An appreciation of the 2019-20 Houston Rockets uniforms
Maya Williams has been a proud Houstonian and a passionate Rockets fan since the mid-1980's. She has seen nearly all the relevant eras of Rockets' basketball. You'll often hear Williams as a regular caller on radio shows discussing the Rockets. Not only that, Williams is an original member of the Red Rowdies, a group of diehard Rockets' fans that attend every game, seated in section 114.
"I remember seeing Robert Reid, Mitchell Wiggins, and Rodney McCray all play," says Williamson. "I've been a Red Rowdy since 2006-07 and a season ticket holder since 2012."
If there's an authority on Rockets basketball and culture, it's her.
So when the Rockets called for a season ticket holder event to unveil their new jerseys in mid-June, Williams was in attendance. A lot of Rockets fans were - it was a packed house. There was a sort of nervous energy in the air as the Rockets hadn't drastically changed their primary uniforms since they moved into the Toyota Center in 2003. There had been been a groundswell of support growing for new uniforms over the past few years and their calls had been answered.
"I think we were the longest running team without any change to the basic uniforms," said Ken Sheirr, the Houston Rockets senior vice president. "As soon as the Fertittas purchased the team, we had a conversation with them and they said 'Yeah, for sure. Let's make a change.' So, that's what we did."
It wasn't that the Rockets had bad uniforms by any means. It was more so that the previous design had become kind of, well, bland. Most NBA teams had upgraded their jerseys since the mid-2000s and Houston was still sporting a dated look. Internally, the Rockets weren't blind to criticisms.
"We're always paying attention to the fans - let's put it that way," said Sheirr. "We're always listening to what they say. We knew through surveys that the fans were ready for a change. There's no doubt about that."
The Basics (Or the "Icon" and the "Association" uniforms)
In 2018, the NBA announced that they would be ditching home and away jerseys in favor of Nike's "Icon" and "Association" jerseys. In all honesty, it's still very confusing which uniforms are used in which settings, but these are the jersey the Rockets will wear for the majority of the season and also the jerseys that received the greatest changes. It may not be what grabs the most attention, but it's certainly the most important change.
The Rockets decluttered their jerseys in favor of this simpler, modern design. Right off the bat, the most noticeable change is Houston replacing the small grey stripes that outlined the cut of the jersey in favor of one clean, black stripe. These outlining stripes had been present in some shape or form on Rockets jersey since the mid-2000s and they frankly were the most unappealing part of the jersey. At the unveiling, fans appreciated the change.
"It looked like a jersey," said Williams. "It looked like something that you'd see professional basketball players wear."
What people may not have noticed upon first reveal is the change in the font. The Rockets had their own unique font for the past 15 years that coincided with their "R" logo and when they decided to alter the logo, they changed the font. They borrowed the font from their black jerseys, which were so popular, they applied the font to the new basics.
"It's going away from that abstract font that we had before," said Sheirr. "It's kind of a bolder, bigger, curved font."
The Black Jerseys (or the "Statement" uniforms)
When the Rockets introduced their original black jerseys in 2017, it was met with near unanimous approval from Rockets fans. It was sleek, and introduced a new font at the time. It may not be "new" anymore, but it's still one of Houston's more aesthetically pleasing jerseys and at the time, was the first major delineation from the old design.
Unbeknownst to most people, Rockets players loved these uniforms as well.
"Everybody loves black," said Austin Rivers. "Anything blacked out people are going to love."
"I love them," said Ben McLemore. "Actually a lot of my family and friends back home want to purchase some of these jerseys, especially the black ones."
These jerseys sold like hot cakes and immediately became the most popular jersey at the time. So it's not a surprise that the Rockets brought them back this season.
"The black jerseys were fairly intuitive," says Sheirr. "We kind of knew that they were going to love it. We were looking to do black jerseys for a long time and finally got the go-ahead."
Continuity with jerseys is a tricky thing in the NBA. Nike puts pressure on teams to constantly come out with new designs every season. This means popular jerseys are often replaced the following year. Fortunately, if you're a Rockets fan, it doesn't look like the black jerseys are going anywhere anytime soon.
"I would be surprised if we don't have a black jersey moving forward," said Sheirr. "I think that given the popularity of black from the players and fans from a retail standpoint, we will definitely keep it. Black has become a part of our key color palette for us."
The Ketchup and Mustard Jerseys (Or the "Classic Edition" uniforms)
If you were to rank the demands Rockets fans have made about the uniforms over the years, bringing back the ketchup and mustard jerseys in some form would rank first, second, and third. Fans have been clamoring for this uniform for years, and for good reason. It's simple, clean, and arguably the greatest uniform they've ever released.
"I really only like the ketchup and mustard jerseys," said Williams, who had been one of those vocal fans until this season. "That's my favorite pattern. Everything that has that old logo or the throwback with those colors. Those are the [uniforms] I like. The other ones are okay."
And there was a time that the Rockets did discuss the idea of bringing back the ketchup and mustard uniforms as their full-time basics. However, the organization decided it was ultimately best to honor the uniforms and move on to bigger and better things.
