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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Patrick Andres

Ranking the NBA City Edition Uniforms for 2023-24

It's that time of the year.

Basketball is back, and so are the NBA's City Edition jerseys. Created to honor the spirit of the league's hometowns—and conveniently unveiled ahead of the holiday shopping season—the jerseys have inspired an array of discussion and debate since their inception in 2017.

They can be viewed as an interesting change of pace that grounds North American sports' most global league at home. They can be viewed as symptomatic of NBA squads' gradual loss of distinct team identities. The beauty of City Edition jerseys lies in the eye of the beholder.

Ultimately, whether your jersey works comes down to three questions. Is it consistent with some aspect of your chromatic history? If not, can a good backstory compensate? Above all, does it look cool?

Keeping these criteria in mind, let's rank the 30 jerseys unveiled Thursday for the 2024 season from best to worst.

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1. Jazz

Highly derivative of the Jazz's purple look from 1996-02, as the team readily admits. Who cares? That was one of best uniforms in the history of sports, and it's supplanted the Osmonds as Utah's greatest contribution to pop culture for good reason.

2. Knicks

Another shameless, successful nostalgia play. The Marcus Camby-core pinstripes are gorgeous, and the pair of New Yorks (for the city so nice, they named it twice) successfully walks the oft-blurry line between dorky and inspired.

3. Bucks

The best jersey that tries something different. It's blue in the vein of the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers and Lake Michigan—no algae to be found here. If you deviate from your traditional coloring you have to do it right, and even with the odd pockmarks Milwaukee sticks the landing.

4. Timberwolves

NBA teams are frequently guilty of forgetting they have fans outside their home cities, so major props to the Timberwolves for embracing the pan-Minnesota Land of 10,000 Lakes moniker. The milky coloring on the back is strange, but rarely can you say of a jersey, "It's perfect for ice fishing."

5. Kings

It's easy, as Utah and the Knicks did, to embrace a fashionable era—kudos to the Kings for embracing an unfashionable era. The Cincinnati Royals connection could've been awkward (think the Hurricanes cosplaying as the Hartford Whalers) but Sacramento compensates by classily nodding to its red-and-blue past.

6. Bulls

Minimalism wins here. Basically the only immediately visible element on the uniform is a vertical Chicago that evokes the late, ancient Chicago Stadium where Michael Jordan won his first three titles. If the Bulls were in the vicinity of decent, these would go Lollapalooza triple platinum.

7. Hornets

The head of the "(Nickname) City" class. Did you know that Lord Cornwallis called Charlotte "a hornet's nest of rebellion" during the American Revolution, giving the Hornets their name? And that North Carolina hosted the U.S.'s first gold rush at the end of the 18th century? There's nothing like a jersey that truly informs.

8. Mavericks

Soul maestro Leon Bridges had a hand in designing this, and it looks like his music sounds—exquisite. The "dark, moody palette" conjures lonesome nights home on the range and the sounds that soundtrack them. Could have cracked the top 10 on the basis of the "Mavs" font alone.

9. Trail Blazers

Is this the first successful plaid sports jersey ever? Or at least since medieval Scotland? Like Charlotte, the Trail Blazers compensate for a "(Nickname) City" misstep with an immaculate design. Dr. Jack Ramsay, whose affinity for plaid lent the jersey its design, would be proud.

10. Suns

A well-executed rescue of "The Valley" from overuse. "El Valle" is a much-needed nod to the considerable diversity of the Suns' fanbase, specifically its sprawling Chicano contingent. In the same vein as Minnesota's, this jersey remembers local fanbases don't end at municipal—or national—borders.

11. Cavaliers

Like Chicago, a minimalistic winner. "The Land" is played out, but the playbill-style font saves the uniform by distracting from its gauche, golden, theatre marquee-evoking trim. Would be infinitely funnier if bestowed upon a team with more internal drama.

12. Magic

It's a genuinely good jersey—maybe the last in these rankings to successfully dabble in nostalgia—dampened by a hilariously vague backstory. "The gothic style gives off the vibe of protecting our kingdom." What? As in the Magic Kingdom? The University of Central Florida Knights? Has the Sunshine State transitioned to monarchy?

13. Warriors

The Warriors do their best work when they remember—as hard as they seemingly try to forget—that they represent the entire Bay Area. Thus, a penalty is in store for a "San Francisco" jersey that otherwise cutely pays tribute to the city's cable cars.

