I lied. Sorta.
Maybe you will know some of the facts you’re about to read. Or maybe you’re like me — older than every Toronto Raptor player and growing quite forgetful. Regardless, you clicked and now I’ve got your attention!
It’s Sports Jersey Week here at SB Nation. What better way to celebrate the occasion than by looking back on 25 seasons of Toronto Raptors jerseys. There have been odd colour combinations, homages to the past, and all kinds of special edition jerseys to roll through Scotiabank Arena. With 25 seasons in the book, it only felt right to re-visit some interesting facts about the one-time Barney uniforms!
An Origin Story
1. The inaugural Raptors jersey was to be the “Happy Meal box of jerseys.”
When John Bitove sat down with NBA Creative Director, Tom O’Grady, to create the inaugural logo and jersey, he wanted the design to appeal to women, kids, and new Canadians. Toronto was very much a hockey town, so Bitove wanted to go in a different direction with the Raptors, “Let the old white guys follow hockey, but we’re going to get the next generation.” He wanted O’Grady to create something that elicited the same feelings children associated to Disney World (Mickey Mouse) and McDonald’s (Happy Meal).
2. O’Grady drew inspiration from the Charlotte Hornets logo
He appealed to the cartoon look of the Hornet and especially liked the use of teal. That was a big reason why the original sketches included some vibrant, rarely utilized colours.
3. Dye sublimation played a huge role in the jersey’s design
The Raptors joined the league during the rise of dye sublimation — printing images directly onto the jersey, instead of stitching. This allowed O’Grady more creative space to make Bitove’s wishes a reality.
4. Original logo had a lime green Raptor
The logo that was eventually chosen had two differences from the initial sketch. While Bitove loved the original logo that had a lime green Raptor, he was pressured to add some Canadian flair. The Raptor was changed to “Canadian Red” and the Toronto Raptors lettering was changed from bronze to “Naismith Silver” (named after basketball inventor and Canadian, James Naismith)
5. Inaugural designs were not meant to last this long
Bitove’s insistence with O’Grady to come up with unusual designs was another way of distancing the franchise from the Leafs blue & white. Hindsight is 20/20, but Bitove ironically stated, “We can cycle out of this. We don’t have to have this uniform in 25 years.”
6. When choosing the team name, “Raptors” wasn’t even a finalist
When Toronto won their bid for a basketball franchise, the organization launched a contest allowing fans to suggest a team name. Hundreds of submissions came in and fan voting whittled the list down to 10 finalists. Hold on a moment. According to Bitove, in an interview with Global News, there were actually nine finalists — Beavers, Bobcats, Dragons, Grizzlies, Hogs, Scorpions, T-Rex, Tarantulas, and Terriers.
Bitove liked T-Rex the best, but his son Brett, who was eight years old at the time, had another idea. “He said to me, ‘Dad, why don’t you like raptors?” He added “Raptors” to the list of finalists.
Specialty Jerseys + Jersey Sales
7. Raptors make NBA jersey history
You’ve seen sports versions of camouflage uniforms in the MLB, NCAA (football and basketball), and even the NHL. The Raptors became the first team in NBA history to don the camo look. On March 21, 2017, Canadian Forces Night showed support to the Canadian military... and inadvertently set an NBA first!
8. Raptors DON’T make NBA jersey history
Considering America’s love for their troops, it was surprising to learn that Toronto was the first to use a camouflage jersey. Equally surprising, the Raptors were not the first team to rock Chinese New Year jerseys! Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and Washington Wizards all joined the Raptors in commemorating the lunar new year.
9. Huskies throwback doesn’t capture all of the mid-40’s
Toronto did a great job of recapturing their basketball roots with the Huskies jersey. Unfortunately, they couldn’t also include other promotional activities from the 1946-47 season, like $2.50 courtside seats or free admission for anyone taller than the Huskies’ tallest player, George Nostrand (6’8”)!
10. In the 2006-07 season, Andrea Bargnani’s jersey ranked 8th among NBA jersey sales in Europe
Sales in Europe obviously skew towards European players, but it’s still quite surprising to Bargnani’s above names like Carmelo Anthony and Tracy McGrady.
11. The Raptors jersey with the longest tenure are the Red away jerseys
These debuted in 2004 and were used as alternates until 2006, where they officially became the team’s away jersey until 2015.
12. Champions on the court. Not quite champions off the court.
After claiming the franchise’s first championship, jersey sales unsurprisingly rose for the Raptors. Unfortunately, their franchise-record ranking of fourth still lags behind the Lakers, Celtics, and Sixers.
