Single page view By Paul Lukas
Special to Page 2

Uni Watch tries not to get too worked up about All-Star games. Pageantry blah-blah awesome skills blah best on the planet blah-blah -- the games are still just scrimmages, and their uniforms are essentially disposable. Still, it's worth taking a closer look at the NBA, which has taken an unusually circuitous route from the plain, wordless All-Star unis of 1955 to the sharp-looking duds displayed on Sunday.

"In the '50s and '60s, it was very basic -- red, white, and blue, big 'EAST' and 'WEST,' lots of stars," says Christopher Arena, the NBA's senior director of apparel. "Then in the '70s, we started basing the design on the host team's uniform." Uni Watch liked this approach, which yielded results ranging from straightforward (when the game was hosted by the Lakers in 1972) to subtle (Suns in 1975 -- note the sunburst pattern on the shorts, kids) to, well, not-so-subtle (Bullets, 1980).

"In the '80s, the Magic-Larry-Michael era, we used the NBA letters across the front," says Arena. This design, which was revived as a throwback uni for the 2003 game (but way baggier, natch), has always struck Uni Watch as looking too much like a corporate billboard. Still, it's better than what happened in the mid-1990s.

"We kind of went off the deep end in Phoenix in '95 and San Antonio in '96," admits Arena, a hint of shame in his voice. "Those uniforms were very indigenous to the market, or at least that was the idea -- the Phoenix design had a cactus on it, and the San Antonio design had a jalepeņo pepper. They were a little crazy. So then we scaled back and had the players wear their own uniforms for a few years."

As for this year's design, Uni Watch likes it -- it's clean but not sterile, sharp but not flashy. And textile geeks (you know who you are) will like Arena's description of the fabric: "The front is flatback mesh, which is a fabrication used throughout the league, and the back is what we call Metallic Stretch Air, an open-hole mesh that breathes a little differently, to minimize sweat accumulation. We've always used uniforms with multiple fabrications, but usually the front and back are the same and the inserts are different, so this was a big change. One of our teams is considering something like this for next season, but I can't say anything more about it yet."

Yes, well, we're all breathlessly waiting to see how that turns out. But there are other matters to occupy our attention for now because the NBA isn't the only league that recently hosted all-star festivities. A week earlier was the NFL Pro Bowl, such a perennial aesthetic train wreck that it holds a certain warped fascination, sort of like watching lemmings dive off a cliff. Of course, nobody has actually tuned in to watch the Pro Bowl since about 1987, so you probably missed the landmark uni designs showcased in 2004, 2001 and of course 1996 (which was such a big hit on the comedy circuit that it was used again in 1997).

Compared to those past visual carnivals, this year's uniforms were relatively tame. Even the obligatory Hawaiian-themed coaching garb was more sedate this time around -- or maybe it just seemed that way because for once Andy Reid wasn't coaching the NFC squad. Fortunately, there was still plenty of comic relief, beginning with the Arena Football-esque blizzard of jersey patches. And Uni Watch hereby offers a beer and a handshake to whoever had the brilliant idea of putting a Pro Bowl logo patch just above each player's butt.



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