Being a sports fan is like being a parent — it doesn’t come with a rulebook. Some aspects are self-explanatory: rooting for the home team, cheering for exemplary displays of skill and athleticism, sarcastically calling for the insertion of lineup-worst scrubs into the game once the game’s outcome has been decided. But much of the territory is grey, open to interpretation and occasionally susceptible to abuse. And one of the hardest areas to define etiquette for is at-game jersey wearing.

Most of the time, of course, this practice is simple enough — you wear the jersey of your favorite player from your team of choice, and everybody wins. But for a variety of reasons, this most-direct of routes is occasionally eschewed for something more esoteric, either due to issues of practicality, chronology, or the desire to make a statement more complex than mere fan support of team and player. But how far can one stray from the beaten path, without straying so far that the practice loses all meaning?

Here, I will define as many feasible instances of borderline jersey-wearing practices as possible — using the New York Knicks as the example home team — and come up with a verdict on whether this practice ultimately is or is not OK. Of course my word on these matters is by no means the final one. Rather, I hope that this article will serve as a jumping-off point for further discussion within the NBA fan community, as we attempt to eliminate the confusion and intolerance too long attached to this subject.

(And for the record, if your personal take on all of these is “Don’t wear jerseys at all, what are you, 16?” Well, fair enough, and you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but for argument’s sake, let’s shelve that line of thinking for the time being.)

Case #1: Home Team Jersey for Well-Liked Player No Longer on Team
Example: David Lee Knicks Jersey

Probably the most frequently seen case of the borderline jersey, one so accepted into common practice that it might not even be borderline. You buy a jersey for your favorite player on the team while he’s on the squad, and he gets traded or signs elsewhere. Happens all the time, and it shouldn’t preclude you from still being able to wear the jersey, as a tribute to the team on the front and to the legacy of the player on the back. You might not want to overdo it with this, lest you seem stuck in the past — why insist on the David Lee jersey when the Knicks now have plenty of jersey-worthy players? — but in principle, it’s fine.

Verdict: Very OK.

Case #2: Home Team Jersey for Disgraced Player No Longer on Team
Example: Stephon Marbury Knicks Jersey

This is sketchier. In the case of a player like Marbury, who represented all of the worst excesses of the Isiah Thomas era in New York, representing for him could be seen as needlessly antagonistic to fellow home fans, and in certain cases could be seen as even more of an affront than wearing a jersey of the opponents. Nonetheless, it is still a home-team jersey, perhaps the only one owned by the fan, bought before said player proved himself so unworthy. Ultimately this must be taken on a case-by-case basis, depending on the player and infractions committed, but I would tend to err on the side of caution here.

Verdict: Rarely OK, avoid when possible.

Case #3: Home Team Jersey for Well-Liked Player Currently Playing for Opponents
Example: Nate Robinson Thunder Jersey (Home Game Vs. Thunder)

A complex situation, no doubt, since to less-knowledgeable home fans you will seem an enemy supporter, and to more-knowledgeable home fans you may seem a star-chasing bandwagoner. However, I tend to approve of this as a measure of showing next-level appreciation for a player who did his home team proud when their soldier, and has since moved on — possibly due to circumstances beyond his control, as with KryptoNate. It lets them know that they will always be loved for their years of service, and will be welcomed back into the fold at any time.

Verdict: OK, but take the time to explain your motives to others, and be patient if they disagree or don’t understand.

Case #4: Previous Team Jersey for Well-Liked Team Player
Example: Amar’e Stoudemire Suns Jersey

Once again, this raises the question of what’s more important about a jersey, the team or the individual player represented. But as a player proponent myself — otherwise, you may as well just go with a hat, or get a shirt from the gift shop that says “Knicks” on the front — I find this highly permissible. To me, it just shows a willingness to acknowledge the history and roots of your favorite player, and would be little different than wearing a Pixies t-shirt to a Breeders concert. (Though of course, concert t-shirt etiquette is an entirely separate beast — and in many ways, the inverse of basketball jersey logic — but that’s another article.)

Verdict: Generally OK.

Case #5: Opponents’ Team Jersey for Well-Liked Team Player
Example: Amar’e Stoudemire Suns Jersey (Home Game vs. Suns)

This is too much. Ultimately this will just hurt the heads of everyone in your section, incite one if not several fist-fights and greatly confuse any nearby time-travelers from the not-too-distant past. It’s not worth it.

Verdict: Not OK. Don’t be a wiseass.

Case #6: Mocked-Up Home Team Jersey for Coveted Player Not on Team
Example: LeBron James Knicks Jersey (c. March 2010)

A decidedly modern trend in today’s world of in-season, often times years-in-advance, fan-player recruitment. I would hesitate to do this on a team with superstars already in place, but in a case like the Knicks’ last year — where the entire season was but a prelude to the activity of the summer and the team itself was highly fungible — I have no problem with it. In fact, it shows a willingness to go the extra mile for your home team, not just in the time it took to make the fake jersey but in the willingness displayed to try to assist with the recruiting process. Hey, maybe if LeBron had seen you in that orange-and-blue No. 23 James jersey, it might’ve been the thing to flip the switch for him. Who knows?

