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JOTW: Abbreviation Inclination

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Photo: Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Call it a stretch, but there might be something to the idea that a team changing its uniforms, colors, or name can also change its fortunes. The Denver Broncos didn’t win a Super Bowl until they switched to ultra-modern uniforms in 1997. The Tampa Bay Rays had never even sniffed the playoffs until they dropped the “Devil” from their name, altered their look, and made it to the World Series. So maybe it shouldn’t have been a big surprise when the Atlanta Hawks redefined their colors and redesigned their uniforms in 2007 and made the playoffs two straight years after a decade of sitting at home. I really like the navy and red combo (which is surprisingly little-used in the NBA) and the side striping is definitely college-esque, but not overkill in my opinion. The red jerseys were an obvious step as alternates and the final result fits in somewhat with my personal belief that alternate jerseys should be a change of pace without being outlandish or ugly. While the Hawks’ red uniforms use the same template as the home and road sets, the “ATL” wordmark (also found on the home shorts) is a distinctive touch that brings up an interesting topic we have yet to address at JOTW: city abbreviations on uniforms.

The city abbreviation is a rather new occurrence on professional sports uniforms, but there are a few instances which leads me to believe that this is a style that we will see more of in the coming years. A quick definition for our purposes: the use of letters not solely at the beginning of a city name to abbreviate and identify the city. For example, “ATL” for Atlanta as in the feature photo. So by this definition, the use of initials for a multi-word city name like Kansas City with “KC”, such as on the Royals’ hats or the Chiefs’ helmets would not count. (Note: There are probably a ton of examples of the city/school abbreviation in college sports throughout the years, such as Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, so let’s just consider professional teams for this column). The first instance of the city abbreviation on a pro uniform appears to be the Phoenix Suns who plastered a “PHX” wordmark on the team’s home shorts as a faux belt buckle when they introduced new uniforms for the 2000-2001 season. The Suns later debuted an orange alternate jersey with “PHX” across the chest in the 2003-2004 season. The Phoenix Coyotes ownership must have liked the move as the team added a new secondary log that featured “PHX” within the Arizona state outline and used it as a shoulder patch when they unveiled new uniforms for the 2003-2004 season. The Atlanta Hawks alternates were introduced at the beginning of this season and just a few months later the Florida Panthers unveiled a third uniform set that featured a new sun and city abbreviation logo on the helmets, shoulders, and pants.

There are a couple of offshoots of this phenomenon that reside in the gray area between city abbreviation (“ATL”) and city initials (“KC”). One such case is that of a multi-word city name where one of the words is abbreviated. The St. Louis Cardinals fall into this category with their stylized “STL” hat logo (no doubt, a classic) and the Oklahoma City NBA franchise qualify for the lifeless “OKC” logo that adorns their shorts (but could easily be replaced with this). (I know I said no colleges, but it must be noted that the University of Virginia checked into this group for two seasons in the early 1980s with these football helmets. I love the V-Sabre, but you’ve got to admit that those are pretty sweet as well). Another offshoot that I’m not sure whether to include is the case where a logo includes the first letter(s) of the city name and the first letter of the team nickname. It’s certainly a step beyond the “KC” city initial example since it includes the nickname initial and it does not appear that many teams have done it through the years. The most prominent example on a jersey is probably the New York Rangers’ Lady Liberty alternates from 1996-2007 (with one year featured in white). I really like that jersey, as it accomplishes the changeup criterion of an alternate while also including one of the city’s strongest symbols. Another example in this category is the New York Knicks “NYK” subway token logo which has appeared on the back of the jersey above the player’s name since 2002. Obviously, it’s going to take a much larger uniform overhaul to help the Knicks.


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