It did not take long on Saturday night for fans and commentators at Madison Square Garden to realize something was amiss between the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks. Their uniforms looked alike. Too alike.
The Knicks have worn their new orange alternate jerseys four times already this season, but in each previous outing, the other team arrived wearing a contrasting shade. Not the Hawks. The result was a jumble of blood red versus burnt orange that became an exercise in facial recognition, looking twice, squinting, guessing: Which ones are the Hawks?
According to the NBA rule book, the home team is mandated to wear light color jerseys, and the visitors dark jerseys, unless otherwise approved. This would explain Atlanta's uniform choice.
"Neither team was at fault," Tim Frank, the NBA's vice president for basketball communications, said. "The Knicks orange has been designated as a light alternate home uniform. Going forward, we'll ensure that the opponent wears a more distinguishing color uniform when the Knicks wear orange."
The color scheme drew mostly critical notice from fans via Twitter and the MSG Network broadcaster Mike Breen, who said he thought even the players might have been having a difficult time telling one another apart. The first half especially was filled with sloppy play and errant passes.
Carmelo Anthony dismissed a question that the uniforms had any effect on the game, which the Knicks lost 110-90. He referred to the suggestion as "nitpicking."
"That ain't got anything to do with why we're losing basketball games," Anthony said, albeit with slightly more colorful language.
The Knicks have already worn the orange jerseys four times this year (all losses) and plan to wear them at least six more times. The NBA has had other games in which teams have worn single-color uniforms - with separate shades for each team. But ESPN's Paul Lukas, the founder of Uniwatch.com, which tracks and analyzes aesthetics in sports, wrote in an email that Saturday's game "definitely had less uniform contrast than any NBA game in recent memory."
It is not the first time this fall that on-field attire by teams made headlines. On September 8, the Arkansas State football team was assessed two penalties - one at the start of each half - for wearing dark gray uniforms at home against Auburn, which wore navy blue.
Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin told reporters after the game that wearing the uniforms was his decision.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of the penalties, "You don't hear about that very much."
In September, two baseball games featured opposing teams wearing dark uniforms: the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, each in red; and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Minnesota Twins, each in blue).
Basketball, with its close confines and fast pace, is a different form of sport, and uniform colors would perhaps play a bigger role in helping fans, broadcasters and even players keep pace.
In 2004, Wisconsin and Illinois met at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Illinois, both wearing dark jerseys in a memorable matchup of bright orange versus bright red. Wisconsin committed 17 turnovers. But the uniforms were probably toughest on those fans straining to discern one team from the other.
New York Times