"Our plan moving forward is to always keep that ketchup and mustard as part of our offering in different forms moving forward," said Sheirr. "There might not be one next year, but there might be some other celebration in the year past that or some other kind of way."
Fans aren't the only ones who appreciated the Rockets bringing the ketchup and mustards jerseys back. Players described feeling a certain sense of honor wearing uniforms considering Houston captured back-to-back championships in them.
"There's a lot of history behind it," said Isaiah Hartenstein. "We have a lot of games where [Hakeem] Olajuwon is there, so going out there and wearing the jerseys - there's a lot of meaning behind it."
For a Rockets team trying to capture a championship of their own, the uniforms hold special value. For some players, they add an increased sense of motivation that go beyond the sentimental value the fans hold.
"I feel like it's a special jersey," said McLemore. "The goal for us winning a championship."
The H-Town jerseys (or "The City" Edition uniforms)
For many Rockets fans, this jersey was a pleasant surprise. In past years, the team has gone with Chinese lettering for their city edition uniforms, but the organization isn't naive to the fact that the lettering never had much do with Houston.
"We don't really consider the Chinese ones to be our city jerseys," said Sheirr. "That's part of the Nike lexicon. That was supposed to be our 'heritage' jersey, because that was an important heritage for us."
This was essentially the first time the Rockets had an opportunity to craft their own city edition jerseys and they felt an urgency to get it right. Nike sent people out into the city of Houston and carried out some research before coming back and collaborating with the Rockets on the design. Both parties came together on a few designs and the Fertitta family had final say on which ones to roll out with. The Rockets felt that incorporating 'H-Town' into the design was really important as it resonates with natives of the city more than anything you can put on the jersey.
"We also love the idea from the beginning of the astronaut seal and tying into space in our space city tees," said Sheirr. "It's not something that we've done in the past."
The early returns are that it's been incredibly popular with the fans.
"That H-Town jersey is pretty hot," said Williams. "I think they're doing really well on the sale of those jerseys."
Williams is spot on. Thus far, these jerseys have been Houston's number one seller this season. The players love them almost as much as the fans do.
"These are my favorite jerseys," says Austin Rivers. "The other [jerseys] say 'Rockets'. I like the ones that say our city. I wish our [basic] white jerseys said Houston."
Unfortunately for fans, Nike has a policy with their city edition uniforms that only permits teams to wear their city edition uniforms for one season before changing them out. However, the Rockets view this as an opportunity to get even more creative with future uniforms. They organization isn't allowed to disclose their designs yet, but it's safe to say, they're very confident in them.
"So, for next season, we have a different city jersey," said Sheirr. "The only thing I can say is that it is going to be incredibly popular. I have no doubt in my mind. In fact, possibly more popular than the one we had this year. People are going to be ecstatic when they see it."
Return of a familiar face in the future?
The most surprising thing that came away from interviewing players for this story was when Austin Rivers proposed this peculiar idea.
"I wish we wore the jerseys with the pinstripes," said Rivers. "The blue with the pinstripes. Those ones go hard. The ones that Steve Francis wore."
It took me aback, so I had to confirm the uniform Rivers was talking about with a quick Google search. Rivers nodded. If there was ever a Rockets' jersey that you could label a flop at its inception, it would be these. While kids loved the design, most adult fans could never bring themselves around on them.
"I am really surprised," says Williams. "We didn't win anything in those jerseys. Nothing about that [uniform] says Houston to me, at all. It was so opposite of our color scheme. I just hated it."
For a long time, the Rockets wouldn't even sell these jerseys because nobody would buy them. However, we're starting to learn how absence makes the heart grow fonder when it comes to jerseys. The Raptors re-introduced their dinosaur jerseys this season which were mocked at the time, but are really popular today. The same theory could apply here for the Rockets.
"If we did those, those would be a fan favorite," said Rivers. "Guaranteed. Those would be fire. Everybody would go crazy for those jerseys. Everybody loves pinstripes too, that retro vibe. That would look really cool."
Rivers isn't the only Rockets' player that feels that way either.
"I want to see how innovative they can become or would they use the same scheme," said Danuel House. "Steve Francis, Yao [Ming], and Dream played in them. It'll be cool since we're doing throwbacks now."
House was famously a Rockets' fan growing up and owned one of these jerseys, so it's not hard to see why he would like these uniforms to return. To this day defend, he'll even defend Houston's old logo that was heavily criticized at the time.
"It was cool," said House "It was different. It was like cartoonish."
When asked about the possibility of bringing these jerseys back, the Rockets confirmed that the idea has at least crossed their minds.
"Yes, there have been discussions," said Sheirr. "For the first time, those really loud designs are really in right now. They're very popular."
It's certainly not hard to see fans getting excited about this jersey. Although the irony of these jerseys being in high demand after the reputation they got in the early part of last decade shouldn't be lost here.
Whatever the case, the Rockets deserve to be commended on how they've upgraded their uniforms this season. The dated, bland looks of the mid 2000s have since been replaced with simple and fresh designs that represent the city more appropriately. The reception in the room on the day of the unveiling and fan support certainly seem to back that up.
"It seems to me they put a lot of attention to detail," said Williams. "It all looked good. It pulled together really well."
It'll be interesting to see what the organization comes up with next.