No vintage pinstripes yet, but Hornets throwbacks could still make a comeback this season

No vintage pinstripes yet, but Hornets throwbacks could still make a comeback this season

CHARLOTTE, NC (Rick Bonnell and Katherine Peralta/The Charlotte Observer) - The Charlotte Hornets' new uniform rollout Monday did not include a version of the original pinstripes-and-pleats design from the late 1980s.

But Hornets Chief Marketing Officer Pete Guelli dropped a big hint that those classic uniforms – designed by Alexander Julian, who helped design the North Carolina Tar Heels' argyle look – could still be in play for the 2017-18 season.

"I think we have a history of listening to our fans, so we're looking forward to the next two versions coming out," Guelli told the Observer. The team will release the two additional new jersey designs for the upcoming season sometime later this summer, he added. The black, cap-sleeved "Buzz City" uniforms could be among those.

The Hornets unveiled new white and teal uniform designs that differ little cosmetically from the look they introduced for the 2014-15, after the NBA approved a name change from "Bobcats" to "Hornets."

The Hornets' new uniform designs come as the NBA is switching uniform makers from Adidas to Nike this season. As part of that change, the Hornets will be the only NBA team – and the only pro team in the U.S., in fact – to have a "Jordan Brand" logo on the right-hand side of their jerseys. That's a nod to Hornets owner Michael Jordan's decades-long relationship with Nike; Jordan Brand is a division of that company.

For now, the biggest change is fans will see far more of the teal uniforms at home games. The NBA changed its uniform policy after decades of asking teams to wear white as their home uniform. Now the home team can decided game-by-game what color to wear.

Teal has been by far the most popular of the three Hornets uniform colors, above white and purple versions, as measured by jersey sales at the Spectrum Center, Guelli said.

Previously, the Hornets were limited to playing about eight home games each season in teal. Now, they could play all 41 regular-season games at Spectrum Center in teal, if they choose.

The team hinted at new uniforms late last week in an email to fans. There was much Internet speculation in the past several weeks over whether the Hornets would bring back a replica of the look so popular in the late 1980s and 1990s, as worn by Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bogues.

The NBA has said eight franchises will be designated to wear "classic" uniforms from their past, but has not yet identified those teams. If the Hornets are in that group, it seems a no-brainer that some version of the pinstriped and pleated uniforms would return.

Fans can start buying new replica jerseys and other Hornets apparel with the Jordan "Jumpman" logo in late September, when the team hopes to simultaneously open a larger fan shop at Spectrum Center at the space previously taken up by the box office.

The former fan shop was in the lower level of the arena on the Trade Street side of the building, and the new store, Guelli said, will be about 1,000 square feet larger, allowing more room for check-out lines and additional merchandise.

The switch from Bobcats to Hornets (after the New Orleans franchise gave up the Hornets nickname to become the Pelicans) was a quick success for Charlotte's second NBA franchise. According to Guelli, in-arena merchandise sales jumped from 30th in the NBA in 2013-14 to top-10 in 2014-15.

Guelli says this association with Jordan Brand will enhance the the team's marketing. Jordan Brand designed the Hornets' uniforms introduced in 2014 (they were manufactured by Adidas), and did the updated versions rolled out Monday.

Jordan Brand is associated with several prominent college programs, including North Carolina, Michigan and Georgetown, but this is the brand's only direct connection to a U.S. pro team. The brand is expected to heighten the appeal of Hornets merchandise available to fans.

"The Jordan logo elevates any brand it's associated with," Guelli said.

Five current Hornets players – Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and rookie Dwayne Bacon – all wear Brand Jordan shoes.

The primary difference in the new uniforms is more in function than look: The jerseys are lighter and more flexible than previous NBA jerseys. Additionally, the fabric is a next generation of perspiration removal: Nike says the "wicking" effect is 30 percent improved.

One thing the Hornets haven't yet addressed is whether the jerseys will include an advertising patch opposite the Jordan Brand logo. The NBA is allowing teams to sell that advertising space for the first time. Guelli said the team is still investigating who might be a good advertising partner via that patch.

"We've had a number of companies express interest. Especially with the Jordan brand on the jersey, we are looking for the right fit," Guelli said.