front and back number were identical in size and would remain so throughout all of the Knicks’ designs until the 2001 alteration.

In choosing a font and style for the front wordmark, the team was clearly inspired by the New York Yankees, the dominant team throughout the sporting world during the era. It’s not entirely shocking that the fledgling NBA franchise would want their fans to identify, at least visually, with that kind of success. The Knicks have often“borrowed” design elements over the years. How they managed to circumvent copyright/branding laws and do so remains a mystery. Then again, the idea that massive profits that could be gleaned from the sale of team uniforms only arose over the last twenty years.

Jonah: In ’53, the Knicks adopted some new attire, but made very few changes. The colors did not change, just the complexity of the details on the jerseys did. The main change was with the piping, which now featured an orange and blue stripe, on both the shorts and jerseys. Every so often, the Knicks will wear these as a throwback, which I enjoy.

Robert: A few subtle tweaks were made to the original design. Oddly enough, though this jersey is the one most associated with the semi-dominant early 50’s Knicks, the changes were made just as the run of three straight appearances in the finals came to an end. The sleeve piping is changed to a checkered, alternating orange-blue pattern which continued down the side of the jersey and on to the shorts. Once again, the number on the front of the jersey was, in actuality, quite large, mimicking the number on the back. Honestly, when I heard the Knicks were going to go to a “simple/classic” re-design for this season, I’d hoped they’d be based on this set. The “checkerboard” would give the Knicks a unique design element in today’s NBA that would have also harkened back to the teams of yore.

Jonah: In ’61, the Knicks started to get fancy — which isn’t always a good thing — with a bunch of orange and blue borders, and a nifty “NY” on the left thigh of the shorts. This might just be me, but these jerseys start to look dirty and gloomy, whereas the previous years’ ones were simple and upbeat.

Robert: In the first dramatic design update for the team, they ditched the “Yankees” font, switching to Varsity Block for the NEW YORK wordmark, added orange trim to both the number and uniform, and replaced the alternating checkerboard pattern on the side and shoulder piping with a more traditional blue-orange-blue strip. Finally, a simple NY logo was added to the front of the shorts and the belt was replaced with an elastic waistband. On the road, the pattern is reversed and the white numbers and wordmark are trim free. It’s important to note that the early Knick uniforms appear to be a much darker blue than is in use today. Granted, we’re basing the color on old video and photos, but the original Knick colors seemed to feature a navy blue as opposed to the royal blue on the current garments.

You’ll also note that player names appeared on the back of the uniform for the first time. Interestingly enough, they were vertically arched as opposed to the radial arch in use for the workmark. I’m speculating, but there was one season (1968-69) in which they wore the “old” road uniform with the “new” side piping-free home uniform that featured radial arching throughout. I’m speculating, but it’s possible Gerry Cosby (the Knicks’ manufacturer up until the late 80’s) used the same pattern, rather than going to the trouble of creating horizontally arched ones specifically for the road set.

 

Jonah: Starting in ’68/’69, the Knicks ventured away from actual belts to an elastic waistband – a brainless move in today’s world. They also returned to simpler jerseys that highlighted the team’s signature orange with accents of blue. On the away unis, the simple color way was inverses, to highlight the team’s blue, with hints of orange along the piping. This is one of my favorite Knicks unis throughout the years. Simplicity = good.

Robert: In my humble opinion, this is just a great, clean, sharp classic uniform. Orange, when used tastefully (as opposed to Clemson University’s duds) remains an underutilized uni color. Here, there’s just enough to see it pop with the blue trim. One quirk that’s rarely depicted – the now-iconic radial NEW YORK arch did not utilize letters that were identical in size. That is to say, if you look the photos, the “EW” and the “YO” are much shorter and flatter than the “N” and the “RK.” It’s a nice touch that would disappear in the mid-late 80’s, as the letters became uniformly sized. I’d much have preferred that they kept this design quirk for this year’s model instead of flattening the arch, but that’s a much longer discussion and probably a separate blog post entirely.

Then, for one season (’78-’79), they reversed the blue-orange-blue shoulder and waistband trim on the home uniform and added the Yankees’ famous interlocking “NY” logo to an apple that appeared on the side of the shorts. Again, I can’t believe the Yanks just let the Knicks use their logo. It’d be unfathomable today. Lawsuits would abound. Fun Fact: The familiar interlocking “NY” logo was originally designed by Tiffany & Co. in 1877, and stuck on a medal of honor issued to the first NYC police officer shot in the line of duty.

