[Editor’s Note: Today is Black Friday (aka Idiots Day, Natural Selection Day, and Buy Your Own Weight in Electronics Day), so we have a guest entry from Trevor Williams on a particular chapter in black uniform history. — PL]
By Trevor Williams
Since the beginning, the color black has been part of the sporting landscape. The 1901 Baltimore Orioles wore a black jersey and black pants, and many other teams have forged black-based identities over the years — think Raiders, Bruins, the Pittsburgh franchises, and more.
Over past 25 years, however, black has become a popular default option, even for teams who had no previous connection to it. One of the key reasons for black’s recent popularity is the Los Angeles Kings’ 1988 switch from purple and gold to silver and black. In a recent phone interview, former Kings owner Bruce McNall explained that after taking control of the team, he wanted to give the team a distinct identity from Los Angeles’s other purple and gold team, the Lakers.
After asking such Kings players as Luc Robitaille, Jimmy Carson, and Bernie Nicholls for their input, McNall received feedback that choosing black would make them feel bigger and tougher. Robitaille had the greatest impact, telling McNall he enjoyed wearing the black and silver of his junior hockey team, the Hull Olympiques.
“Lou probably had more influence on me than anyone else, but then again he should,” McNall recalled. “At that time he was our best player and had won the Calder Trophy.”
The Olympiques — Robitaille’s junior team — had changed their colors in 1985, soon after Wayne Gretzky had bought the team. While Gretzky and coach Pat Burns linked the color change to old Hull Volants of yesteryear, the Ottawa Citizen’s article about the switch was titled “Olympiques sporting L.A. Raiders’ colors,” which shows what black was associated with back then.
With this in mind, McNall reached out to Raiders owner Al Davis before giving the Kings a silver-and-black makeover. At the time, Davis gave the green light for the Kings having the same colors as the Raiders, but he later expressed some displeasure about it in ESPN’s documentary Straight Outta L.A.
“I didn’t like that any team was going to use black and silver — those were our colors,” Davis said in the film. “They did have beautiful uniforms. I will say that for them. It was classy.”
In an unusual twist of fate, hockey’s most famous trade brought Gretzky to the Kings just months after McNall had consulted with Robitaille about the color change. The Kings used Gretzky’s introductory press conference to showcase not only their new player but also their new home jersey. By late March of 1989, the Los Angeles Times reported that Kings merchandise sales were “mind-boggling,” as more Kings jackets had been sold in a year than in the previous decade.
The team received further exposure a few weeks later, when the gangsta rap band N.W.A. released their music video “Straight Outta Compton.” Band member Ice Cube later described how the band had originally decided to wear black as a way to be uniform and to show their passion for the Raiders. With the Kings’ color change, several members started wearing Kings caps as well.
“The black hats just matched with everything,” said N.W.A. member MC Ren in the documentary. “Purple and gold wouldn’t have looked good on us.”
In April 1991, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Kings constituted 30% of all NHL-licensed merchandise sales in North America. Other teams took notice: By the start of the 1992-93 NHL season, the North Stars, Senators, and Lightning had each issued a black jersey. By 2005, even the NHL’s logo changed from orange and black to silver and black.
The impact wasn’t limited to the NHL. My research indicates that between 1988 and 2012, approximately 45% of teams of the four major professional sports leagues either added black or made black more prominent in their color schemes for a period of time. Of those teams that made the switch, approximately 25% eventually ditched the black.
While black’s influence has begun to wane with major-level pro teams, its popularity has surged in college sports, racing and international soccer. These sports don’t have the lengthy process design-approval process that the “big four” leagues require, so they can change their jerseys yearly –- which many of them do — and black is always trendy option. It’s no longer the only option, however, as gray, pink, and camouflage have become, in some ways, the new black.
(Special thanks to Trevor Alexander for research assistance.)
Body, love to pop my body: Paul here. As you’ve probably heard, Héctor Camacho is now brain-dead after a shooting earlier this week and will likely be disconnected from life support shortly. By most accounts, he appears to have been a jerk, which makes it easy to forget how good a fighter he was and, more pertinent to our discussions here, what a pioneer he was in boxing attire.
Most news accounts of Camacho’s shooting have mentioned the flamboyant costumes he wore when entering the ring. But I was always more interested in the trunks he began wearing in the latter part of his career, which looked more like loincloths. Can’t say I was ever a fan of this look, but it was definitely interesting, and I thought it was particularly intriguing that the self-described “Macho Man” was willing to wear something so functionally similar to a skirt.
I don’t know when Camacho started wearing this style, but I definitely remember when I first saw him wearing it: for his 1989 bout against Ray Mancini. Here’s some video that shows just how unusual Camacho’s gear looked during that fight:
I watched that fight in a bar in Brooklyn. I’d never seen anything like Camacho’s get-up, and I kept remarking about it to the people surrounding me, most of whom couldn’t care less.
