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Derrick Coleman Sees a Classic Nets Jersey Come Full Circle

Derided at first, Coleman's rookie roadies have become iconic, and they're back in Brooklyn this season

It’s not always easy to be first in line.

In the 1990s, NBA uniforms were about to start breaking the rules. Clean, traditional-styled jerseys had dominated the 1980s, but a wave of wild redesigns and bold color choices from expansion franchises — hello teal and purple — was about to break out.

One of the first teams to start pushing the boundaries was the New Jersey Nets, who launched a new decade with a full redesign of the team’s uniforms and logo for the 1990-91 season, moving away from the stars & stripes styling that had dominated the team’s look for nearly two decades.

What they came out with for the team’s road uniforms, a washed-out, sky blue-to-white gradient, became the talk of the league — social media would have had a blast with this — and went down in NBA history as the “tie-dye” jersey. And 30 years later, it’s back, as the first-ever Brooklyn Nets Classic Edition jersey for the 2020-21 season, which the Nets will debut Thursday night when they play the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center.

But when first unveiled, there were skeptics, and some of those included the team’s players, among them prized rookie Derrick Coleman, who as the No. 1 pick in the 1990 NBA Draft was immediately the team’s signature player, and made his NBA debut in the jersey.

“I don’t think any of us liked it in the beginning because we just looked at the NBA as looking at us as being soft,” said Coleman. “When you’re playing against guys and trash-talking, it always came back to the jersey. I might have a tie-dye jersey on, but I’m going to give you 35 and 20 tonight, so take that. There was always conversation. Stuff grows on you, and the popularity kept growing. Even when we stopped wearing ‘em, people would always ask us, ‘Why don’t you rock those tie-dyes anymore? Those are hot.’”

As Coleman saw the tide turn, he went with it as well. When he caught his first sighting of a fan wearing his No. 44 tie-dye on the streets of Hoboken one night, he hopped out of the car to autograph the jersey. When the Nets opted for a more modest, solid royal blue road jersey the following season, he was a little disappointed and looked forward to the tie-dye jersey coming back.

It was a bit of a wait.

But then, back in October, there they were, proudly popped by a New Jersey kid, Kyrie Irving, who grew up rooting for the Nets at the arena Coleman once called home in the Meadowlands. Coleman caught sight of the photo gallery on social media and retweeted his approval, tagging his former Nets teammate Kenny Anderson while he was at it with appreciation for the call-back to the franchise’s New Jersey days.

“Everything goes full circle,” said Coleman, who’s keeping his eye on another Nets team with big ambitions behind the tandem of Irving and Kevin Durant.

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“The potential is the sky's the limit with that team,” said Coleman. “The biggest thing for me in watching them play and you know in the time that I have watched them I'm not really concerned about the offense. I'm really concerned about the defensive side of the ball, you know, and that just goes with communication you know, everybody talking to each other down and being on the same page. And you see it in spurts and sometimes it is, sometimes you just forget the rotation. That comes, like you said, not being able to practice, not having a real training camp, Kevin coming back off of injury. But he's not showing any of that. So, it’s just being on the floor and communicating with each other getting everybody on the same base. I just see the struggles right now just going to be better for you later on in the season. Just have to keep continuing to work.”

Coleman said he can see an NBA Finals appearance within reach for this team, and if the Nets happen to break out the throwbacks for a big-time nationally televised game, he might get a few more calls about the uniform that broke a barrier for the jersey game and became, despite the early doubters, a classic indeed.

“I still have my original, at my mother’s house,” said Coleman. “Like I said, people ask me all the time about autographing jerseys. That’s the No. 1 question. ‘Do you have any of your tie-dye jerseys left?’ I’ve got two. They’re at my mother’s house. I can’t give that up.”

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