Sports fans don’t agree about much. But when the Wizards announced in late March that they would wear their white stars-and-stripes uniforms at all home playoff games this spring, the response seemed pretty close to unanimous approval.
The Wizards indeed used those jerseys for their first two games against the Hawks, winning both while looking stylish and mod (and patriotic!) throughout. Fans are happy. The team is happy. Unattached observers are happy.
One issue, though: If you go to the team store at Verizon Center, you can’t buy one of these jerseys. Ditto for the team store online. Ditto at the NBA’s website.
Well, the team introduced the stars-and-stripes jerseys this season, wearing them at six military-themed home games, honoring the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard. The uniforms proved popular with players, with management, and with fans, leading to the decision to adopt them for the playoffs once it became clear that the team would qualify for the postseason.
“We listened to the fan feedback and saw the same thing you did, and we got everyone’s blessing,” said Hunter Lochmann, a senior VP of marketing brand & strategy at Monumental. “It was a no-brainer, quite frankly. Players, fans, management, you name it: People loved the uniforms.”
Fans loved them so much that the team sold out its entire supply of retail inventory before the postseason started. And since the NBA is switching to from Adidas to Nike gear in the 2017-18 season, that means these precise models won’t be made again. Which means you simply cannot buy one right now.
“Unfortunately, the way uniform ordering goes for retail, there’s a long lead time,” Lochmann said. “If we wanted to order more, we wouldn’t have gotten them until June. It was disappointing, because we saw how popular they became, but it is what it is. There’s not really anything we can do about it.”
This normally wouldn’t be a huge deal for an alternate uniform. In this case, though, it creates some weird possibilities. What if the Wizards are playing in the NBA Finals in June, and newfound fans in West Virginia and Iowa begin clamoring for their home jerseys? What if — so help me — the Wizards win the NBA title on their home court, and rapturous fans then storm the team store demanding to buy the shirt John Wall wore as he shed tears of joy at center court? Staffers will have to give those fans a John Wall shrug.
“I mean, we definitely took it into consideration, but at the same time, it wasn’t necessarily about the sales,” Lochmann said. “It was about fans and everyone else being excited about what we’re wearing.”
And so to compensate, the team is pushing other stars-and-stripes-themed merchandise, including items that mimic the game apparel. Such as stars and stripes John Wall and Bradley Beal T-shirts. And a stars-and-stripes hat-and-T-shirt bundle.
(I swear, the team did not pay me to do this item. Several fans asked me about the jersey conundrum.)
What happens next? That’s not entirely clear. This year’s stars-and-stripes jerseys were two to three years in the making, and the response was perhaps unexpected. Players have said they’d like to wear them more often, or even that they should become the permanent home uniforms. The team is expected to again have home white, road red and alternate blue jerseys next season, with any additional details yet to be announced.
But “these are so popular, we need to take a look at bringing them back in the future,” Lochmann said. “It’s been universal internally with all the key stakeholders.”
Meanwhile, these playoffs will roll on, without stars-and-stripes jerseys in the stands. If the Wizards keep winning, expect to see more products that mimic the uniform scheme as closely as possible. And you should feel free to appreciate the home-court look. You just can’t buy it.