[Editor’s Note: “Only the good die young” usually doesn’t apply to sports uniforms. But sometimes a beautiful uniform is mothballed long before its time. Today we kick off “Gone Too Soon,” an occasional feature by Alex Hider that celebrates underrated uniform sets worn for fewer than five seasons. Enjoy. — PL]
By Alex Hider
In about 50 years of existence, the Cleveland Cavaliers have made eight major uniform changes and introduced countless tweaks and alternates. But of those eight distinct eras, none was shorter lived — or better looking — than the set the Cavs wore from 1981 to 1983.
The early-’80s Cavs didn’t have a white uniform, instead opting to wear gold at home. (This was consistent with every Cavaliers uniform up to that point — the team wouldn’t wear white at home until the 1983-84 season.) And unlike some teams that just wear yellow and call it gold, the early-’80s Cavs really did wear gold — the home jerseys had a metallic sheen:
Sometimes, a metallic-like fabric can be really distracting and ruin a jersey (think the Mavs early-’00s trash bag unis). But muted gold works really well with the deep-red wine numbering and lettering, and the white outlining makes those letters pop.
The only downside? The white NOB lettering was sometimes almost illegible against the light-gold fabric, as you can see in this video:
That’s not the only quirk with this set. “Cleveland” appears on both the home and road set — not “Cavaliers.” It’s actually the first time the Cavs ever wore “Cleveland” on a jersey: Both of the previous home and road sets used “Cavaliers” wordmarks.
The simple shorts design contained nothing more than the Cavalier silhouette logo and some leg-hole piping.
But the defining feature of the jersey — the double stripe that underlines the wordmark — really ties the whole uniform together. It may not seem like much, but those two simple stripes turn a very plain jersey into a unique and bold set. It’s a design that hadn’t quite been seen before and hasn’t been seen since.
Horizontal stripes can be dangerous on basketball uniforms — between numbers, letters and limited real estate, things can easily get cluttered. The Cavs avoided this problem by using off-center numbers underneath the stripe.
In my mind, a uniform design is at its best when the elements are simple, bold, and innovative. Clearly, the early-’80s Cavs set checks all those boxes.
The Cavs’ owner at the time, Ted Stepien, was wildly unpopular among fans and the league. In 1983, he sold the team to Gordon Gund, and the Cavs took the court the next fall wearing orange and blue — a redesign many thought was necessary. Wine and gold would stay on the sidelines until 2003.
In recent years, the Cavs have gone all-in on throwback uniforms. Thanks in part to their “Cavfanatic” jersey program that mixed and matched color schemes and designs throughout the team’s history, uni elements from every other era of Cavs basketball have made it back onto the court — except for the 1981-83 set.
The ’90s Cavs never advanced past the first round of the playoffs when they went BFBS, but black has continued to live on in the Cavs uniform program. If that logic holds true, why shouldn’t the Cavs bring back one of its best-looking uniforms?
The early ’80s were one of the darkest times in Cavaliers history — but at least they looked damn good in defeat.
If anyone has any suggestions for future “Gone To Soon” pieces, send them my way via https://twitter.com/alexhider”>Twitter or email. Thanks!
By Alex Hider
Baseball News: The Phillies announced yesterday they’ll wear their throwback road powder blues for select home games this season. … Red Sox P Eduardo Rodriguez is changing his uni number from 52 to 57 in honor of fellow Venezuelan Johan Santana (from our own Anthony Emerson). … County commissioners have voted to save the Astrodome, though it will be converted into convention space (from Ignacio). … The Rockies will reportedly wear Denver White Elephant unis in a Negro League throwback game against the Brewers in August (from John Gagnon). … Yesterday Paul had a rundown of MLBers who’ve worn pins on their uniforms, but he missed Pirate and Royal Jose Lind and Luis Sojo — teammate of fellow pin-wearer Joey Cora, who’s also visible in that photo (from Andy Chalifour). … Speaking of pins, does anyone recognize the pin that Frank Robinson is wearing in this 1983 baseball card? It doesn’t quite look like the Croix de Candlestick pin (from Andy Chalifour). … New uniforms for Bryant University. … Lots of new gear for North Carolina (from James Gilbert). … Here’s what Villanova will be wearing this season (from Michael Geddes). … Southern Illinois unveiled their new uniforms as well (from David Tolcou). … Northern Colorado also got in on the new thread action (from Marc Gustafson). … Mississippi State softball will wear teal-trimmed jerseys during midweek games this season in solidarity with those fighting ovarian cancer (from Parker Lee). … The Miami Hurricanes will wear camouflage caps for Saturday games this season (from @LI_Matt).
