An announcement made by the NBA toward the end of the 2014 Summer League most likely means that the New York Knicks will go into Wednesday night’s 2014-15 regular season opener against the Chicago Bulls having already lost at least six regular season games. That announcement, reported by ESPN NY’s Ian Begley, stated that the Knicks “will wear their orange alternate jerseys again…” this season. The announcement was made by Christopher Arena, the NBA Vice President of Identity, Outfitting and Equipment.
These are the same orange jerseys that the Knicks wore to an underwhelming 0-6 record last season. Including last Christmas’ orange uniform, the Knicks were 0-7 when dressed not as Dr. Julius but as Orange Julius. The alternate orange jerseys were thought to be “cursed” by many who watched the Knicks’ failed attempts to win at least one game decked out in orange.
Why am I writing something like this so early in the season, particularly at a time when fans look forward to a new system under a new head coach and a new President? Because I’m hoping to keep the damage limited to 0-6. According to an article written by Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale last season, alternate uniforms can be worn no less than six times and no more than eighteen times. And according to a Tweet from Ian in answer to my question the other day, the NBA hasn’t announced how many times the Knicks will wear the alternate uniforms. By writing about the possible 0-6 hole that orange uni losses could put the Knicks into, I’m trying to prevent up to an additional 0-12 from being “added” to their record.
According to an article by Ben Golliver in Sports Illustrated, the Knicks’ announcement of Phil Jackson’s hiring, the first year President is “in charge of all basketball decisions.” But as you’ll see below, the alternate orange uniforms impact the ability of the team to play the game. So, in this case, the decision to wear the alternate orange uniforms is a basketball decision, albeit one made by the league and not by Jackson. In a season where, despite installing a Triangle offense that’s known to be difficult to learn, the expectation is to make the NBA Playoffs, knowing you could lose six games because of your wardrobe could be unsettling. Knowing you could lose eighteen games because of your wardrobe could make the playoffs seem like an unattainable goal.
If this orange uniform rant seems familiar to you, it’s because I’ve written about the topic before. Those times, however, it was because of the Knicks Marketing department’s attempts at an “Orange Out” by giving orange t-shirts to fans at home playoff games, a decision that, if successful, could have significantly harmed the Knicks’ shooting percentages. Not only does Jackson need to get the league to agree to keep the number of times the alternate jerseys are worn at the minimum six, he also has to get his own Marketing department to stop with the orange giveaways.
There are two main reasons that the alternate orange jerseys should never have been reauthorized for this season: they interfere with players during the game and many people think they’re cursed. Here’s why those reasons are so important:
Orange uniforms interfere with execution. Uniform color can have a detrimental effect on a player’s ability to play the game. For example, there are studies which show that in some sports, referees call more fouls against teams wearing black uniforms than they do against teams wearing other colors. Not the case here but something that the Brooklyn Nets should have considered before going with an all-black road uniform.
The reason that an “Orange Out”, where fans wear orange t-shirts given to them by the team at the game, is bad is that Knicks’ orange is very close to the color of the rim. Accurately determining the distance to the basket is vital to the shooter making his shot. If he either has trouble determining distance because the rim blends into the orange t-shirt background or the extra time it takes to determine the distance messes up his timing, it will result in a miss. An orange rim in front of orange t-shirts is not a smart thing for a team to do to itself.
As far as the impact of an orange uniform on the Knicks’ floor performance, remember too that the ball is an orange-ish brown and the lanes at Madison Square Garden are dark orange, too. Just a momentary delay in determining distance or speed because the ball is blending in with the lane or the other players is enough to cause a turnover on offense or a momentary lapse on defense.
Other examples of colors impacting performance can be found in professional tennis and Major League Baseball. For decades, pro tennis players were only allowed to wear all white clothing and they played with a white tennis ball. Imagine how difficult it could be to pick up a 100 mph serve of a white tennis ball when it blends into the server’s all-white tennis outfit. Pro tennis went to the fluorescent green ball decades ago so that players could more readily see the ball and determine its speed and distance.
As far as MLB is concerned, when Red Sox right fielder Tony Conigliaro made a miraculous comeback after being hit in the face by a fastball during the 1967 season (the injury that prompted MLB to add ear flaps to the batting helmet), he found that he couldn’t pick up the ball when it was in front of a group of center field bleacher seats. To fix the problem so Conigliaro could hit better, the Red Sox blocked off the seats and covered them with a black tarp to make the ball stand out more. They called this blocked off section “Conig’s Corner”.
People think these particular uniforms are cursed. Are they? Who knows? But if the players believe the uniforms are cursed, they might as well be cursed. Because wearing the uniforms will be a distraction and negatively impact their performance. I previously wrote about some negative “team beliefs” from when I worked with Allan Houston during the 1999-00 season and how changing those negative beliefs to positive beliefs improved his performance.
In addition, the Knicks have hired a mindfulness trainer. Mindfulness will help them focus and stay in the present moment when they could be easily distracted. I was recently interviewed for an article about the benefits of the Knicks taking the training and my opinion is that it will be beneficial to the Knicks. But mindfulness is somewhat wasted if the distractions that you’re tuning out are distractions that you’re consciously inflicting on yourself. It’s like putting on gloves so you don’t hurt your knuckles when you hit yourself in the head over and over. The better thing to do is to stop hitting yourself. Or, in this case, never wear these particular orange uniforms again. Because even those players who don’t believe that the orange uniforms are cursed will end up thinking about it when the reporters ask them if they’re thinking about the curse when they wear those oh-fer alternates.
While it seems inevitable that the Knicks will be stuck in the orange alternate uniforms for at least six games this season, they should never have had to wear them again after last year’s horrible results. That was a poor decision by the NBA. But if the Knicks are supposed to wear these orange monstrosities more than six times, Phil Jackson needs to flex his muscles and get the extra games changed back to their regular uniforms. If he wants to do something esthetically pleasing, he get convince Knicks Marketing to focus on the “blue” portion of the orange and blue team colors and let the Rangers wear the orange. When the orange-colored unis cover well-padded hockey-playing Rangers, they can face off against the Killer Tomatoes and probably pick up Minute Maid as a sponsor. The Knicks, on the other hand, will be able to concentrate of learning their new system and making the playoffs again, something best accomplished by limiting self-inflicted wounds.
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