Want to know a barometer for a great jersey? A lack of change.
The Yankees have donned the pinstripes since the early 20th century. The purple and gold aesthetic has been a staple of the Los Angeles Lakers for decades. The Packers jersey that Bart Starr wore in the very first Super Bowl is a few minor tweaks away from the one that Aaron Rodgers will be wearing when he inevitably gives Jordan Love the cold shoulder on the sidelines.
The Raptors have had no such consistency. This:
Is now this:
Along the way, we have seen some truly bad jerseys for the Raptors. My personal least favourite jerseys are these:
They are worthy of the Chris Sale treatment.
The more subdued look of present day is tidy and shakes the cartoonish vibes of prior looks. Additionally, the purple dinos of ’95 have come full circle, gaining serious nostalgia points when worn as an alternate. Neither look, however, is genuinely great, nor do the Raptors have anything close to a defining aesthetic, like the aforementioned teams.
The problem may lie in the “Raptors” name.
On one hand, the name of a professional sports team is mostly trivial and meaningless. No matter how bizarre the team name, the mindless acceptance of the casual fan sets in within days, if not hours, after learning the name. Consumed in all other aspects of the sport, most observers do not give more than a second thought to the names of the teams they are watching.
The Jazz reside in Utah, a state devoid of notable jazz music. The Lakers are in Los Angeles, a city by the ocean (apparently you do not change your team’s name when you move cities!) Before learning the histories and initial locations of these teams, I didn’t give these names a second thought. In turn, I would excuse you if you haven’t thought about how weird the name “Raptors” is for a Toronto-based team.
On the other hand, these aspects of a team can create an element of stature and mystique. Their colours and jerseys become synonymous with success. The name is said with equal parts reverence and disdain from opponents (a good thing). Players speak lovingly about the colours they dreamed of wearing.
When your team name is the result of local fans voting when they were really into the movie Jurassic Park, it does not exactly lend itself to that aura of distinction. The purple/dinosaur motif has sparked Barney comparisons, which certainly provides separation from the whole prestige and mystique thing.
When deciding the name in 1993, there was a better choice for Toronto. Had the decision-makers opted for the name “Huskies,” the potential for creating a more defining look, and ultimately, a great jersey would have skyrocketed.
Obviously, the great jerseys in sports history that I mentioned earlier have historical significance, enhancing their stature.
That’s the thing with the Toronto Huskies name. It is rooted in history.
In what has become a popular piece of trivia knowledge, the Toronto Huskies played in the first-ever NBA game against the New York Knickerbockers in 1946. The team folded after that season, but they will always own that piece of NBA history.
Had the early ownership group of Toronto went in that direction when naming the team, they could have leaned into that aspect of Toronto basketball lore. With that lore, came a clean, simple jersey. White, with “HUSKIES” in blue, the jerseys provided the foundation for a run of classic NBA jerseys. Those are virtually the same jerseys they wore in the 2009-2010 season.
Raptors did wear Toronto Huskies "throwbacks" in 2009. pic.twitter.com/kG74n3JdE4— Phil Hecken (@PhilHecken) April 17, 2014
The 2017 iteration of the Huskies look maintains that simplicity and elegance, when they were worn for the second time as a throwback. This time, they went all blue with white trim and TORONTO written in a white outline.
Raptors Toronto Huskies alternates this season >>> pic.twitter.com/HqmtblSz49— IG: binkysmalls (@iambinkysmalls) August 23, 2016
Something about a Toronto team in blue and white just does the trick. Had they opted for that colour scheme, all of the major sports teams in Toronto would have the same colours. The Blue Jays, Leafs, and Raptors, would all fly a blue and white flag. The Argonauts follow the trend as well, and it would only be broken by the Toronto FC, the city’s soccer team.
In a normal April and May, when all three teams are (hopefully) in action, Toronto would own blue and white, and those colours in themselves would show support. The sea of blue and white that would be seen throughout the streets would be a defining aspect of Toronto and provide unity across the teams of the city. No city really has its own set of colours, but this uniformity would give Toronto yet another unique point of identity. Even the Toronto flag follows the scheme!
Even the Huskies name and mascot lends itself much better to the “We The North” mantra. In the initial “We The North” hype video, Canada’s winter identity is played up, with snow covered courts and icy waters featured.
At no point is a dinosaur ever featured. Instead, a lone husky roams a basketball court in the video, and if that visual does not nail everything that video is trying to accomplish, I do not know what does.
Apparently, the main sticking point on the Huskies name was the existence of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Evidently, it was felt as if Minnesota had cornered the market on the canis genus-themed mascots. Precedent across professional sports suggests that this is not a problem. The NFL fields multiple bird and big cat teams. Hell, the MLB trots out two teams with “Sox” as their mascots, just in different colours.
Admittedly, with the Raptors recent success, I’m quite certain that this is not a popular take, particularly post-championship. It is, however, as good a time as any to air this take out, considering the circumstances.
In recent years especially, the name change has been reserved for downtrodden franchises needing some sort of shot in the arm. For instance, the New Orleans Hornets became the Pelicans, and the Charlotte Bobcats became the Hornets once again in a confusing bout of bad-team name-switcharoos. The Raptors do not fall into that category.
The Raptors name now comes with clout and the perception of the jerseys ranges from begrudging acceptance to full-blown love. Most would say that there is no need to try and change the juju of a team that has nothing but good vibes going. Count me amongst the few on this one, but I am a willing conductor of the Huskies train.
With those simple, beautiful blue and white jerseys, Toronto basketball could have a great aesthetic of their own, one that need not transform year-to-year.