Verdict: OK, but use discretion.

Case #7: Current Team Jersey for Coveted Player Not on Team
Example: Carmelo Anthony Nuggets Jersey (c. Jan 2011)

This one actually came up in my real life, as my roommate wore this very jersey to a Knicks game recently against the Hawks. Though I respected his outside-of-the-box approach and was appreciative of the conversation piece, I ultimately concluded that I did not approve of the statement being made. At least with the mocked-up home jerseys, you’re still repping team colors, not straying too far from the course. When you’re willing to go so far as to wear another team’s jersey to represent a player that may end up never having anything to do with your home team, it’s just too much of an insult to those currently on the squad for my tastes. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Verdict: Not OK, unless your team is in the top .01 percentile of all-time unlikable teams. And even then, use discretion.

Case #8: Current Team Jersey for Player With No Immediate Connection to Home Team or Opponent
Example: Kobe Bryant Lakers Jersey (Home Game vs. Bucks)

This decision makes no statement aside from “I like basketball,” which may in fact be the case, but frankly is neither here nor there. It smacks of either trying way too hard (“I don’t even care what teams are playing in this game, I’m post-team rooting.”) or not trying nearly hard enough (“Wow, can you believe I still have that Kobe jersey I bought when I was in high school?”) and is guaranteed to embarrass anyone unlucky enough to have to attend the game with you. Wearing no jersey at all is infinitely preferable.

Verdict: Not OK.

Case #9: Personalized Home Team Jersey for Non-Existent Player That Was Probably a Father’s Day Gift From Your Kids or Something
Example: “Stankovich” Knicks Jersey.

Tell your kids to get you a new fishing rod next year instead.

Verdict: Disgusting and Not OK.

Well, that’s about all I got. Let the open-air discussion begin.

Comments (35)

  1. Is my Adam Morrison Bobcats jersey okay?

  2. What about this situation:

    Beloved team member, now coach of opponent’s team?
    For example: Spurs game vs. Mavs, 2006. Fan wears an old Avery Johnson Jersey.

    Other possible examples:

    Byron Scott or Kurt Rambis Jersey (If you somehow found one) at a Lakers game? Nate McMillan Sonics jersey (I guess at a Thunder game? Seems more appropriate at a Blazers game.)

    I know this wouldn’t happen often, unless someone has a real knack for collecting jerseys, but more and more jerseys are being made with past players’ names on the back, so who knows?

  3. Adam Morrison jerseys are NEVER okay.

  4. What about a tongue in cheek custom jersey, e.g.: Raptors #7 reading SLACKER

  5. What are your thoughts on the retro jersey (ie, drexler/walton blazers jersey)?

  6. There is one you missed, though it is very important.

    If your a dude, wear a dude’s jersey. This is ABSOLUTELY non-negotiable.

    This is more of a problem with the NFL than the NBA, thankfully. With NFL jerseys, its not a normal S-10XL, since they are “Nascar” sized, i.e. S=XL in normal American clothes. So, occasionally you’ll see some asshat that needed a more form-fitting jersey. Keen eyes will notice the smaller nameplate on the back, shorter sleeves, and a touch of shapeatude. Once you notice this, it’s ok to brand the person a douchebag, and maybe, silently hope they get into a violent car crash on the way home.

    Also, any NBA jersey worn ironically by a hipster is not kosher.

  7. What’s your take on a Team USA jersey of a player on your team?

  8. I thought it was “beaten path.”

    In terms of former players team jerseys, I’d say that Gerald Wallace jerseys will ALWAYS be acceptable at a Bobcats game.

  9. First: the #15 Carmelo Knicks Jersey is AN ABSOLUTELY GROSS COMPLETE JERSEY FAIL on so many levels I don’t know where to begin with.

    Any customized jerseys are fail, I think. You can’t put that many tongues in your cheeks. I have nothing against Benjamin, Brown, Clark on the Raptors. Who knows you mean Bargnani?

    Then: I am not J.E. Skeets, even though my Firefox tells me I just kidnapped his account. See:

    Something is wrong there guys.

  10. I also don’t care if he IS Michael Jordan, doesn’t make it alright to wear a Jordan jersey to a game unless it’s a Bulls game. No Wizards Jordan jersey EVER, and if you really want to see an MJ jersey with your team, go out and buy NBA 2k11. Here’s a tip: the code for the Jordan legend mode is icanbe23.

  11. Jared, you can generalize that, Gerald Wallace jerseys will always be acceptable at any game.

  12. Adam Morrison Bobcats jersey: Need more context.

    Team Member, Now Opposing Coach: Totally fine. Possibly even justifiable as a psyche-out move.

    Tongue-in-Cheek Jerseys: Depends on statement being made, but I would only resort to this when the situation absolutely demanded it. Or the statement was really fucking clever.

    Retro: Totally fine.

    Women’s Fit Jersey: No real opinion, but if you say absolutely non-negotiable, fair enough.