One other note about Camacho: His 1996 fight against Ray Leonard was one of the first times (maybe the first time) I saw a bout featuring two fighters wearing white gloves. Didn’t like it then, don’t like it now, but noteworthy nonetheless.
Stitches, shmitches: My visit to the orthopedist on Wednesday afternoon went really well. The doc says the surgical wound and the breaks are all healing nicely, and there’s a good chance I won’t need physical therapy.
He removed the splint I’d been wearing since the surgery, which gave me my first look at the scar. I was surprised to see that there were no stitches:
Instead of stitches, he used some sort of plastic adhesive on the inside of the wound, which will eventually be absorbed into my body. I’m not nuts about my body absorbing plastic, but I guess it’s not much different than eating a Twinkie or whatever.
Speaking of things inside my body, the doc also took X-rays, which provided my first look at the metal plate and four screws I’m now carrying around inside me (click to enlarge):
Then it was time to give me a new cast. “You have a choice of colors,” he said. “Black, blue, or green.” I was surprised there was no white or beige. Anyway, you guys know what I chose:
Now I just need to add some gold gold stripes and I’ll be all set.
The new cast is snugger than the splint was, and it leaves me with slightly less range of motion in my fingers, which means typing is once again a bit of a pain in the ass, but I’m adapting to it. On the plus side, the cast is a little less bulky than the splint was, so I can now wear a decent amount of shirts, sweaters, and jackets that I couldn’t wear before (because their sleeves didn’t fit over the splint but do fit over the cast).
Twenty-six more days.
50 Years Ago…Yesterday
Last year, Rick Pearson took us “back in time” to bring us his look at the featured television college football match-up from 50 years ago. (If you’re not familiar with it, this was the inaugural post of “50 Years Ago” from last year — after that, it became a recurring feature on UW for the remainder of the season). Last year, Rick looked at the 1961 season, and fortunately for us, he “uni tracked” the games from 1962 as well, documenting the game via his “kid cards”. Each week this fall, he’ll do the same, again.
Yes, Virginia, once upon a time there were just two games on TV on Thanksgiving Day, and for most of the TV era’s early years, only four teams were involved. The Packers played the Lions in Detroit every year, and the Longhorns and Aggies squared off in Texas…Anyway, this Thanksgiving (one year to the day before John F. Kennedy would be assassinated), Texas was the home team, wearing virtually what they wear today…The helmet, of course, had both a TV number AND a logo on the side…Not positive, but pretty sure the stirrups under the crew socks were a late-season thing…Texas A&M in striped crews …Two weeks ago we had an early cleat-spatter in Iowa’s Cloyd Webb, today we get the Aggies’ Ken “Dude” McLean…John “Sandy” Sand didn’t play pro football…Neither did McLean, though he WAS drafted by the Packers and Bills…Signed with Bills, but didn’t make the team.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The Cowboys wore their Thanksgiving throwbacks last night. Meanwhile, the Jets wore solid green. … New logo for the buffalo Bisons. … Holy yowza, check out this astonishingly awesome curling sweater label (from my pal Robin Edgerton). … Looks like this Colorado College cross-country competitor is wearing tiger-striped tights (as noted by Tris Wykes). … Our recent entry about John O’Leary’s Whalers neckties prompted Gary Moore to dig out this old St. Louis football Cardinals tie that his older brother handed down to him. “He and his wife were friends with Bill Bidwill’s secretary, who gave him this tie somewhere around 1965 or so,” says Gary. “It’s still my favorite tie.” … Images of some new Xavier sweatbacks have been circulating. “A newly signed recruit posted it on Instagram,” says Jason Martynowski. “XU gets new uniforms next year, so the theory on the XavierHoops message board is that these might be the deal. I hate it.” … Garrett Santoline, who plays football for Clairton High School in Pennsylvania, is also a member of the school’s marching band. So when the rest of the team goes to the locker room at halftime, he puts his helmet aside, grabs his trumpet, and joins the band — while still in his football uniform. … This season’s ECHL All-Star Game jerseys have been released (from Yancy Yeater). … New alternate logo for the Stockton Ports (from Damon Hirschensohn). … Chipper Jones and Adam LaRoche went hunting in Under Armour gear (from Marc Bauche). … This is fascinating: a 1950 letter from Ohio State coach Wes Fesler to Michigan coach Bennie Oosterbaan, informing him of the uniforms that the OSU players would be wearing (great find by Larry Bodnovich). … The U. of Washington’s season ticket-renewal page shows a gold jersey. “I wonder if they have this in store for the Apple Cup,” speculates Aaron Barlond. … Whoa, look how high Dan Dierdorf’s nameplate was.