Alternate uniforms are all the rage in the NBA this year. The Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns will, at one point or another, wear uniforms with short sleeves. The New York Knicks added a pupil-popping all-orange alternate. The Miami Heat debuted a special “ring night” uniform for their opening-night matchup against the Chicago Bulls. And the Los Angeles Lakers will don “Hollywood Nights,” a predominantly black alternate uniform. We could go on.
But nearly a decade before the NBA’s current uniform renaissance, the Cleveland Cavaliers embarked upon an alternate jersey odyssey of their own. Looking to re-brand the franchise after drafting LeBron James, the Cavs dropped their painfully boring, painfully 1990’s orange, blue and black uni’s and brought back the wine-and-gold colorway used in the team’s first outfits. They didn’t stop there. During the next six seasons (2004-2010), the Cavs sported nine different sets of threads. They were the NBA’s version of Oregon’s football team.
Check out the photos below to see how the Cleveland Cavaliers were mixing up uniforms before it became “the thing to do.”
Debuted: 2003-2004 season
With the arrival of LeBron James, the franchise looking to forget its mediocre past brought back the team’s original wine and gold colors. The ”home” iteration, featuring a white base, wine lettering and gold and wine accents throughout, were so adored by the Cavaliers that they took their family Christmas photo, featuring Delonte West as a rarely-seen cornrowed baby, while wearing them.
Photo: AP Images
Debuted: 2003-2004 season
The ”away” iteration of the Cavaliers new jerseys featured a wine base, white numbers and lettering, and gold accents throughout. However, someone should have let young LeBron know that wearing an XXL jersey only looks good if you’re Gheorghe Muresan.
“Miracle of Richfield” Throwback
Debuted: 2004-2005 season
Worn to honor the 30th anniversary of the Cavaliers’ famous ”Miracle of Richfield” team—featuring Austin Carr, Nate Thurmond, Campy Russell, Jim Chones, Bingo Smith and coach of the year, Bill Fitch—the Cavs busted out these throwbacks during LeBron’s sophomore season, when an injury to his face forced him briefly to wear a mask. This led to his original ”Decision”: whether to replace Batman. (He chose not to.)
Navy Blue Alternate
Debuted: 2005-2006 season
These fantastic uniforms—navy blue with wine stripes down either side offset by wine, gold and blue rectangles—became the Cavaliers de facto road uniforms during LeBron James’ time with the team, many times replacing the Cavs’ usual wine-and-gold roadies. The jersey will forever be remembered for clinging to James’s chest when he dropped 48 points (25 straight at one point) on the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals—and for being worn by LeBron before he had 8 billion tattoos.
Hardwood Classics Orange
Debuted: Nov. 24, 2006
Way to be the weird guy who shows up too late to the party, New York Knicks. The Cavs were the first to rock creamsicle-colored threads, which the team had originally sported from 1983 until 1987. LeBron and Co. went orange multiple times during the 2006-2007 season, debuting them on the road against Indiana on Nov. 24. The colorway also did wonders for LeBron’s shoe game, giving him the opportunity to add orange and blue to his kicks for the first time.
Gold and Wine
Debuted: 2008-2009 season
Usually, feathers are saved for pirate caps or for emergency use as a pen after you lose all of your 21st century Sharpies in the washing machine. But the Cavaliers brought back the franchise’s very first jerseys, a wine-and-gold-colored uni nicknamed ”Feathered C” for the swooping, feathery tail ”C” in the logo. These were worn during the 2008-2009 campaign, and no one was made fun of. Or talked like a pirate.
CavFanatic’s Blue and Yellow
Photo: AP Images
Debuted: Jan. 7, 2009
You know how in the last slide we said wearing a feather was cool? Forget that. During the 2008-2009 season, the Cavaliers let members of CavFanatic.com, a social media-esque team fan site, design a jersey for the team to wear during a select regular-season game. The site’s creation? A blue-and-yellow colorway of ”feathered C”—which would have been fine except the Cavaliers had never worn blue and yellow together in their entire existence. Perhaps the folks at CavFanatic.com were secret Nuggets fans.
CavFanatic’s Wine and Gold
Debuted: Jan. 6, 2010
The CavFanatic site got a chance to redeem itself the following season. This time, they took the team’s 1980s threads, which featured ”Cavs” spelled out across the chest with a basketball going into the ”V,” and gave them the wine-and-gold treatment. LeBron loved it, as you can tell by his ”I’M TRYING TO SMILE BUT I’M SO HYPED UP ALL I CAN DO IS KIND OF GRIMACE. STOP TOUCHING ME PAUL PIERCE” face in the photo.
1987 Blue and Orange Throwback
Debuted: 2009-2010 season
Insert whatever joke you want about the number-23-wearing Michael Jordan hitting ”The Shot” over Craig Ehlo in the home version of these digs, but the seventh and final retro uniform the Cavaliers trotted out during the team’s jersey renaissance was a gem. It was also a hilariously depressing teaser for all the Knicks fans who spent years thinking LeBron was ”FOR SURE DUDE” coming to the Big Apple.