Fabric of sports sure has changed | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Fabric of sports sure has changed

Rick Chandler, Tribune correspondent

When we were kids, we never thought much about sports fashion. The San Francisco 49ers wore red jerseys at home — white jerseys for away games. The Giants wore white and gray.

When teams tried to be innovative with their uniforms, it usually turned out badly — remember the Oakland A’s of the 1960s and ’70s? The reason that you no longer see that exact combination of colors is that there is now an amendment to the constitution outlawing them. Go ahead, wear yellow socks with a green tank top tomorrow morning and see how far you get before you’re wrestled to the ground by the FBI.

Then, in the late 1970s, an abomination ocurred. The Houston Astros unveiled their multi-colored, striped jerseys — kind of a rainbow design in various shades of orange, yellow and red, as if they had been subjected to intense radiation from Mars. And it actually caught on — many Little League teams adopted the style, resulting today in thousands of adults who are either in therapy or working for Disney.

And now there’s this: The Houston Rockets are upset because the design for their new uniforms has leaked. Vice President of Marketing Tim McDougall had hoped to unveil the new design at an official event next month, but images of the new uniforms got out on the Internet, and now everyone knows.

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The new Rocket uniforms are unremarkable at first glance — just red, with a gray trim. But there’s a lot more going on there than meets the eye, according to McDougall.

“The problem with red is the fabric always bleeds,” McDougall said. “We had issues with that. If we were going with red, we could backtrack to a fabric that was not the ultimate in performance. We took a lot of time to come up with a fabric with the best performance and best appearance with a lot of shine, also non-bleed. From a playability standpoint and appearance standpoint, we created, working with Reebok, a fabric just for this uniform.”

In the NBA, it used to be that the only time bleeding was a concern was if Bill Laimbeer was on the opposing team. But times are changing — more thought goes into team uniform design these days than goes into actual game strategy.

“We spent a lot of time on the font,” McDougall said. “We really settled on the ‘R’ icon first and wanted a letter font with that. We didn’t want something too out there (that was) too tricky. That could wear out on you. We wanted something stylized, too.”

When was the last time you worried about your favorite team’s font? “The Vikings have a great offensive line this season, but dammit, why did they have to go with Times New Roman for their numbers? Lucida Sans is the obvious choice! We’re doomed.”

And make no mistake, when you’re trotting out new uniforms, you don’t just pick a couple of colors and hire a seamstress. This is all big business — as in marketing — with millions of dollars at stake. The new Rockets’ uniforms were largely created by Eiko Ishioka, an Oscar winner for costume design on “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in 1992.

“What struck her most about basketball is it’s a very vertical sport,” McDougall said of Ishioka. “She wanted to capture that with something for athletes that are sleek and strong and (that reflected) the sport’s upward motion and used the arcs. With the name of the team, Rockets, it’s a really good fit.”

It could have been worse, I suppose. They could have hired the costume designer from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

Would I be out of line if I pointed out that this whole thing has gotten out of hand? I may not know art, but I know what I like in a uniform, and the key word here is KISS — keep it simple, stupid. When it comes to sports togs, you have to admire teams such as the Dodgers, Giants and Browns. Simple, classic, dignified. In Cleveland, they don’t even bother with a helmet logo. It’s just too much effort. I say that if you can’t come up with a good idea, just leave it blank (a motto that my editors wish I would adopt).

But uniforms can go horribly wrong, such as you see with the Denver Broncos, Cincinnati Bengals and all college marching bands.

I’m not too fond of the new Houston Texans’ duds, either — they give off a decidedly USFL feel. Thankfully, most baseball teams have stuck with or are adopting the classic look. For example, the San Diego Pades are having all of their old yearbooks burned, due to that awful, brown-and-mustard-yellow look they had going in the 1970s and ’80s.

There’s a simple test that marketing departments can use to determine if they’ve gone too far with the uniforms. If they look suitable for a fifth-grade girls soccer team, or Elton John, then it’s back to the drawing board. Hope this helps.

— Rick Chandler’s interactive sports column, Capacity Crowd, can be found at NBCSports.com. Contact him at RickChand@earthlink.net.

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