February 20, 2009

When the Hornets unveiled brand-new uniforms at an Aug. 20, 2008 ceremony in the French Quarter, it marked only the second time in franchise history that the clubs game gear underwent a major change. The first significant alteration took place when the Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002, with the Hornets adding gold to their familiar teal-and-purple color scheme. By now, youre probably already familiar with the new look New Orleans is sporting on the court during the 2008-09 season, which features staggered pinstripes and the colors Creole blue, dark purple and gold. With the help of longtime Hornets equipment manager David Big Shot Jovanovic, here are a few things you might not know about the Hornets uniforms and the NBA rules that govern what the players wear on the hardwood:

1) Players can accessorize, but even that requires teamwork.
Have you ever noticed that each Hornets player who dons a headband during a game always wears the exact same color as his teammates? If Devin Brown is wearing a gold headband during a game, for example, so is Julian Wright. Theres a very good reason for that uniformity: NBA rules require it.

All accessories the players wear, whether it is a headband or wristband, it must be the same color, and all accessories have to be in official team colors, Jovanovic explains. For us this season, that means if a player wears a headband in a home game, it will be white. For road games, it will be gold.

Specific to the Hornets, this is a small change from the 2007-08 season, when players rotated between teal, purple or black accessories (by the way, black and white are considered official team colors for all NBA teams, and are therefore acceptable under league rules).

We wanted to keep it a little more universal this season, Jovanovic says of the change.

Incidentally, the one exception to the home-white/road-gold accessory Hornets policy occurs during the four games in which the Hornets are sporting their New Orleans Buccaneers retro uniforms in 2008-09. In those Hardwood Classics contests, players are wearing navy blue accessories, to match the dominant color of the Bucs navy blue and red uniforms.

2) Its not as easy as it used to be to change your jersey number.
Among all professional sports, jersey numbers may be more identified with specific players in the NBA than in any other league. You cant picture Chris Paul wearing a jersey other than No. 3, can you? Its hard to fathom LeBron James in something other than 23, right?

While that is certainly the case, the recent instance of Allen Iverson changing teams illustrated why NBA rules now make it more difficult than in the past for a player to keep his old number. Due to merchandising considerations, the league adopted a rule earlier this decade that for a player to change his number, he must apply for the alteration more than a year in advance (that explains why Kobe Bryant had to wait to change his number from 8 to 24, which took effect in the 2006-07 season).

When Iverson was traded by Denver to Detroit in November, many assumed that The Answer would be able to wear his familiar No. 3. Unfortunately for AI, Detroit already had a player in that number, second-year guard Rodney Stuckey. Unlike in the past, when deals were often brokered to enable a veteran to keep his number, the NBA does not allow a player to take over a digit if that team already has someone wearing it. In the Pistons case, Stuckey was not allowed to change out of 3, so Iverson was forced to pick a different number (he chose No. 1).

You cant do that anymore, Jovanovic says of number swaps that took place in years past. The league is very strict on numbers and has a policy. Say we trade for a superstar player, and his number is 45. But we have Rasual Butler, who already wears it. (Under league rules), that number is Rasuals.

You cant pay for a number or trade for it, Jovanovic continues. You cant exchange out of a number. If you want to change out of a number, its a two-year process. Kobe Bryant did change his number, but he put in for it in advance. Its because of merchandising. They dont want to be stuck with inventory if a player wants to change his number every year. A player could say, Oh, I didnt play well last season, so Im changing my number. This (rule) prevents that from happening.

A good example of this potential issue happened in 2008 in the NFL, when flamboyant Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson announced he wanted to legally change his name to Chad Ocho Cinco. The NFL told Johnson they would make the change to his jerseys, but only if he bought out the inventory of Bengals No. 85 jerseys that read JOHNSON on the back. The wideout decided to pass on that offer.

Chad Johnson wouldve had to pay $4 million to NFL for them to allow him to change his jerseys to OCHO CINCO, based on merchandise, Jovanovic says. They had this large inventory of jerseys to be sold, so they told him if you want to buy all of the jerseys, then OK. But he wasnt going to (pay the $4 million fee).

In another example, this one specific to the Hornets, former guard Darrell Armstrong -- who played for New Orleans during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons wanted to change from his number from 3 to 10, because he had worn 10 prior to his tenure here. But Armstrong couldnt do so, because it required the mandatory waiting period.

3) NBA equipment managers share their own version of a scouting report.
In order to make it as convenient as possible for NBA teams to quickly create a new specific player uniform based on the ever-present possibility of an in-season trade or a 10-day contract signing the NBAs 30 equipment managers submit the sizes of all players before each season. That list is compiled by the NBA, which e-mails a master list back to teams.

Because of that, I have a list of the sizes for all players in the NBA, Jovanovic says. If I get player X from a certain team, I know what size jersey he wears. Then, as soon as I find out what number hes going to wear, we can get his jersey made.

A new uniform, including the jersey number and the players surname stitched on the back, can be put together as quickly as 3-4 hours. Thats no small thing, because over his 21 years with the Hornets, there have been instances where that was all the time Jovanovic had to get it ready.

Its not uncommon for (Hornets general manager) Jeff Bower to come to me at 4 oclock and say we have someone who needs to play in the game tonight, Jovanovic says. But I have a (seamstress) in town who can stitch the name and number onto the jersey very quickly. It has to be someone who can drop whatever theyre doing, because we might be playing a game that night.

4) Its always good to have a backup plan.
Jovanovic brings one extra jersey for each player on every road trip, as well as an additional pair of game shorts. Backup gear needs to be on hand in case part of a players first uniform set is ruined by blood or tearing. Fortunately, neither happens very often.

We also have a jersey with 55 and no name on the back of it, Jovanovic explains. We use that if there is a situation where we cant use the backup jersey for some reason.

5) Like with number changes, theres a wait required before teams can introduce an alternate jersey.
Prior to their current uniform redesign, the Hornets wore an alternate gold road uniform, along with their primary teal road outfit. The NBA requires all teams to wear their alternate uniform a minimum number of times, but most teams would probably do so anyway, because the exposure that results from wearing them in games and being seen on TV or in arenas generally leads to greater sales of that uniform.

The Hornets do not currently have any plans to adopt an alternate road uniform in addition to their current Creole blue road duds. Even if they were planning to implement one, due to a mandatory two-year wait by rule, New Orleans could not add it until the beginning of the 2010-11 season.

This season, New Orleans third uniform is a nod to the past, the New Orleans Buccaneers ABA teams of the 1960s. The Hornets are wearing them on four dates, for various reasons. They debuted the uniform Dec. 10 against Charlotte, for example, partly because current Bobcats head coach Larry Brown played for the Buccaneers. The team also wore them on Jan. 16 in Cleveland, guaranteeing maximum exposure: Hornets-Cavaliers was a nationally-televised game on ESPN, featuring two of the NBAs brightest young stars.

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