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Miami Heat’s Uni-Numbered Shorts Present Logistical Challenge

The Heat officially unveiled their “Heat Culture” City uniforms yesterday. The jersey design was no surprise, because it had leaked almost a month earlier, but it was interesting to see that the uniform includes uni-numbered shorts.

That’s no small thing, as Heat chief marketing officer Michael McCullough explained in a very good interview with Martenzie Johnson of Andscape. Here’s the key section where McCullough talked about the shorts:

You haven’t seen numerals on an NBA short in probably 40 to 50 years. It is not a thing that the league does anymore. It’s not a thing that Nike likes to do. … The single biggest reason is because it’s a massive headache for equipment managers, and it’s a massive headache for manufacturers, because when the team travels and Jimmy [Butler] tears his shorts or gets blood on his shorts, the equipment manager’s got to go and get another pair of shorts. But if he has to carry specific shorts for each player, specifically, because [Butler’s] numbers are on there, that creates a challenge for an equipment manager.

It is a significant cost. I’ll give you an idea. The last couple of years when we made a commitment to have different numerals for the Mashup uniform [for which each player got to choose his own number fonts], that meant we had to have the No. 1 in all the different numeral styles that we were offering, the No. 2 in all the different numeral styles that we’re offering. That alone for the Mashup campaign the last two years was over a $350,000 commitment on our part. This one is not as high because it’s the same numeral style that we’re offering [on each player’s shorts]. So the financial commitment isn’t as high, but the manpower commitment is still very significant because we are buying more shorts than we’ve ever purchased before.

Nike didn’t want anything to do with it. And this is no shade on Nike. Again, their process is they have 30 NBA teams that they’re cranking out uniforms for and shorts, and to try to create a certain number of shorts for No. 22, a certain number of shorts for No. 14, a certain number of shorts for No. 13, that is not part of their process. So they were like, “We can’t do it.” And we said, “You know what? We’ll do it.”

Interesting! McCullough went on to credit the team’s equipment manager, Robert Pimental, for making it all work.

The entire interview with McCullough is worth checking out. You can read it here.

Meanwhile, I have no idea which NBA team was the last to use uni-numbered shorts. Anyone..?




Comments (43)

    Phoenix in the D’Antoni era, last couple years of the Sonics, and I think the purple Bucks had numbered shorts.

    Phoenix has number on one side of their shorts until 05-06, that’s the last example I remember.

    I don’t know if they were the last, but the Raptors wore numbered shorts during the Vince Cater era, sometime between ’99 and ’04. link

    wait, having those ridiculous jerseys with the mismatched numbers cost them over a quarter of a million dollars? i’m not sure if i believe that, but also, if that truly is the cost, what a horrible waste of money.

    on the flip side, Nike is a multi-billion dollar operation…they can’t provide some numbered shorts? they provide every team with a new design every year, but they have to draw the line at numbered shorts?!

    Nike needs to revisit the “Just Do It” ad era and update it to “YOU Do It!” ;-)

    You don’t become a profitable multibillion dollar company by throwing money at things that don’t produce much benefit for you.

    Nike is willing to put in the work to design a bunch of alternate uniforms because people buy them and it turns a profit. People don’t buy a lot of official shorts in comparison, and unless you then go through the hassle of numbering the retail shorts to match star players (another production headache), putting them on court doesn’t really do anything to top line sales.

    If they fully ate the cost on little design elements for all the hundreds of teams they work with, that quickly adds up in cost and labor. They’re just going to do it when it adds substantially to the design and potential sales.

    What’s stranger to me, and I’d love if there is a follow up, is how exactly Miami is executing this. The logical solution from other sports is you just have a stock of blank shorts and numbers, and can replace as needed. Considering you need backup shorts for any design, we’re theoretically talking about having a little stockpile of twill numbers you can either heat press or stitch on when needed, and labor to do so. I’m struggling to figure out how that adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first place (in the case of the mashup, but also this design), unless Miami is having the shorts fully custom made somewhere and stockpiling a bunch of every number on the team.

    I’m guessing the high cost for the mismatched numbers and numbered shorts comes from retail, right? Because they only need to make so many for the players on the team.

    That said, I wonder why full dye sublimation isn’t used on the uniforms. It’s lightweight with less friction because there isn’t any stitching, screen printing, or numbers glued on. I totally get that stitching makes the uniforms look & feel more professional — this is the top basketball league in the world — but I wonder if the players actually like it. It’s different than other sports because the jerseys are directly on the skin of the players. Well, soccer has the same situation there.

    Anyway, just some random thoughts on the topic.

    It’s a good point on the mashup but unclear in the article. It still sounds like it is being framed as an “equipment issue” and not a “retail issue” though – like the problem was having tons and tons of backups for on court use.

    Sublimation is interesting, I just find that it produces a cheaper looking product than appliqué (or even good screen print in cases). I haven’t done it as part of my job in a handful of years (ran a graphics category for a large brand), but it does have tradeoffs. I think the real benefit of sublimation is cheaply having a lot going on in a design, which is why it’s popular for things like youth sports or smaller leagues, but tends to get used specifically for “maximalist” designs as a result. If you just want a name and number, I think you’re better off just doing print or appliqué treatments and it will look and feel more substantial and give more room to play with materials

    Nike does NOT design the HEAT City Edition uniforms, as they’re the only team in the NBA to create theirs in-house.