14. Rockets

What if colleges had City Edition jerseys? Would Syracuse's gesture at air conditioning? New Mexico's to Georgia O'Keefe? Michigan's to Connor Stalions? Anyway, the Rockets envision a world where the Houston Cougars don City Edition jerseys, and envision it well.

15. Nets

Every year, the Nets' City Edition jersey polarizes, which is less a Brooklyn problem than an America problem. KAWS, an acclaimed graffiti artist, designed this one; while its abstractness may be an acquired taste, it's undeniably true to the borough's ethos. Miles Morales would be proud.

16. Nuggets

The best jersey with a truly questionable feature: the gaudy 5280 slapped across the torso to represent Denver's altitude (a cool civic slogan). The fact that basketball players already have numbers, and that the Nuggets' international fans presumably don't measure altitude in feet, seems to have evaded the designers.

17. Lakers

"The City of Angels has been transformed into the City of Dreams," the backstory reads, promising something ambiguously sinister and Lynchian. Instead, we get what appear to be arrows on traffic lights. This is a historic jersey that probably should have been left in history.

18. Clippers

An fairly average contemporary art-inspired ensemble, but it does one piece of undeniable good: it reminds the Clippers that their nickname has everything to do with ships, and nothing to do with Guitar Hero.

19. Pacers

Like Brooklyn, inspired by graffiti. Unlike the Nets, falls victim to the neon-coded "highlighter syndrome" that has plagued sports in recent years (remember these  Michigan State eyesores?). The arrow taking great care to clarify that Indy is short for Indianapolis is comedy, however.

20. Thunder

Unlike many cities and states on this list, Oklahoma actually appears to be in the midst of a genuine cultural moment (think Zach Bryan, Martin Scorsese, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander touting Kim Kardashian's fashion line). The Thunder have elected to celebrate this by blending the aesthetic of the 1995 Hawks and traffic cones.

21. Celtics

Could have been significantly worse—it's at least green! It's explicitly meant to evoke the peach basket-era of basketball, even though the Celtics' founding is closer chronologically to Paul Pierce being drafted than to the sport's 1891 invention. What's more quintessentially Boston than literary embellishment?

22. Spurs

The backstory is phenomenal in theory—it's meant to evoke HemisFair '68, and the jersey joins a long lineage of sports teams being inspired by World's Fairs (think the Montreal Expos). The cowboy aesthetic is more Mavericks than Spurs, though, and the fact the franchise was located in Dallas in 1968 doesn't help matters.

23. Hawks

The Hawks in 2021 trotted out, if not the league's greatest City Edition jersey, certainly the only one to make it to the Vatican. While not repulsive in any form or fashion, this vaguely North Carolina-like jersey seems unlikely to transcend its home diocese.

24. Pistons

Things black, white and gray put together convey: Batman, NBA referees, zebras, Turner Classic Movies. Things black, white and gray put together do not convey: the Pistons (and certainly not the Bad Boy Pistons). The Chuck Daly tribute is nice, but the worst adjective you can use for a Bad Boys tribute is "neutral."

25. Grizzlies

The Grizzlies, being located in one of the five most important cities in the history of American music, should have one of the best City Edition jerseys in the league every year. And yet, Memphis is rolling with a bizarre "MEM" logo and a practically invisible nod to their former home in Vancouver.

26. Raptors

"We the North" written in a variety of languages is a solid tribute to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, but the feeling that this is the For All the Dogs of jerseys cannot be shaken.

27. 76ers

Guilty of maximalism (admit it, "City of Brotherly Love" is entirely too long to put on a uniform). Guilty of asymmetry. Guilty of making virtually no gesture toward the team's normal aesthetic on the jersey. Can you blame James Harden for fleeing this?

28. Heat

If you've gotten this far, you're probably an NBA fan. Now imagine not being an NBA fan and seeing someone on the street in what appears when viewed from a distance to be a jersey that reads "Culture." If a liberal arts school's classics department formed a softball team, its uniform would look identical.

29. Pelicans

On paper, a neon green "ode to the 300 years of magic and mystery surrounding the Big Easy." In reality, a neon green ode to 60 years of your dad going jogging at night.

30. Wizards

Offends good taste. Offends typography. Offends any notion of chromatic matching—this might be the first time black, red, anthracite, bronze and patina have been used in a sentence together in the history of the world. Kyle Kuzma and Jordan Poole in these are must-see television.

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