The NBA Jersey Wearer’s Constitution

Photo by Paul Rovere/Getty Images
Photo by Paul Rovere/Getty Images /

To wear or not to wear — that is the question every fan has to answer when it comes to wearing a jersey, NBA or otherwise.

Taking the leap from team-themed t-shirt to official jersey is to go from casual fan to die-hard supporter, literally wearing your fandom on your sleeve (or torso, as it were). But you do not just do so willy-nilly. Wearing a jersey is an art form, a statement and a risk. Like any other trend or style, there are guidelines to be followed.

To be a light in the darkness for the jersey-wearers, I have created the Jersey-Wearer’s Constitution. It is a manifesto for those fans ready to dive headfirst into the strange, beautiful world of sportin’ a jersey, and for those embarrassing themselves with endless and avoidable jersey faux pas.

We begin with Article No. 1.

The NBA Jersey Wearer’s Constitution

Article No. 1 – The Breaking of the Social Contract

It is not Halloween. You aren’t attending Comic-Con. Yet by wearing a jersey you are voluntarily dressing-up like another adult. In doing so, you are breaking the social contract. Basically, wearing a jersey is a little goofy, a tad funny, and frankly, absurd. As a jersey-wearer, that is something you must accept and wear like a badge of honor. You will not be taken seriously in a jersey, so please do not try and be serious in a jersey. Instead, enjoy it, have fun, and sport it with pride. Jonah knows what’s up.

Article No. 2 – The Right to Bare Arms

Of course, this article is specifically for the basketball jersey, the only jersey that is naturally without sleeves.

Technically, yes, it is your inherent right to expose your upper arm. But do not dare abuse that privilege. You must know when to conceal and when to let it fly. It is for your own safety and that of those around you.

If you are going to be indoors, or in a place where there will be crowds (post-COVID-19, of course), then it is your civic duty to wear an undershirt. If you’re outdoors, particularly in a wide-open space, then you can exercise your freedom. As the great thinker, Rene Descartes famously said, “Cogito Ergo Sum.” Of course, that is Latin. In English, it translates to “If you are in the open air, then you may keep your arms bare.” It’s no mystery as to why he is still so influential a few centuries later.

Article No. 3 – Where and When?

As much as we here in the jersey-wearing committee (me) would like jerseys to be the skeleton key of clothing – a fit in any scenario – that is simply not the case. There are some settings where no other upper-body garment will work better than the jersey, but others where your bravado will fall short.

To give an idea of what settings are appropriate for a jersey, I’ve grouped some common sites into green, yellow and red zones. Green, of course, means GO on and wear your jersey. Yellow means to exercise caution, and red means no jerseys unless the circumstances are extreme.

The Red Zone

  • Wedding – Best not to wear a jersey to a wedding. Unless it is a jersey-themed wedding. We need more of those.
  • Dinner Party – You will be severely underdressed. If you are undeterred and still feel the need, ensure that it is not a white jersey. A stain will only accent your foolishness.
  • The Gym – You don’t dress for game day when you’re in training camp.

The Yellow Zone

  • Work – Depends on the job obviously. It can be a great conversation starter on a casual Friday, for example.
  • Traveling – A way to take a little piece of home on the road. Be wary, however. You don’t want to be the lone man or woman in the Pinstripes in Beantown.
  • Sports Bar – Similar to the traveling protocol. Mind your surroundings.

The Green Zone

  • A Game – This is what the jersey is meant for. Wearing the jersey of one of the participating teams is the ultimate show of support, and is still, after all these years, the foundation of wearing a jersey.
  • Music Festivals – A few years ago, somebody decided that retro jerseys would supplant sundresses, floppy hats, and altered denim as the go-to piece of clothing at a music festival. I don’t get it, frankly, but I see no reason for any opposition to it.

*If you insist on wearing a jersey to a setting in the Red Zone, consult the Jersey formality rankings.

Article No. 4 – The Various Styles

It would be foolish to have an all-encompassing Jersey Constitution without addressing the fact that the jerseys from the four major professional North American sports leagues are substantially different from one another. For example, the hockey jersey is a bulky, long-sleeved piece — often referred to as a sweater — that is naturally used in colder temperatures, whereas the basketball jersey is light, airy and, of course, sleeveless, making it perfect for a beach.

In general, the jersey is far from formal attire. This document is only legally binding with regards to basketball jerseys but we recognize that’s not the only option. Follow the Formality Rankings to see which jersey would be most appropriate to wear when you find yourself in the red zone.

Jersey Formality Rankings

  1. Baseball Jersey – It has buttons. You know what else has buttons? Button-up shirts, the peak of formal attire. The baseball jersey is a no-brainer as the most formal jersey.
  2. Hockey Jersey – The hockey jersey has a clean fit and provides modest coverage, putting in comfortably in the two-hole in the Formality Rankings. If you’re really looking to class it up, get yourself one of the old-timey hockey jerseys with the strings in the collar – the Windsor knot of jerseys.
  3. Football Jersey – It is nigh impossible to not look sloppy in a football jersey. They might as well be ill-fitting dresses. Don’t try and get cute though. It is a requirement that the football jersey is way too big on you.
  4. Basketball Jersey – The basketball jersey is a couple of cuts away from being a bikini top. Do not wear this if the dress code is anything stricter than that of Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale.

Article No. 5 – Pickup Sports

Pickup sports present the unique opportunity to wear the jersey of your favorite player while actually playing the sport that she or he plays. You can even go as far as to mimic their position and play style. It is basically LARPing but with sports.

Unfortunately, this isn’t Like Mike, and wearing a player’s clothing does not mean you will acquire their talent. Instead, the product can create hysterical showings from pickup athletes. The further a pickup player is from the player they represent on their jersey, the funnier it becomes.

For example, a lanky, ground-bound fellow in a No. 1 Zion Williamson jersey in a game of pickup hoops will certainly draw some laughs. Similarly, a player suited for the offensive line donning the jersey of diminutive speedster Darren Sproles on the gridiron is a recipe for hilarity.

For this very reason, it is of the utmost importance that you adhere to Article No. 1. Offense must not be taken when your lack of vertical jump is noted whilst donning a No. 15 Vince Carter jersey, provided it remains light-hearted and in jest. Better yet, lean into the differences and play your jersey for laughs. You will be remembered fondly for years to come.

Article No. 6 – Be a Part of Something

As soon as you pull the jersey over your head, you become a part of a community. You suddenly have a bond with all the Jersey Gals and Jersey Guys, and it is up to you to be a responsible part of that community. Just like the Jeep Wave, the Jersey Nod is a powerful gesture, an acknowledgment of another in our ever-growing team.

Yes, there are more questions to ask. Do I get a current player or a retired player? Do I get my team’s regular jersey or the flashy alternates? The decisions are endless.

Unfortunately, I can guide you no further. Those choices are all up to you. So long as you consult the Jersey Wearer’s Constitution, you can do no wrong. Go forth and meet your destiny.

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