13. But actually also champions off the court!
The NBA Store reported record-breaking sales numbers after the Raptors won the championship. Sales for championship gear was double(!) what Golden State fans amassed the previous season. Sure, Warriors fans had a dynasty worth of championship gear already, but the Raptors’ numbers get better. The Raptors set a championship day record for sales in the NBA Store, thrashing the previous record (2016 Warriors) by 80 percent!
Fun With Numbers
14. The most used jersey number is #1 with 14 players.
# 1 - Tracy McGrady, Chris Childs, Chris Jefferies, Rod Strickland, Omar Cook, P.J. Tucker, Primoz Brezec, Roko Ukic, Jarrett Jack, Justin Dentmon, Dominic McGuire, Jason Thompson, Patrick McCaw, Paul Watson
15. Actually, jersey #3 also had 14 players.
Sorry, I had to fact-check that LaMark Baker was a real name of a real Toronto Raptor.
# 3 - Zan Tabak, Chauncey Billups, LaMark Baker, Haywood Workman, Tracy Murray, Loren Woods, Juan Dixon, Marcus Banks, Hassan Adams, Gary Forbes, Kyle Lowry, Nando De Colo, James Johnson, OG Anunoby
16. What do Charles Oakley and Hakeem Olajuwon have in common?
They both wore #34. A jersey number that’s currently not in use, Mr Antetokounmpo.
17. Matt Thomas should probably change his jersey number
Only 3 players have worn #16 — Matt Bonner, Peja Stojakovic, and Steve Novak. It only makes sense that Thomas joins the list of Raptors sharpshooters to don the number.
18. The number nine was not so fine before Serge Ibaka came to shine
There were nine players to wear #9 before Ibaka. It’s an unsightly bunch of failed forwards including Sharone Wright, Tony Massenburg, Roy Rogers, Kornel David, Pape Sow, Maceo Baston, Joey Dorsey, and Rasual Butler (RIP).
19. At least 13 different players have worn multiple Raptors jersey numbers
There may be more (there I go, lying again), so feel free to comment below with anyone I missed. Players with multiple jersey numbers as Raptors: Rafer Alston (11, 12), Maceo Baston (9, 14), Mengke Bateer (14, 42), Martin Lewis (32, 44), Kyle Lowry (3, 7), Oliver Miller (2, 30), Tracy Murray (3, 35), Carlos Rogers (33, 34), Reggie Slater (24, 35), PJ Tucker (1, 2), Alvin Williams (20, 22), and Sharone Wright (4, 9). If you were keeping track, you’d have noticed only 12 names were listed.
20. James Johnson is the only Raptors player to wear three different jersey numbers
In 2011, he debuted as a Raptor wearing # 0. In 2012, he switched to #2. After brief stints in Sacramento and Memphis, he returned to Toronto sporting the number 3 jersey.
21. The most common name on the back of Raptors’ jerseys was....
Williams. Eight to be exact. Aaron, Alvin, Eric, Herb, Jerome, Lou, Michael, and Walt make up the largest contingency of a specific last name to don a Raptors jersey. The next closest was Johnson (Amir, James, Linton, Stanley, and Trey).
22. The arrival of a saviour
When the Raptors acquired The Klaw, he was the first Leonard (Kawhi) to don a Raptors jersey. The only other Lenard (Voshon) also wore #2.
23. Maybe nicknames on the back of jerseys isn’t a bad idea after all
The longest name printed on the back of a Raptors jersey in franchise history is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The 15 letters on his jersey back easily outnumber the 11 in Jonas Valanciunas’ jersey. RHJ likely won’t be on the team for the 2021-22 season when the Raptors had the 13 letters of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Obligatory Drake Section
24. Drake had someone drive from New York to deliver the infamous Dell Curry Toronto Raptors jersey.
A Dell Curry Toronto Raptors jersey is not the type of apparel Mitchell & Ness has lying around. When the Raptors booked their date with Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, Drake started the search for Dell’s jersey. A pair of jersey aficionados (Al Martinello and Evan Flores) in New York were able to find him the jersey (signed too). The owner of the jersey (Benjamin Weil) didn’t want to part with it, so Drake had to pay handsomely. With such a short turnaround — and not trusting priority shipping — Martinello and Flores drove 10 hours to Toronto, ensuring Drake would be able to troll the Curry’s in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
25. We talking ‘bout practice???
The Raptors and OVO collaborated to sell practice gear, including jerseys, pants, and hoodies. According to Forbes, it’s the NBA’s first practice jersey sponsorship. It probably won’t be the last because when the practice gear was released on November 20, 2019, the entire collection sold out in 10 minutes! The wait list exceeded 7,000 people. You could probably get Leafs season tickets first.. or probably not.
There you have it! The evolution of the Toronto Raptors jersey is filled with quirky anecdotes and the occasional odd design choices. The journey that started with a lime green dinosaur and Barney jokes, continues today with record-breaking sales and a gold patch on the back.