It all started with a simple tweet from Vince Baumel, suggesting that perhaps I could use some new wall decor. What Vince tweeted was an absolutely awesome poster that captured the visual history of the NBA jersey and its many style changes over the years. This poster really brought me back and for a few minutes, I browsed the poster reminiscing about some of those classic NBA jerseys from my childhood that will always seem to be tied to a certain player or certain moment. An avid NBA fan as far back as I can remember, much of my childhood consisted of Magic vs. Jordan disagreements off the court and Jeff vs. Chad (my older brother) battles on the court. You see, by the ripe old age of 4, I had become a fan of Magic Johnson and the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers. And by 8, I was ALL IN on Lakers Mania and why not, the Lakers were the most exciting team in the NBA and they were nearly unstoppable, having won three of the last five NBA titles.
But, in the summer of 1991, something happened…something that would spawn a fierce rivalry between my brother and me that had not previously existed. Michael Jordan (my brother’s favorite player) and the Chicago Bulls met Magic and the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals…and DESTROYED THEM!! After L.A. captured Game 1, the Bulls rolled in the next four, winning the series 4-1. This did not sit well with me at all!! Suddenly, my brother had bragging rights and the situation only worsened that fall, when Magic announced he would be retiring from the NBA, effective immediately, after testing positive for HIV. So, what was a kid to do? Switch sides and start cheering for Jordan? NOT A CHANCE!! He had just defeated my childhood idol in embarrassing fashion. To me, the thought of now cheering for Jordan was laughable…needless to say, the next seven NBA seasons were quite frustrating. Rooting against Jordan and his greatness was not an easy task. I mean, he was clearly the best player in the game and it wasn’t close. Jordan and the Bulls would appear in five of the next seven NBA Finals, coming out victorious each and every time. First Jordan and the Bulls took down Clyde Drexler and the Portland Trailerblazers in ’92, then it was Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns in ’93. And each summer, I would hear about it every day from my brother!! Then Jordan tried the baseball thing for reasons we still don’t really know, but in ’96 he was back and Chicago was dominant once again. The next three seasons, they would knock off the Seattle Supersonics and then the Utah Jazz twice, in back to back seasons. When it was all said and done, Jordan and the Bulls had won six titles in eight years and my brother was very good at reminding me of the fact that Magic had only won five titles.
By now, you’re probably asking not only why any of this matters, but also what does it have to do with a poster? Here’s the long answer; Because, despite Jordan and the Bulls winning year after year and my brother and I having intense one-on-one battles on the uneven, bumpy, grassy basketball court, where the bunkhouse occupied nearly the entire right half of the court, the hoop was slightly slanted and the green water hose marked the three-point arc, at our parents’ lake cabin, this whole sibling rivalry does in fact bring back very fond memories whenever I look back at it. Sitting in the living room of our tiny lake cabin, watching the NBA Finals and then heading outside during halftime for a quick one-on-one game. My big brother and I shared a deep love for the game of basketball and without the spark provided by our Magic vs. Jordan rivalry, I honestly don’t know if I would have that same passion for the game or for sports in general, that I have today. Now, perhaps that passion could have come in a variety of other ways, but when looking back, I feel strongly that my thirst to compete and drive to succeed was somewhat born through this silly basketball rivalry with my older brother, Chad. So, when I look at the poster Vince tweeted to me, I don’t just see really cool NBA jerseys, I see very fond memories of my childhood that make me happy.
I see all those games played against Chad (who is four years older than me) and I see that look on his face the time I FINALLY beat him for the first time…and how PISSED he was!! I see my game-winning shot going through the hoop and a moment later, the ball being chucked at me, as I took off running down the trail to the neighbors cabin, yelling something back at Chad, that was my best attempt at trash talk!! But, I also see all the great things Chad taught me about the game. After all, he was older and wiser and as an elementary and eventually junior high kid, I REALLY looked up to him and teammates on the basketball court, because at the end of the day, I wanted to be not like them, but better than them. While there have been a ton of unforgettable memories playing the game of basketball, there have also been moments, as a fan, that will simply never leave me. So, as I browse this “Jerseys of the NBA” viz, which was inspired by work from the greats, Neil Richards and Simon Beaumont, here are a few of the things I see.
I look at the Boston #33 and I see Larry Bird and the Celtics battling Magic and the Lakers in multiple NBA Finals match-ups. I see Bird crushing the three-point shootout during All-Star weekend, more than once. I see Dee Brown pumping up those sweet black Reebok Pumps, that everybody HAD TO HAVE after the ’91 Slam Dunk Contest.
I look at the Chicago #23 and Hawks #21 and I see Jordan and Dominique Wilkins going head to head in some of the most entertaining slam dunk contests ever.
I look at the Pistons #11 and I see more intense NBA Finals match-ups involving Magic and the Lakers, this time against Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman and the Detroit Pistons. The NBA’s Bad Boys of the 1980’s and early 1990’s.
I look at Golden State’s The City #24 and I see one of the coolest NBA jerseys ever, in my opinion. Slightly biased, as that was one of the few jerseys I actually owned.
I look at the Suns #7 and I see Kevin Johnson, Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns competing in the 1993 NBA Finals against Jordan and the Bulls. And in that same Finals, I also see the coolest Sun of them all, Thunder Dan Majerle, drilling what seemed like countless deep three-pointers.
I look at the Houston #34 and I see the Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon taking full advantage of Jordan’s time away from the game, capturing titles in ’94 and ’95.
I look at the Spurs #21 and I see a franchise that over the last twenty years has operated in a way that I can only wish the Minnesota Timberwolves could operate like…for just ONE month!!
I look at the Wolves #21 and I see the rebirth of NBA basketball in Minnesota and I recall all of the disappointment that goes into being a Minnesota Timberwolves fan!! But also, I recall great memories of listening to the late games on the radio, as a youngster, while I lay in bed, not about to fall asleep until the final horn sounded!!
No matter how silly it may seem, these are the things I see in this viz and these are the things that made building it such an enjoyable experience. I love sports not only for the competition, but also for the team aspect and how it brings people together. So, while I’m sure Vince was well aware that I was a basketball fan when he sent out that tweet, I’m guessing he did not know how my love for the game came about. So, before sharing details on what went into building the viz, I wanted to share the story behind the viz and why it was such a special project for me. In Part II we’ll actually get into building the viz.
Thanks so much for reading and have a great day!!