Jonah: After years of relatively clean and simple jerseys, the Knicks decided to throw all of that design ideology away, and they came up with this mess. To me, this is one of the uglier jerseys the Knicks ever dawned. They included, essentially, the Yankees’ logo on their left leg and each player’s number on the right leg. The front of the jersey showcased the player’s number in a big font, with the team name beneath it in a straight line. Staring at these jerseys makes me think about advertisements on jerseys, simply because there is so much going on. They used almost every inch of real estate on the front of the jerseys, something I would strongly advise against.

Adding to the strangeness of this uniform, the team also decided to scrap the team colors that they used for year, in favor of a maroonish red and a plummy blue. When thinking about the Knicks, you think of orange and blue. In this set of unis, not only is there no orange and blue, but the team has resorted back to the yankee inspired logo, which leaves little room for team differentiation.

Robert: And now… the weird. The Knicks threw their entire color scheme into the dustbin of history, ditching the blue and orange for maroon and a really dark navy blue. They found a font that may or may not have been intended to be patterned after the aforementioned Yankee NY and could conceivably have been stolen/copied from a stray can of 1970’s Mountain Dew that someone found in the gutter near Penn Station.

They also featured a “Knicks” wordmark for the first time in team history and brazenly used the Yankees logo with nary a tweak to shield against copyright violation.

This uniform is fun, in a goofy kind of way. Taken outside the spectrum of Knick uniform history, I really don’t mind it. Having the number on top has a precedent in the equally wacky, un-tucked Al McGuire Marquette jerseys. The main problem was, for those who weren’t old enough to see them in action, it was literally impossible to read the cramped, ginormous names on the back in a cramped, trim-laden maroon/navy blue. Especially for players like Bill Cartwright or Truck Robinson, the name looked like an illegible schmear of sundried tomato cream cheese.

Plus, there’s a reason the Nix (and the Mets) are blue and orange. For those who didn’t know, this is our city’s flag:

For all you flag aficionados out there, you might notice resemblance to the banner of another nation. Anyone? Anyone? Frye? Channing Frye?…

That’s right! The correct answer was, “What is the Dutch, Alex.” Even though the flag of the Netherlands currently is Red, White and blue (because in the 1700′s, the poor quality orange dye used tended to fade to red with use and was eventually adopted as the official color. Kind of like how the old ABA Denver Rockets went from blue to purple/mauve because they bought some bargain-rate threads that faded in the wash. Like these: Anyway, the intended orange hue was meant to honor William of Orange, the first Dutch Emperor. And as we all, know, NYC used to be Nieuw Amsterdamm. The team nickname, “Knickerbockers,” is also a nod to our clog-wearing, tulip loving founders and the rationale behind this utterly awesome rarely seen logo:

Put THAT on the team’s shorts. Actually, they did for the 1953 throwbacks they wore in 2006. Granted, in actuality, Pops Knicks was not on the ’53 uni, but goshdarnit, he should have been!

Jonah: After their design experiment, the Knicks slowly started to return to a simpler jersey. They returned to the word mark and jersey number of the late ’70s, as well as the team’s identifiable color scheme. They kept the busy shorts, well, until ’88, when they ditched the players’ numbers and only showed the team’s NY Yankee-esque logo on the left leg. In ’91, the team finally abandoned the Yankee NY and went to their own logo on the left leg.

Over the 13 years spanning ’84-’97, the team did little to their uni’s but change the shorts. I think it was the right move, as they returned back to the simple color-scheme and strayed from the Yankee’s recognizable NY and inserted their own Knicks logo.

Robert: A return to the “Championship” style, save for keeping the NY logo on the shorts for a period of time, then replacing it with the ungainly triangle logo and having player numbers on the shorts, only to have them disappear. Also, during the 1992 season, the player name is switched from radial to horizontal arching. I don’t like this at all. I can only assume it’s because Gerry Cosby was no longer the manufacturer and it’s a pain to radially arch a name. Think about it. When you have to stick a new jersey, each letter has to be uniquely made. Take, say, Herb Williams. The first “L” cannot be as arched as the second “L” in “Williams. That self-same “L” will also be differently shaped than the one used for “McDaniel” due to its placement in the arch. On the other hand, if you horizontally arch the letters, all you have to do is generate one set. The location of an individual letter doesn’t change its size or shape. I was hoping against hope that the new unis would include radially arched letters, but the fact that they need to be mass produced for public consumption made that impossible. Sad face.