    Ironic Hipster Jersey: Depends what kind of ironic statement is being made. If it’s “LOL can you believe I found a Dennis Rodman Mavericks jersey?,” that’s OK. If it’s “LOL, can you believe I’m actually wearing an NBA jersey to this concert?,” that’s not OK.

    Team USA Jerseys: Totally fine and pretty cool.

    Gerald Wallace Jerseys at Bobcats Games: Of course.

    “Beaten path” vs. “Beat and path.”: Who fucking knows for sure.

    Jordan Wizards Jersey: Sorry, but I think this is OK, at least at Wizards games. At a Bulls game would definitely be kind of weird, but not necessarily morally reprehensible.

    Gerald Wallace Jerseys at Any NBA Game: Arguable.

  13. one more question: guys wearing a WNBA jersey, anytime, irregardless of game or not. In fact, can i guy even own a WNBA jersey? Is it an automatic comment on his sexuality? Do homosexul men like WNBA?

  14. Thanks Andrew….
    Great article and fantastic responses….

    I bought 4 jersey back in the early 00s:

    Hill Pistons
    Malone Jazz (had to choose quickly, I’d even say hastily)
    Garnett T-Wolves
    MJ Wizards

    Glad to know I have a jersey for a Jazz, Pistons, T-Wolves, Suns, Celtics and kinda-Bulls and Kinda-Wiz and Kinda-Bobcats (hey, he’s the owner) home-game…
    I’m pretty sure my too-small Hill Pistons with the Horse would be a sensation in PHX.

    I’d love a Rodamn Mavs or Lakers or even Spurs jersey… Or that team he played for in Finland… Hey, why not?

  15. Hey! What about a jersey that has nothing to do with anything?

    Like a Troy Hudson Minnesota jersey at a Lakers-Celtics game?
    it’s not like it’s to support a current star/team…
    Y’know, just casually wearing a Troy Hudson jersey…

  16. A Shane Battier Duke jersey?

    Same game?

  17. A few months ago in L.A. I actually had a Corie Blount Lakers jersey siting in the wild. Not as obscure as my own Tracy Murray Lakers jersey with the wrong number (40 instead of 30). Still waiting to see a Mike Penberthy still walking around–probably on a dude working at a car wash.

  18. WNBA Jerseys: Fine for heterosexual and homosexual men alike. But the same rules apply as with NBA jerseys, obviously.

    Jersey That Has Nothing to do with Anything: I address this in Point #8 of my article. Not OK.

    Tracy Murray Lakers Jersey with the Wrong Number: Can I have it?

  19. I think this needs to be a table with an extra column: OK tucked in?

  20. tucked is never ok.

  21. What if I have a Maravich blue/green 1972 throwback from the Hawks? Is that exempt from rule #8?

  22. @j_n_z: hahah wtf i’ve had that happen to me too! Felt dazed and confused i was starting to think maybe i imagined that shit

  23. Jones: As in, is the jersey so goddamn cool that you should be allowed to wear it anywhere at any time? Close, but no.

  24. This needs an appendix for under-shirt rules, generally sleeveless in winter in Toronto means unsightly pastiness.

  25. Exception on Personalized Jersey: If its used to ask for an extreme female Bulls fan for her hand in marriage, with her potential new last name on the back. Then its OK. :)

  26. I didn’t realize Daleks were such self-important troll buggers.

    What if you wear the college jersey you bought in anticipation of a player becoming your team’s lottery pick, only to have management miss him, but it’s cool, ’cause he’s a bust who fell out of the league?

  27. Tucked in is acceptable, but only with the jerseys of retired players.

  28. I the fuck know for sure. It’s off the beaten path? Off the beat and path sounds like some obscure rap album.

  29. Also, that question mark was unintentional. Forgive me.

  30. Personalized Jersey With Potential Future-Fiancee’s Name on Back: Acceptable once.

    Anticipated NBA Jersey of Future College Bust: OK, but requires brief explanation.

    Tucked In or Not Tucked In: Question of fashion and thus not germane to this column.

    Off the Beaten Path: Whatevs yo.

  31. Here’s one: College jersey of visiting player who played ball for a nearby college.
    Example: Wearing an Aaron Brooks Oregon Ducks jersey when he plays against Portland.

    I generally think that it’s ok to wear the college jersey of your current star (God I would kill for a John Stockton Gonzaga jersey), but I want others opinions.

  32. fictional character?

    Also, what about the original photo – Knicks “Carmelo” jersey worn to a current game. I’m not sure if this is covered because you have to take the time to customize a jersey with his first name (plus you have to have the balls to spell his first name and not accidentally get it with “Carmello”).

  33. This is a no go:

    #5 Jalen Rose Bulls + “D.” added to the name and backwards. The Kris Kros future title heroics madness?

  34. I don’t have a problem with this EXCEPT FOR THE FACT IT SHOULD SAY ANTHONY ON THE BACK.

    Why would you get his first name on the back? douche of the dumbest degree

  35. But he didn’t even get the number correct.

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