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The Official NBA Jersey Instruction Manual

Because some people just need to read this, and that's all there is to it.


The NBA Jersey is nothing new in the world of fashion. At least for as long as I can remember, it's adorned the shoulders not simply of the players whom they so nobly represent, but also the less impressive shoulders of gym rats, school kids, weekend warriors, and the occasional hip hop artist. In much the same way a particular logo can represent a proudly worn brand, an NBA Jersey presents itself as a means of a particular individuals display of loyalty and/or affection for the name stretching across the back. Going beyond the simple team loyalty that a basic tee shirt, polo, or cap can display, the basketball jersey is a no-nonsense way of saying "I like this player enough that I would steal his actual clothing were reasonable facsimiles not mass produced and made readily available for regular people such as I." With availability across several price points as well, these jerseys have made their way into closets the world over.

Some people seem to be content with just the one, indicating that their respect for that one particular player goes above that for all others, while some might consider themselves a connoisseur of the NBA Jersey, and have an abundance of them from which to choose. Regardless of where you find yourself on the graph (and if you don't find yourself on it, you're already breaking a rule), there are certain rules that one must adhere to in order to ensure that they're not committing any one of several offenses that come with irresponsible use of the NBA Jersey.

Much like any other area of "fashion", as some people like to call it. There are a variety of do's and don'ts that permeate the Jersey-owning landscape. Like those rules, the Jersey Rules are not so much a black and white set of offenses (though the creation of any sets of rules is done so under the auspices of at least several) as much as it is a guideline from which either a current or prospective owner can strike the proper balance. Like any other area of life, that balance exists to prevent one from erring too far to either side. The wearer of an NBA Jersey is, unbeknownst to his/her self, presenting the name on the jersey as the criteria that the rest of us will use to judge them on the basketball IQ and fanhood. With this being said, let us enter into the NBA Jersey Purchase Scenario, which serves as a blanket hypothetical for all jersey purchases, regardless of your own particular circumstance.

(Disclaimer: The following rules are for NBA Jersey purchases only. Football fans may ask themselves why NFL/NCAAF Jerseys are not included. That is because it is never OK to wear a football jersey. Men who wear football jerseys all look like that fat kid we all knew back in middle school that tried to hide his weight by wearing baggy shirts and pants. It's not a good look. Ever. The only time an NFL Jersey is OK is if a woman is wearing one of those girl-cut jerseys made especially for them.

-Baseball Jerseys are also not ever OK, unless you are actually playing baseball. Besides, baseball has caps, and caps present a whole new set of rules to be followed. Perhaps they will be written one day. God knows they should be.

-Soccer/Futbol Jerseys are only OK if the adorned individual is capable of actually engaging in a legitimate discussion about set pieces and their respective tactical advantages. Hipsters wearing a soccer jersey simply for the sake of being different are advised to just not wear one, and opt for a tank top instead. )


You find yourself in a situation where the possibility of the purchase of an NBA Jersey is high. This can be at a sporting goods store, garage sale/secondhand clothing store, or via the internet. You have the required funds in order to transact the purchase. It is at this point that you shall consult or refer to your memory of the following rules.


  • The Bestseller Rule: Current Top Selling Jerseys are not to be purchased unless the particular team is located in your state. For the 2010-2011 NBA Season, the top 15 jerseys are as follows.

1) LeBron James, Miami Heat

2) Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

3) Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

4) Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks

5) Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

6) Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

7) Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

8) Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

9) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic

10 ) John Wall, Washington Wizards

11) Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

12) Shaquille O'Neal, Boston Celtics

13) Ray Allen, Boston Celtics

14) Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

15) Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics

What this handy list means for those of you curious about potentially owning one of these specific jerseys, is that unless they are in your state, or unless you can provide proof that you once lived in that state, you are not allowed to make that purchase. Obviously certain situations arrive such as the gifting of one of these jerseys might arise. People who find themselves the recipients of such gifts must note that continued ownership of the jersey is only acceptable if YOU DID NOT ASK FOR THE GIFT YOURSELF. I offer my ownership of a 1992 Orlando Magic Shaquille O'Neal Jersey, which I received from a friend at my third grade birthday party. As circumstances fall, I did not ask for the jersey (or even for that child to attend my party), but it still fits very well, so I wear it to this day.

  • The Frontrunner Rule: Going hand in hand with the above rule, this particular rule is in place to diffuse any particular situation in which you might find yourself tempted to own a Lebron James jersey. Everybody knows damn well that Dwyane Wade was the first native member of the Heat to have a legitimate run of sales since Rony Seikaly, so unless you live in Florida and can inform your friends on precisely who Rony is, then do everybody a favor and don't buy that thing. Consequences of ownership under breaking of the front runner rule are that people will consider you one of the following

  1. Douchebag
  2. Poser
  3. Non-Basketball Fan
  4. Douchebag


  • The Stephen Jackson Rule: This rule uniformly states that no jersey will be purchased of a player who switches teams frequently, unless the jersey is from the team/time period when he had his greatest success (for Stephen, this would be the Spurs, with whom he won a title), or unless you are a current fan of his current team. This rule is in place in order to prevent retroactive disappointment by the purchaser when they find out that their jersey purchase was of a player on their team who was not the star, and was therefore relatively expendable. This is the potential price you pay for wanting to be different, and is the very same reason why the only Spurs jerseys I own are Tim Duncan's and... Stephen Jackson's