Minor quibbles notwithstanding, when you see this set, you think, “Knicks.” For the longstanding franchises in any sport, it’s wonderful to think you could somehow have Babe Ruth standing in the dugout next to Derek Jeter and if only in terms of their garb, neither man would look out of place. Eli Manning could heave a pass downfield to Frank Gifford. Rod Gilbert and Marion Gaborik could streak down the ice on a two on one. Or even the more creatively imaginative among us could dream of Walt Frazier leading a fast break to only dump the ball off at the last possible moment to a trailing Amar’e Stoudemire.

In the modern world, where anything and everything seems to be in a state of constant upheaval, it allows Americans (who if nothing else, specialize in re-inventing themselves) to have a sense of history, of timelessness, even if the only thing binding the generations together is a bit of cloth. That’s one of the things that make sport great. It binds together generations – both of teams and players but also of fans from father/mother to son and daughter.

In brief, while these may not be the most creative or dazzling uniforms, they embody what it means to be a Knick. So yeah, I kinda dig them.

Jonah: Well, so much for a clean, simple jersey, eh? In ’98, the team introduced black into their jerseys, something prevalent until the most recent uni change just a short time ago. I like black – it’s stylish. Just look at the Nets and the re-branding Jay-Z did: All black everything. The only problem with black comes when combining it with more than one other color. When combined with other colors, black has the tendency to be the focal point and weighs down the brightness of the other colors. This is exactly the case for these Knicks unis. The black is like a black hole and sucks everything in.

I know I don’t like these jerseys, but for some reason they throw off a retro feel, which entices me to try and like them.

Robert: Gah. The black. Starting in the mid-90’s, every team had to add black to their uniform. Why? Money.

Suddenly, jersey sales became a significant component of a team’s income. So, because some marketing whiz told them that black was in, in they went. Just to give you a basic color design lesson. Blue and black look terrible together. Blue and orange? Fine, they’re complimentary colors. Black and orange? Dandy. But all three? A jumbled mess.

 

Jonah: A slight refresher over the previous uniforms, but not too much more to write home about. Players’ numbers were finally removed from the shorts, replaced by a small NBA logo, and the Knicks’ logo on the shorts was scaled down, as well. With this update, the waistband was no longer a focal point, since the team removed all designs and continued the pattern that was found on the bottom portion of the shorts.

Robert: A slight tweaking of the previous design. The black is minimized and for the first time, the front uni numbers are significantly smaller than the back uni numbers. Also, just because it’s a copycat league design wise, the Knicks ditch the alternating colors on their waistband, keeping them either all white or all blue. In my eyes, this created a “unitard” effect. And if you’re going to go for a re-design, GO for a re-design. This all was just polishing so much brash on the Titanic. Considering the Knicks putrid efforts this decade, the Titantic seems an apt metaphor.

That said, the “Subway Token” logo, introduced in the early ’00s, is neat. It incorporates imagery that’s unique to New York City and also (like every NBA logo, is a basketball. Seriously, check out the NBA logos. Unlike every other major sport, the NBA’s team logos pretty universally incorporate the ball they play with. It’s a strange kink, to say the least.)

Jonah: I like the fact that the team ditched the black; I like the fact that the team highlighted the orange and blue by keeping a steady flow on both the home and away jerseys; Along those lines, I like the opposite colored belts, which blend the colors of the jerseys; I also like the addition of the team’s logo to the shorts, as well as the newish subway-token logo to the back of the jersey. Oh, I also like the “Once A Knick, Always A Knick” inscription within the collar, even if I’d like to forget a large percentage of the Knicks’ players from the past decade.

I don’t love the straighten lettering on the front of the jersey, even though it’ll likely grow on me. One positive in the new lettering, however, is that since it’s new, it will attract the initial look, which will further the “New York” brand name.

My biggest complaint with these jerseys is something I just don’t understand: Why doesn’t the shoulder piping continue all the way around?! It just looks incomplete to me. Alan Hahn mentioned it being a comfort and aesthetic benefit. Now, comfort I can see, but aesthetic? No way.

All in all, I like this refresher. It’s a return to a simple state, and accentuates the team’s iconic orange and blue.


Robert: I have a ton of thoughts on the newest itteration, but Jonah asked me to keep it brief, so here we go.

