The history of the Wizards' fan-favorite Stars & Stripes uniform series
On May 11, the Wizards announced the start of the Geico Jersey Bracket Challenge, a multi-week, four-round competition to determine the best jersey in the history of the franchise. Fans voted on head-to-head matchups between 16 jerseys, ranging from the Chicago Packers of the early 1960s to the Wizards’ gold jerseys of the early 2000s to the different variations of the District jerseys of the last four seasons.
On Monday, the Wizards announced the fans’ champion: the 2016-17 Stars & Stripes alternate jersey. The one-seed Stars & Stripes defeated the three-seed black District jersey from the 2018-19 season, accumulating 63% of the votes in the final round.
The Stars & Stripes jersey was introduced on September 8, 2016, featuring the Wizards’ classic red, white and blue color scheme with a modern twist. “Washington” lay across the chest of the white jersey while three white stars sat atop a blue stripe on the side of the jersey. On the shorts, red and white stripes completed the flag theme and accompanied the Wizards’ Monumental ball logo. The uniforms were revealed in conjunction with an announcement of the Wizards’ military series – six games throughout the 2016-17 regular season that would honor and commemorate the six branches of the U.S. military, provide tickets to servicemembers and charitable relief to a number of military-oriented organizations.
“The NBA was really in support of the design and the idea,” Wizards Vice President of Marketing Rebecca Winn said. “It fit well with the league’s Hoops for Troops initiative was a unique story that D.C. was particularly equipped to tell.”
We're pretty excited about the Stars and Stripes alternates...pic.twitter.com/Awe8xPOelr— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) September 8, 2016
The Wizards debuted the Stars & Stripes jerseys on November 11, 2016 against the Cavaliers.
The uniforms were an instant hit among the players, fans and the greater NBA community. Washington donned the look on the six military series nights and many others. As the season progressed, more and more Stars & Stripes jerseys filled the seats around the arena.
The look was fresh and new. The modern design fit the Wizards’ style of play that season. Led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, each averaging 23.1 points per game, the Wizards’ high-flying offense ranked seventh in the league in efficiency with 111.2 point per game. Washington trailed only the Golden State Warriors in field goal percentage and ranked eighth in assist rate. The Wizards finished the season 49-33 and fourth in the Eastern Conference. The team went 30-11 at home, including a 17-game home winning streak from early December through mid-February.
With the playoffs approaching and the team as hot as ever, the organization knew it wanted to carry the look that had defined the season into playoffs. On March 28, 2017, the team announced the Stars & Stripes look would be the official home uniform throughout the Wizards’ postseason run.
“It was a no-brainer,” Wizards Chief Marketing Officer Hunter Lochmann said. “The players loved them and something special was brewing that year. We were coming off the 17-game home winning streak and our big push in the spring. It was easy. It was a simple decision.”
Whatever charm the jerseys carried throughout the regular season certainly carried through to the playoffs. Washington matched up in the first round against the five-seed Atlanta Hawks and advanced in a back-and-forth six-game series. The Wizards won all three home games played in D.C., rocking the Stars & Stripes look for each.
In the second round, Washington matched up against Boston in what would become one of the most memorable playoff series in franchise history. The home success continued. After falling behind 0-2 in a pair of games in Boston, the Wizards dominated the Celtics in consecutive games in D.C., winning by an average of 23.0 points per game. Washington was now 5-0 in the Stars & Stripes jerseys in postseason play.
After another loss in Boston, the Wizards returned to D.C. for Game 6 and again prepared their Stars & Stripes threads – this time with the season on the line. Game 6 was hard-fought. It featured 11 lead changes, 12 ties and one of the craziest finishes in recent playoff history. With the Wizards down 91-89 and 7.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, John Wall took the inbounds pass, isolated and stepped into a game-winning 3-pointer that saved the Wizards’ season and sent the arena into hysterics. After the final buzzer sounded, Wall jumped onto the scorers’ table, popped the chest of his Stars & Stripes jersey toward the roaring Wizards fans and forever connected the uniform to one of the franchise’s most exciting moments.
Years later, the legacy of the jersey endures. In an ESPN article published earlier this month, the Stars & Stripes jersey was recognized as one of the NBA’s best 74 jerseys of all time. In a recent NBC Sports Washington article, they were ranked among the best in franchise history.
“Those Stars & Stripes jerseys from the 2016-17 season were all-timers,” NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes wrote. “They were instant hits among fans in a way you don't often see with alternate jerseys. And they were, of course, worn by John Wall when he hit the game-winning shot in 2017 to beat the Celtics in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series.”
As plans were made for the 2019-20 uniform set – a process that starts nearly two years in advance of the season and requires collaboration between the team, league and Nike – the organization felt it was time to go back to the beloved look.
“We knew it was something that had to come back,” Lochmann said.
And so they did. On November 20, 2019, the Wizards unveiled their brand-new City Edition jerseys, which largely resembled the 2016-17 look with a few new twists. The Wizards’ secondary logo, the D.C. Hands logo, replaced “Washington” across the chest while the red stripes along the side of the pants were reimagined to better replicate a waving flag. The three stars along the side of the jersey, a nod to the D.C. flag, remained – as did the team’s Monumental ball logo.
“The fans loved it,” Winn said.
To accompany the new look, Stars & Stripes branding was featured prominently throughout the arena on games nights, including a new intro video, and received its own line of apparel at the Wizards Team Store.
“The City Edition jerseys are a big part of our Wizards business each year,” Wizards Director of Retail Jamal Jones said. “The Stars & Stripes jerseys have been one of the most in-demand jerseys since they were first released. It’s a patriotic design that fits well with the city. Plus, fans always link the Stars & Stripes jerseys to John Wall’s shot over the Celtics in the playoffs and it brings back good memories. (Bringing them back) was very well received.”
Over the last four years, the Stars & Stripes look has become synonymous with modern Wizards history. From the 2016-17 season’s historic run of home success to the fast-paced, high-scoring offense touted by the 2019-20 team, the uniform’s sleek design has always resonated. Now, two designs and countless memorable moments later, it’s been cemented by the Wizards fans as the best jersey in franchise history.