Clothes Make the Man


Clothes Make the Man
by Joe Gabriele

There isn't a Cavaliers-era uniform that LeBron James doesn't look right in.
David Liam Kyle
NBAE/Getty Images
Did you know that the famous saying, “Clothes make the man” was a quote by Mark Twain? (And if so, did you know the rest of that quote says, “Naked people have little or no influence on society”?)

The Cavaliers have had their share of unique uniforms over their 35 year history. Cleveland has changed their look ten times, going full circle – kind of – when they returned to the wine and gold on April 16, 2003 -- one day after completing a 17-65 season and five weeks before they won the rights to draft an 18-year-old from Akron.

Granted, it was a new expression of the wine and gold, but the Cavaliers current threads are among the league’s most popular, something that could not have been said of the previous uniforms. The 18-year-old from Akron has a lot to do with it. In one survey, LeBron James jersey was No. 1 in sales, the Cavaliers uniform, No. 4. But a lot of it has to with the fact that Cleveland’s most recent uniforms are just – for lack of a better expression – really cool.

Fans identified with the wine and gold. Not only are they attractive colors as well as the team’s original flavor. But the items themselves – “wine” and “gold” – fit perfectly with the swashbuckling theme of a Cavalier. The Cavaliers don’t just wear the wine and gold, they are the Wine and Gold. The same way Ohio State is the Scarlet and Grey or Michigan is the Maize and Blue.

In between the current attire and the first expression of wine and gold back in 1970, the Cavaliers have dabbled in burnt orange, royal blue, bright orange, black and pastel blue. There have been three seismic uniform shifts in the franchise’s 35 years, not all good.

In 1970, the inaugural Cavaliers donned the original gold uniforms at their 11,000 seat venue – the old Cleveland Arena – on Euclid and 37th. The Cavaliers went with gold at home and wine on the road, a tradition that they continued throughout their first 13 years in the league.

The first uni’s had the feathered underscore of “Cavaliers” on each jersey, home and road. The logo, which has (thankfully) survived throughout the club’s three-and-half decades, had the words “Cleveland Cavaliers” wrapped around a basketball and featured a silhouette of a Cavalier figure jousting with his sword. The logo is every bit as recognizable to Clevelanders as the Indians’ “Chief Wahoo.”

Brad Daugherty's Cavaliers had distinctly different garb.
Mike Powell
NBAE/Getty Images
Cleveland’s new expression of the old expression of the wine and gold came about in 1974 and made their triumphant comeback in 2005. The garb that adorned the “Miracle of Richfield” team featured piping with short horizontal stripes of wine, gold and white stacked along the sides of the shirts and shorts. Again, both the home and away jerseys read “Cavaliers.”

Long before the current club donned the Miracle jerseys in an actual game – a 104-79 drubbing of the Knicks on January 8 – you could see hip-hop artists adorned in No. 34 Austin Carr attire on MTV or BET or just regular folks on the streets from Cleveland to the Big Apple.

In 1981, as the final remnants of the Miracle squad faded into the sunset, the Cavaliers went to a wine and gold scheme that is more reminiscent of today’s colors than the original hues. The Mike Mitchell-era team went with a metallic gold with a pair of horizontal stripes with the word “Cleveland” written above it in block letters.

The organization and the team were making big changes in the 1980s and the radical departure from the club’s original colors – and its identity – came in the form of the burnt orange and royal blue threads with the word “CAVS” written across the chest. The “V” was designed like a hoop with a ball entering it, which also served as Cleveland’s new logo.

The Cavaliers retained the colors – and slight variations on the look – throughout their final, and highly successful, years at the Richfield Coliseum. The burnt orange as the primary road color was replaced by the royal blue road uniforms in 1987 and the “CAVS” logo was replaced with the block “Cleveland” before the 1989 season.

This attire will forever be linked to the Lenny Wilkens era of excellence that featured the likes of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance and Hot Rod Williams.

When the Cavaliers began play at Gund Arena in the 1994-95 season, there was once again a radical departure from the previous look. From the wine and gold to the burnt orange and royal blue, the Cavaliers went with pastel blue and black. Home uniforms were white, road black, with a blue splash across the torso and lined lettering that said “CAVS” at home and “Cleveland” on the road, both outlined in orange.

The scrappy Brandon-era Cavaliers were the men in black.
Jonathan Daniel
NBAE/Getty Images
The Cavaliers modified this look in 1997, sticking with the color scheme, but losing the mystifying torso splash. Instead, the uniforms featured a more streamlined blue and orange piping along the right side of the shirts and shorts. The futuristic lined letters remained.

But in October of 2002, then-owner Gordon Gund decided to bring Cavaliers fans back to the future when he announced, “Our fans take pride in our team and really identify with the things that make Cleveland different. They want a team whose identity was ‘true to Cleveland.’ With that in mind, we set out to have colors, logos and uniforms that reflect our history and look forward at the same time. These new marks represent what our fans and we believe is the right match for Cleveland and for the Cavaliers.”

The new colors were announced on October 9 – the current “new expression of wine and gold” – a crimson-hued wine color and a metallic gold, similar to 1981 uni’s. Dark blue, the secondary color, was a tribute to the Cavalier teams of the 1990s.

The Cavaliers uniforms may undergo more changes as the LeBron James era unfolds, especially in light of the team’s new ownership. But old school Cavalier fans are just glad that the team recognized its roots and the colors that best represent the team and the city.

Like the Boston Celtics green or the Oakland Raiders black and silver, the Cavaliers are their best in the wine and gold. It’s no surprise that the Cavaliers are now lined up for big things. After all, the clothes make the man.

Cavaliers Record by Uniform