1. The black/orange side panels are gone and black has been completely removed from the team’s color palate. This is good. The black trim always seemed to be a pointless nod to the mid-90′s fad off adding black to every team’s uniforms (See: Mets, New York) whether it was historically accurate or worked in any basic compositional sense. Utilizing side panels (no matter what color) that extended down the shorts has also been a league wide, pointlessly stultifying trend. Nice to see the Knicks resist conformity here. It’s also nice that one will no longer confuse our ‘Bockers with the Oklahoma City Thunder. (In terms of their garb — no one would confuse them in terms of their respective level of play.)

Verdict: VERY GOOD THING

2. Unfortunately, they’ve replaced black with a silver/gray, which can be seen in the shoulder piping on both unis. Ugh. While the gray is practically nonexistent if you’re watching the game on TV, (or…er…on one’s computational device via…ahem…a corsair-ed Internet feed from Uzbekistan [Not that I ever would do such a horrid thing, violating the sanctity of the interwebs and/or NBA League Pass. No Sirree, Bob]) there’s just no need for a 4th color. Blue, White and Orange are certainly sufficient. I can’t tell if the fact that most of the time the gray will be invisible makes it stupider or less stupid that they added it.

Verdict: DUMB

3. You’ll also note that the “NEW YORK” wordmark is considerably less arched than it used to be. Whoever made this “decision” needs to be repeatedly flogged. The new wordmark neither recalls the iconic unis of the past nor is it a modern re-imagining. If the goal was to return to a “classic” style, this squished word mosh pit isn’t achieving that effect. It just looks cluttered and shoddy, like the jersey was a bad knock-off one might purchase on Ebay. Honestly, I could live with the other changes if the marketing/design wizards in the bowels of MSG had just left well enough alone.

Verdict: VERY DUMB

4. Here’s my biggest problem with this design: The piping doesn’t go all the way around the shoulders. I believe the reasoning for this is some Nike-ified corporate pabulum about flexibility/fabric achieving greater maximum power flexibility super-performance. (Seriously, read how Nike describes their new unis forthe NFL. It’d make Don Draper retch/recoil in horror.) I guess this’ll prevent chafed underarms, which is CLEARLY a massive, unspoken problem. We’ll have to see what this looks like on the court, but to me, it’s silly, like the collar pattern that the Charlotte Bobcats just ditched. Not to get repetitive, but it looks like some designer was trying to be clever/add a distinctive element and instead cobbled together something that’s going to be distracting more than anything else.

Verdict: REALLY DUMB

Overall, I still think this is an improvement, but as you can tell, there are a few elements that take away from the impact of the redesign. If you put you’re corporate CFO hat on for a set, it does make sense. By tweaking the “classic” look, it allows us fans to fork over fistfuls of dollars for shirts made for pennies in 18-hour shifts by small children/the poor, starving indigenous peoples of [free trade zone country X] and still have the privilege to cough up additional ducats for yet another overpriced garment if/when the Knicks have a “throwback” night. I realize the Knicks are a for-profit organization (even if spending by the parent company on the team amounts to 3% of their total budget), but golly, couldn’t they have make a decision that doesn’t just seek to bolster the bottom line and just brought back these?

Verdict: B MINUS

Well, thanks, Robert! Tremendous job.

Thanks to SportsLogos.Net and the Knicks for the jersey illustrations and be sure to leave your favorite jersey in the comments!

Remember, you can follow to us on Twitter, @TheKnicksWall and @BobSaietta!

  • SlightedGreek

    It’s about damn time!

  • UnrestrictedFreeAnthony

    I wish they brought back the ’84-91 logo. If they brought that logo back that would be great.

  • Steve D

    I hate the new design…you don’t change an iconic logo…the unis should look exactly like they did in 1970.
    BTW, the Yankee logo was used way before the blue and red jerseys…the warmups first had them in 1969. I hated the blue and red jerseys…in the pre-season, I believe that design was orange and blue and they changed to red for the season…I have a program with Earl on the cover and it is definitely orange in that new style…also in preseason, the player name was below the number on the back, just like the number is above KNICKS on the front. Can’t find a photo, but I’m sure of it.

  • melo luva

    yankees logo 0-o

  • tape

    I agree with a lot of your quibbles with the current set, though personally I view most of them to be relatively minor (with the exception of the less-arched “NEW YORK”; what the hell is that about).

    That said, I have a major gripe that you didn’t seem to touch on: the side striping on the shorts and how there isn’t any. Compare the current set to the “championship” era set or the Ewing era set. I think they feel lacking without the shorts stripe. (the jersey side panel, good riddance to that.)

    Ewing: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mdhwhobJSY1qm9rypo1_1280.jpg
    Current: http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2012/1224/nba_u_kidd_gb1_400.jpg