Uniforms are an insignificant, extremely superficial aspect of sports that I care a great deal about. Perhaps one of my biggest regrets is taking an interest in graphic design and learning basic design principles because it has made me a giant, opinionated snob. Yeah, that’s right, since I took three design courses in high school I’m a graphic design expert and my opinion is the only one that really counts. Now that everyone is aware of that, Kentucky’s basketball uniforms this year are atrocious. I absolutely loathe those ultra-breathable, lightweight garments. But, where do they rank in the long lineage of ugly Kentucky basketball uniforms? It’s a hard-hitting question, I know, so I have taken it upon myself to explore it so you don’t have to.
I have created a list of what I think to be the five worst uniforms the Kentucky Wildcats have ever worn. Prior to roughly 1990 our uniforms remained fairly the same traditional design, so all the uniforms on my list are from the Pitino era on. I considered including some of the designs from the early years of the program (like the ones the players had to wear leather belts with) but then I realized in those days people had actual real things to worry about, like smallpox and dust storms, so looking smooth while executing a fundamentally sound bounce pass wasn’t as important then. So, I nixed those from the possibility of making the list. A couple designs were added to the list not necessarily because they’re aesthetically horrendous but because they had some details that didn’t have any functional significance to the overall product. Yep, functional significance, that’s how much time I have on my hands, folks, uniform designs can’t just look good or bad anymore, they also have to make sense. I warned you how irrational I was about this topic. So, here it is, the list of the five worst Kentucky basketball uniforms of all time (1990-present).
5. Billy Clyde Era Nike Blackout Unis
Kentucky debuted the black jerseys after the passing of UK legend, Bill Keightley, which was a very classy and appropriate gesture. However, the Cats continued to wear them in games that followed, including in the SEC championship. First, except in situations to remember a recently deceased legend, Kentucky basketball should never wear black jerseys. Black is not a color found in the Wildcat spectrum therefore it has no place being the primary color of our jerseys. Black jerseys are cheap gimmicks programs like Tennessee use to try and get people to come to their games. Again, wearing the black threads for Keightley was a very cool thing but adding them to the regular rotation as an alternate uniform made their original purpose less special. Generally speaking, black is a lazy, risk free, design choice for uniforms, that’s void of any trace of creative thought. In hindsight I suppose it’s wildly appropriate Billy G was the coach when we decided to wear “blackout” jerseys.
4. 1996 Converse Denim Unis
“Blue jeans are blue. Kentucky is blue. Blue jeans are cool and timeless. Kentucky basketball is cool and timeless.”
[Converse designer guy with all the big ideas bangs fist on conference room table]
“I’VE GOT IT!…how about we put jeans on the jerseys?”
[co-workers cheer and give standing ovation] [end scene]
That’s how I imagine the creative process went at Converse when the decision was made to make freaking denim the not-so-subtle new detail of Kentucky’s uniforms. I like jeans. I like wearing jeans. Jeans will never go out of style. They’re great, but jeans and basketball are sworn arch enemies. As a kid, I went through my fair share of basketball try outs and played in youth leagues, and if I learned anything my experience, I learned this. I learned I was not good at basketball but, the kids who showed up to try-outs in jeans were much worse. The kid in jeans never made the team and if he played in a league where everyone makes a team, he would quit three games into the season because denim and roundball don’t mix. Jeans are undeniably basketball’s worst enemy and vice versa. The universe will simply not allow them to co-exist peacefully. Taking that into consideration, it makes what was already a historically dominant team look like nature defying gods.
3. 2016-2017 Nike Secretariat Checkerboard Unis
Coming in at #3 on the list are the highly controversial, checkerboard (or chess board if you want to class it up) uniforms from this year. So yeah, the checkerboard ruined the whole uniform and while I still despise the movement to make all of UK’s gear look like the floor of a barber shop, it’s not so much that the checkerboard was used in the design as it is how they used it. I get it, Nike is all in with the checkerboard, whatever, but they made our basketball uniforms look like they belong at Talladega, flying out of the window of Matt Kenseth’s #20 Dollar General car while he does victory donuts. The checker that lines the sides is so huge and gaudy that it overwhelms the things that matter on the uniform, like the name and number, leaving your eyes shifting between the writing on the front and the checkerboard. When your brain can’t decide where to tell your eyes to go, naturally it will combine the two focal points and the visual info won’t be processed the way it’s supposed to. Objectively speaking, this year’s uniforms are terrible.
2. 2014-2015 Nike Bahamas Edition Unis
Nike and the checkerboard pattern met each other at the 2014 Final Four in Dallas. Nike liked checkerboard fine and thought checkerboard was fun to talk to. Checkerboard thought Nike was funny and “not like other multinational shoe corporations”, so they started hanging out regularly, eventually to the point were they were always together. Neither of them would admit they were dating, but everyone would tell you they were. Then one fine day in August, Nike decided to get over its commitment issues and make the relationship with checkerboard exclusive, and the 2nd worst uniforms in UK history were born.
Kentucky went to the Bahamas to play a little basketball but in reality that was just a good excuse to go on a nice vacation which would’ve been a perfect reason to have Tommy Bahama themed uniforms. They differ from this year’s uniforms in the same way DiGiorno and Red Baron frozen pizza do. Yeah, the DiGiorno tastes a little bit better than Red Baron but ultimately they’re both still just crappy frozen pizza. The thing that makes the Bahamas unis worse is the enormous UK logo in the middle of the jersey for the same aforementioned focal point conflict, only twice as bad this time. Man, I miss that team.
1. 1995 Converse Whatever Those Are Unis
I suppose Rick Pitino will take any win over Cal he can get, these days even if it’s having coached the team with the worst uniforms UK basketball has ever known. To come to this conclusion I had to really focus on being objective and not think in terms of how awesome it would be to bring these uniforms back for just one game this year. I tend to have a huge soft spot for 90’s fashion, which explains why I currently own a pair of Reebok Pumps. Despite my personal biases, after taking a step back giving these uniforms a second look, man they’re ugly. I mean, I still want a pair of the shorts, but man. The shorts look like a pair of Zubaz that have been cut and made into shorts, and considering the era, I’m not willing to throw that theory away just yet. I also assume the tapered stripes are supposed to resemble a cat’s claws have scratched the shorts, even though they look way more like hardcore icicles. After about five straight minutes of staring in amazement at the shorts, I noticed the jerseys. The jerseys aren’t nearly as fun as the shorts. I can’t really think of a joke for the jerseys, honestly. Oh well. When you consider Rick Pitino was the coach of that team, it shouldn’t be any surprise those uniforms attracted all the attention below the waist.