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On the NBA: What do the sleeves mean?

What’s up with these sleeves on the jerseys? Are we only talking about them because of our exhausting dorkdom for the game, or is there something actually going on?

Asked about the fancy t-shirts at his All-Star Weekend press conference, commissioner Adam Silver said that he’s prolonging the experiment because they’re selling at a very high rate, and that people generally seem to like them. He also signaled toward the possibility of advertisements on sleeves. (My optimist is telling me that the revenue from such a thing may help the league to cut down on commercial TV time, and speed up my precious game).

Perhaps the new duds are also something like a calculated demographic grab. They resemble soccer jerseys quite a bit, and the NBA’s growth abroad is known to be far more explosive than it is domestically. The attire could be seen as buttressing the bridge between the league and its international fandom, but it can also be interpreted as an appeal to the fastest growing populace at home: Mexican Americans. Many of the latest ensembles say things like “LOS BULLS,” “NUEVA YORK,” “EL HEAT” and also have hispanic patterns all over those sleeves of so much scrutiny.

Or are these things an extension of the patriarchal reach that was the installment of the now-standing dress code, penned in 2005? Maybe this is some attempt—conscious or not—to make the players less naked, less bare in their being. These sleeves clothe their humanity, potentially, in the same vein as the enforcement of unnatural neckties.

Maybe our favorite stars can invert the sleeves into a place for self-expression, the same way they have with with that dress code. Shall we see personal patches, colorful fabric tattoos adorn these sleeves one day, instead of advertisements? Personal messages like “HE HATE ME“?

Gosh, I hope so. But mostly I just hope it means something, anything at all—and they do, these sleeves, is the thing. Fabric covers only part of the breathing world, and it says something about its wearer every time. I just can’t yet tell what what the NBA is using its players to say.

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