NFL News: Remember that colorful, glittery, Sultan-style outfit that Jason Kelce wore during the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade? Well, Tim Golden was searching YouTube and found this clip from the 2008 Mummers Parade — that’s the New Year’s parade, for those not from Philly — that featured members of the Avalon String band wearing the exact same outfit. … Hard to tell anything from this photo, but the Titans may have teased their new jerseys a bit in their season ticket holder package (from Eric Wright). … We missed this from the Super Bowl: Eagles RB LeGarrette Blount gave a shout-out to his high school on his cleats. The 850 is the area code for Taylor County, Florida (from Steve Cook). … A couple of Vermont radio hosts discussed which teams have the ugliest jerseys yesterday. Uni talk starts at about 13:38 (from Brady Farkas). … If you search on “Mets,” you’ll find that Google is using Todd Radom’s updated Mets logo concept. More on that here (from Shannon Shark). … Ben Agajanian, who pioneered the use of square-toed kicking shoes after an accident severed four of his toes, has died (NYT link) (from Tom Turner).
College Football News: It really is striking how much lighter Florida State’s current shade of gold is when set next to the current helmet next to an older helmet (from @broc1984). … Ohio’s current logo set is almost 20 years old, so a designer decided to freshen it up a bit with a redesign.
Hockey News: The Golden Knights still don’t have a logo on Google’s Feed Topic page (from Sam McKinley). … Following up on yesterday’s Ticker item about colored ice, Kub sent along shots of the Toledo Walleye and the Kalamazoo Wings playing on green ice for St. Patrick’s Day. … More colored ice: This video shows blue ice at the old Cap Centre (at the 5:49, 6:33, 10:50, 13:20, and 20:50 marks) and Boston Garden (10:40) (from David Abraham). … The Minnesota Fighting Saints entry in yesterday’s post reminded Will Leslie that the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League have a very similar logo.
NBA News: The Rockets wore their Chinese New Year unis last night against the T-Wolves (from Tyler Mason). … This LA artist makes insanely luxurious basketball hoops with stained glass backboards and crystal-stringed nets and sells them to NBA players (from Jason Hillyer). … The Erie BayHawks, the D-League affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks, will wear black-and-yellow uniforms for Pittsburgh Night on March 2. … Whoops: A Chicago TV station used the logo of the Bulls’ D-League affiliate on their Bulls gamer the other day (from Andrew Bowen). … Sixers PG TJ McConnell wore a version of the Mavs logo in high school when he played for Chartiers Valley (Pennsylvania) High School (from Korch).
College and High School Hoops News: Virginia Tech will wear pink-trimmed uniforms on Feb. 24 against Louisville for breast cancer awareness, per a graf about halfway down the page in this article (from Andrew Cosentino). … The North Carolina women will wear pink for cancer awareness on Sunday (from James Gilbert). … Repost: Ohio’s current logo set is almost 20 years old, so a designer decided to freshen it up a bit with a redesign. … Kevin Tucker found a color-on-color high school basketball game being played in Virginia yesterday.
Soccer News: Ross County FC of the Scottish Premiership is letting fans vote on their away jerseys for next season (from Ed Zelaski). … Here is a good look at San Jose Earthquake jerseys through the years (from Brian Begley). … Looks like Atlanta United’s new second jerseys have leaked (from Elijah Newsome). … Yard Sale Pizza, a small pizza chain in England, is selling soccer scarves with their logo (from Matthew Klimberg).
Olympics News: Xfinity mistakenly used an old version of the Union Jack — like, a 200-year-old version — in a graphic of upcoming curling matchups (from Michael Wilson). … American curler Tyler George [who helped teach me how to curl eight years ago — PL] has worn the same pair of beat-up Sketchers (NYT link) for every competition for eight years (from Tom Turner). … I think we’ve shared this before, but it’s relevant now that the Olympics have started: Speedskaters feel that blue suits are fastest (from Chris Costello). … American lugers Chris Mazdzer and Erin Hamlin appear to have blacked out a logo on their suits during their runs. Luckily, there’s a partial shot of the logo before Hamlin marked it up, and it appears to be the logo for Yetti Apparel. … Good piece on the Norwegian skiing team’s wax technicians (NYT link). … Yesterday’s Ticker had a piece about the Great Britain skeleton team’s high-tech suits. Now other teams are questioning the suits’ legality (from Mark Coale). … These last three are from Kary Klismet): Russian curler Anastasia Bryzgalova looks remarkably like Angelina Jolie. … Polish luger Mateusz Sochowicz misplaced his protective helmet visor, but made his run without it. … Here’s why Olympic medalists in Pyeongchang receive stuffed animals immediately following competition rather than their medals.
Grab Bag: South Eugene (Oregon) High School will change its nickname from “Axemen” to “Axe” in order to be more inclusive to all students (from Alex Allen).