Adidas yesterday introduced new lightweight uniforms for the Golden State Warriors. These unis are notable because a) the shorts don’t match the jerseys at all, b) they are 26 percent lighter than other NBA uniforms, and c) the jerseys have sleeves.
The Warriors will wear the sleeved jerseys for three home games later this season.
For much of its history, James Naismith’s game has been played in sleeveless tops. Before the Warriors introduced their new outfits yesterday the one major exception to the no-sleeves rule was the University of Evansville Purple Aces.
My University of Evansville Purple Aces.
There was a time in the late 1990s when, before Aces home games, the crew at Evansville’s Roberts Stadium played a reading of an ode to Evansville’s sleeved jerseys, written by former Purple Ace Scott Shreffler:
It is an honor, indeed, to wear the sleeves; an honor that only a select few will achieve.
The sleeves stand for championships, attitude and desire; A tradition that will raise one’s standards higher . . .
Hard work, determination, success and pride are characteristics of the sleeves, known nationwide.
(During my sophomore year at Evansville, home games opened with “It is an honor, indeed, to wear the sleeves” and closed with a special Purple Aces version of “Still the One” by Orleans. And, if the opposing team scored fewer than 50 points, everyone in attendance won a free meal at Grandy’s. It was a magical time.)
The Story of the Sleeves
Legendary Evansville basketball coach Arad McCutchan introduced the sleeves in the late 1940s. His players had been wearing sleeved shirts in practice because it was cold in the gym, so McCutchan figured it would be best if they wore sleeves during games as well.
McCutchan, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame who coached the Aces to five College Division (now Division II) national titles, was also responsible for dressing his players in bright orange (so that they could see one another more easily) and having them wear boxing-style robes on the bench.
The Aces wore sleeves until 1977, reverting to traditional jerseys before making the jump to Division I in 1978. Coach Jim Crews brought back the sleeves in 1986. But they didn’t last.
You know Steve Merfeld as the former coach of the Hampton Pirates who was famously lifted into the air by one of his players after his 15th-seeded Pirates upset second seed Iowa State in the 2001 NCAA Tournament. I know him as the man who took away the sleeves.
Evansville hired Merfeld as Crews’ replacement in 2002. (Crews, a Bob Knight disciple, took the head coaching job at Army. He’s currently at St. Louis.) The same year Bill McGillis took over as Evansville’s athletic director. Shortly after arriving in the Pocket City, McGillis and Merfeld, with the blessing of their players, decided to chop off the sleeves.
During five sleeveless seasons under Merfeld and McGillis the Aces never posted a winning record. Current head coach Marty Simmons, who himself wore the sleeves for Evansville from 1986–88, took over the program in 2007. Sadly, he did not bring the sleeves with him.
Sleeves Get Results
I understand the difference between correlation and causation, but I also understand that my Aces have been decidedly better with sleeves than without.
Since joining Division I in 1978, Evansville’s winning percentage is sleeves is .601; their sleeveless winning percentage is .460.
In 16 sleeved Division I seasons (from 1986–2002), Evansville appeared in the NCAA Tournament four times, won its only Division I NCAA Tournament game, won five regular season conference titles, and appeared in the NIT twice.
During 18 sleeveless Division I seasons—and it is tragic that the sleeveless D-I seasons now outnumber the sleeved ones—the Aces have won one conference title and played in one NCAA Tournament game, both in 1982.
Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan wore the sleeves when he played at Evansville. So did Aces’ all-time leading scorer Larry Humes. Sloan and Humes were wearing sleeves when they led the Purple Aces to College Division national championships in 1964 and 1965.
NBA and ABA All Star Don Buse wore the sleeves when he took Evansville to the 1971 title. The members of the 1959 and 1960 College Division championship teams also covered their shoulders. Four sleeved jerseys from that era (Sloan’s, Humes’, Buse’s, and Ed Smallwood’s) hang from the rafters of Evansville’s Ford Center.
Current coach Simmons wore the sleeves when, as an Evansville player, he finished ninth in national player of the year balloting. Scott Haffner wore the sleeves when he scored 65 points against Dayton in 1989 and when he led Evansville to an upset win over Gary Payton and Oregon State in the first round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament. Marcus Wilson scored more than 2,000 points in sleeves, including 34 in an NCAA First Round game against Kansas in 1999.
American hero Kwame James wore the sleeves for four years before thwarting shoe bomber Richard Reid in 2001.
It is an honor, indeed, to wear the sleeves.
I don’t want to make light of the great things that current Evansville seniors Colt Ryan and Troy Taylor, and others, have done in sleeveless jerseys.
Ryan will end his career as the Aces’ second all-time leading scorer and the Missouri Valley Conference’s seventh all-time leading scorer, with more than 2,100 points. Taylor may be the nation’s best under-six-foot rebounder and the Valley’s best defensive point guard.
But I truly believe that, if they were wearing sleeves, Ryan and Taylor and the rest of the Purple Aces wouldn’t be stuck in the middle of the Missouri Valley, slightly above .500 and likely headed to the CIT or CBI for a third consecutive season.
At the very least, the sleeves could have taken them to the NIT.
Enjoy Your Sleeves, Golden State Warriors
Congratulations on your new uniforms, Golden State.
The sleeves have been a part of just about everything good that has happened in the history of Evansville Purple Aces basketball, and I suspect that they will help your franchise move beyond its tortured history and into a new era.
Several years from now, when NBA fans and analysts talk about how the Warriors went so quickly from irrelevance to being a perennial playoff team and contender in the West, they’ll give the credit to Mark Jackson or Stephen Curry or David Lee or general manager Bob Meyers. But I’ll know the truth.
I’ll know that it was the sleeves.
It’s worth mentioning that the Evansville Purple Aces hosted “Throwback Night” last Sunday at the Ford Center. I don’t know what Evansville has to throw back to, if not sleeves. But the Aces went sleeveless. I have no idea why.
But I can say this with confidence: If Evansville had been wearing sleeves, they wouldn’t have needed overtime to beat Drake at home.