  • The Throwback Jersey Rule: Throwback Jerseys, while a popular alternative to the conventional jersey purchase, come with certain, non-negotiable stipulations. Purchasers of Throwback will do so only under the conditions that the Throwback Jersey is a Mitchell and Ness Hardwood Classics, or an original issue jersey of that particular player. What this means, is that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES are you allowed to purchase one of the new Adidas Retro Swingman Jerseys that have been reissued, which are super lame with that obnoxious trefoil logo on the right shoulder. Adidas was not the official supplier of the NBA Uniform until 2007, so don't bother trying to pass that Hakeem Olajuwon Houston Rockets Jersey off as an original unless Champion made it. The rule of thumb here is to simply bite the bullet and spend the money. M&N is the brand people want anyways, and nobody you know will have one like yours, which is what you really want.
  1. The team doesn't matter so much if the jersey is a throwback, although it's best to avoid looking for the team the player last played with. For example, nobody would fault a Sixers Era Barkley, or a Suns Era Barkley, but try to avoid Rockets Era Barkley. By that point, he was realistically a shell of his former self, and not the legendary Round Mound of Rebound.
  2. Interesting situations arise when you see veterans joining teams to win titles, a la Drexler with the Rockets, or Payton and Malone with the Lakers. If you're looking to the Jackson rule, as listed above, one could technically argue that, in the case of Drexler, he had his greatest success as a Rocket, being that he won the title. In this situation, you'd be right in going either way, but obviously this is a rare exception, as most NBA Players don't win titles, be them with one team or another.
  3. The NBA Jam Stipulation: This states that if a player was on a certain team, and was featured on a particular team in NBA Jam, the throwback must be from that team. Unless a situation arises specifically like the one mentioned above, don't go looking for that obscure Hakeem Olajuwon Raptors Jersey or Shawn Kemp Cavaliers Jersey. Sometimes you can try too hard to be different.
  4. The Robert Horry Quandary: Seriously, the guy won titles everywhere he went. Choose freely, unless you choose Phoenix. That's a no-no.
  5. Obviously, the catch-22 here is that if you have an original era Champion or Starter jersey, then it technically isn't a throwback. If that happens, the congratulations are in order, because you're cool.


  • The Jordan Rule: Simply put, the guy is the greatest of all time, and it will never be debatable. Every basketball fan should own a Jordan Jersey, even if they don't wear it. I subscribe to the fact that I wear one around the house, but never out doors, and especially not on the basketball court. That's a whole situation where your mouth is writing checks your body can't cash, and is generally awkward for everyone involved. Go with a #23 or #45 Chicago or #9 USA Dream Team though. Stay away from the Wizards Era Jordan. That's a whole other bag of worms.
  • The Custom Jersey Rule: The most important rule of thumb to keep in mind when you're dealing with the prospect of ordering a custom jersey is this: Don't put any your name on the back. You aren't a professional basketball player, so don't pretend like you are. That goes double for any nicknames or whatever else you feel would be funny to throw on there. Here's a hint. It won't be, except for the fact that you wasted a hundred bucks to look like an idiot. Other than that, it's fair game so long as it falls within the boundaries by the rules above. Watch out for that Stephen Jackson rule though. If they haven't made a jersey to sell, consider that player a highly tradable asset, and don't be surprised when your team makes a deadline deal that suddenly leaves people pointing out the fact that the name on the back of your custom no longer plays for your team. That's probably annoying. Shop smart.


  • The Kobe Rule: A compliment to the Throwback Rule. When I was in high school (class of 2002), my boss' parting gift to me on my last day before I left for college was a Kobe Bryant jersey. He knew that, at the time, I couldn't stand Kobe, so he hooked it up. While it was a funny joke at the time, I've slowly grown to like Kobe over the years. Despite the fact that my own jersey is his old #8, I maintain that if you absolutely have to have a Kobe Jersey, you can circumvent the first two rules I listed by grabbing a #8. Mitchell and Ness makes a Kobe Throwback from that era, so it's completely legitimized, as every thing that M&N makes is a go as far as this list is concerned. I'm not saying that to exclude myself from violating the rules, because it's not the only time a player has changed numbers. Though the most recent example would be Lebron (a no-no, if only for the fact that freaking EVERYBODY seems to have his jersey), but Dr. J also switched numbers, as did Shaq, Shawn Kemp, Robert Horry, Jason Kidd, etc. If you have to get yourself a high profile, celebrity type jersey, abide the Kobe Rule and go with the original number.
  • The On-Court Rule: Thinking about wearing a jersey to run fulls in? Here's an idea! Don't be that guy. There's nothing like watching a guy place his own game at insurmountable odds with the name he's chosen to wear onto the court. Like a lot of things in life, just say no. Then say no again.
  • The Farmar Haywood Haywood: So help me God, this is just not OK. I mean, on this list there are some player's whose jersey you shouldn't get because they're too popular, but then there are other players who shouldn't even have a jersey in the actual, real NBA. Brendan Haywood, for as much as Jeff Van Gundy praises him, is a terrible player. I'm sure that, like at most NBA Arenas, you can find his jersey in the Pro Shop, but just because you see something doesn't make it OK to do. I mean, hell, would you strap a rocket to your bike and try to jump over your neighborhood with it just because you saw Evel Knieval do it? Sure, some people might, but those people are Brendan Haywood and Jordan Farmar. You just think about that. You'd be better served stuffing bacon in your pockets and running through the forest, screaming like a horny bear.

Using these handy rules will allow you to keep your Jersey Options broad while also preventing you from looking like something you don't want people to think you are. Just because you see somebody out on the lake or at a bar with a Miami Heat jersey on does not mean that you need to follow suit. That's probably not a person you want to hang out with anyway, and God knows you couldn't talk basketball with them (unless they know who Rony Seikaly is, which is all the icebreaker you need), so what's the point? The fact is, whenever you wear a jersey, people all take the name on the back to be a direct indicator of your basketball IQ and fanhood, and despite the ever prevalent matter of opinion, the fact remains that there are some wrong answers you can make.

Study Hard.

Also, at the end of the day, this is all in good fun.