    How many players are on the roster? Just start them all with like 10 pairs of shorts and if they get down under 5 pairs, send them more shorts.

    But this is a company that can’t get green fabric even remotely close to on time and can’t get silver fabric at all.

    If teams routinely have “blood jerseys” in various sizes and in numbers not otherwise being used, I would think you can have emergency shorts with no numbers

    Yeah it’s interesting to me that Nike declined to handle themselves (although working in fashion and having done production/sourcing, I fully understand why), but I’m more curious on why it sounds like Miami sees this as difficult/resource intensive to do. Like you said, the backup shorts are there numbers or not, so why does it sound like they can’t/won’t just stockpile numbers that can quickly be added? Hell you could probably just maintain 2 per player (30 total shorts) and replace if you happen to use one. It’s not like these are practice jerseys, they’re only worn a handful of times.

    That or I’m severely underestimating how many times players change shorts secretly in a game. Maybe Paul pierce wasn’t an anomaly

    The whole reasoning seems fishy. I suspect it is more “spin” to make the concept seem more unique/cool than anything else.

    The article indicates that they are already carrying specific shorts for each player, so it seems silly to then try use the excuse of :it costs too much to carry uniquely numbered shorts”.

    Yeah ngl it feels like a bit of drinking the kool aid along with it being a “heat culture” design. Like “look at us breaking the mold, doing what we want regardless of Nike.” Which I’m all for teams taking agency with their looks – but you even have comments here propping up that interpretation.

    Credit to equipment staffs everywhere for the work they do, I don’t hate them tooting their own horn a bit but the situation does seem exaggerated for effect (or I’d love to know why they might not being using an easier sounding solution).

    That was going to be my comment. Just simply have “backup” shorts with no numbers problem solved in an inexpensive way but that would be too easy right?

    I agree with Keith’s points. Also, it seems that the massive inflation of how many jerseys and shorts/pants each player goes through each season accounts for this. Back in the day, so many basketball teams wore numbered shorts. The NBA, colleges, high schools. High schools! And the local sporting-goods stores took care of that numbering. The difference is that they had one pair of shorts a season…shorts made of much tougher fabric.

    Are there other teams who’ve made noteworthy changes to what Nike et al. sent them? Props to Miami for their culture that includes, apparently, overruling Nike.

    I can’t for the life of me figure out what possibly cost $350,000. If they even wore those mashup jerseys for half of their games (which I’m assuming they didn’t) and bought a brand new jersey for each player for each game (estimating $200/jersey), that only adds up to $197,000. Idk wth they were doing. Or he exaggerated.

    I’m sorry. This sounds like the reason the Cubs no longer have road helmets (Blue with red bill). Equipment Manager: It just became too much of a hassle to carry two sets of helmets while on the road.” Really? Why pay people if everything is too much of a hassle or they are too lazy to do it?

    According to BBallJerseys, the last team to wear numbers on their shorts appears to be the Phoenix Suns, last wearing them in the 2005/06 season.

    The Celtics had numbers on their shorts for their first couple of years of their existence

    Not NBA, but Butler had numbers on one side of the shorts (the other side was the Bulldog logo) during their Final Four years in 2010-11.


    Almost every major soccer league in the world requires numbers on the shorts. It can’t be that big of a deal to heat press some numbers on shorts (or carry a handful of numberless emergency shorts).

    Yeah, and neither of the problems mentioned (bleeding on or tearing shorts) are issues in soccer. I think I’ve personally seen exactly one instance of someone having to change shorts.

    How about continuing to pay the players and also paying the staff more, since team owners are raking in billions per year in revenue.

    This isn’t even remotely true. Most NBA teams lose money. The Green Bay Packers are the only publicly owned team in major league sports, thus are required to report their profit. They made $35m in net profit in 2022. They are easily one of the most profitable teams in sports. Many players in multiple sports still make more annually.

    Does Nike fathom the concept of Curb Appeal? I have always thought details are the things that distinguish a great uniform from a good one. A good example is the Bulls’ insignia inside the pentagon on the shorts. A big mistake was the NBA reverting to one-color player names with no vertical arching. Also, warmups are no longer team-designed.

    This is a weird story: the 350k costs, the we are being fifferent angle that reads like storytelling instead of being genuine. I do believe that Nike is not interested in producing a lot of shorts with custom numbers as they will sell more jerseys than shorts in general. But the bottom line is: this is a bad design, no matter who designed it. If it sells a lot I am really out of touch with today’s taste in basketball uniforms.

    The nicest thing I can say about this uniform is that it’s a nice execution of a shitty design–good on the equipment manager for doing extra work for the numbers, but it’s a shame the rest of the uniform looks like garbage.

    This is a strange one to me. Are they sewing on the numbers for each pair of shorts, or is it a heat application like soccer uniforms utilize? For example, Premier League teams in England have numbers on the shorts. IIRC, they use a heat stamp machine to press them onto the material. They can personalize a pair of shorts or a top in a matter of minutes. Why couldn’t the NBA do this?

    “You haven’t seen numerals on an NBA short in probably 40 to 50 years.”
    Guy loses a ton of credibility from the jump, as a bunch of reads pointed out numerous examples in the past 30 years or so. But at least the Heat are keeping their legacy alive of having the worst city edition unis in the league.

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