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NBA loosens color restrictions on sneakers

ESPN.com | Updated: 2018-08-29 10:00:14

For the first time in league history, the NBA will allow players to wear sneakers of any color at any point during the upcoming season, league sources confirmed.

The rule change is part of the NBA's ongoing effort to allow its players to be expressive on the court.

Last season -- Nike's first year of manufacturing uniforms for all 30 teams -- saw the addition of several alternate jersey designs and the removal of traditional white-based jerseys worn only for home games. Teams were at their own discretion to designate their home and road jersey colors; the Chicago Bulls opted to wear red for all home games, for example.

As part of the Swoosh's eight-year, $1 billion deal to outfit the NBA, Nike has been aggressive in amplifying the look of teams and players across the league. Nearly 67 percent of players wore footwear of Nike or its subsidiary Jordan Brand last season.

For much of the NBA's 72-year history, footwear worn by all of its players has gone through a series of varying restrictions. Historically, all sneakers on a team were restricted to being either 51 percent white or black, plus a minimal team color accent, depending on which team was hosting or visiting.

During the 1984-85 season, Michael Jordan famously received a warning letter effectively banning his black-and-red Air Jordan 1 sneakers. Nike turned the ordeal into a marketing campaign for his debut signature shoe and never looked back. The Jordan Brand now reaches $3 billion annually in revenue.

By the late 2000s, shoes in full team colors were soon allowed leaguewide, meaning Bulls players could wear all red shoes or the Boston Celtics could wear all green, in addition to white or black.

In 2012, the league added "theme nights" to its schedule, working in tandem with a variety of sneaker companies to create storytelling shoes for holidays and other moments such as Christmas, Veterans Day and Black History Month. During the NBA Finals and on a team's championship ring night to start the season, gold accented sneakers also were allowed. In all, 10 sneaker theme nights throughout the year were slated for recent regular-season schedules.

As players have continued to ramp up their penchant for wearing flashy sneakers all season, the league is looking to offer up some additional freedom. Last season, LeBron James wore 51 different versions of his Nike LeBron 15 model.

The only ongoing restrictions will regard third-party logos, which still will have to be preapproved by the league office before making their way to the court. Custom hand-painted sneakers, often made just days before being worn, surged in popularity last season. The league will continue to look closely at any third-party logos, as last season saw everything from nonapproved movie cover artwork to podcast logos to charity organization icons sneak onto the hardwood.

And there still are restrictions against any "sharp protruding objects or reflective elements," such gleaming chrome.

Shoes for the first half of the season are typically viewed and approved by late August. The league would prefer to confirm pairs for the latter half of the year by early December.

Of course, a team still can have its own color policy beyond the league's loosened guidelines. During the early 2010s, Pat Riley famously relayed to Nike reps that "all my soldiers wear the same color boots," as the brand was looking for James to lace up more vibrant red- or yellow-based sneakers.

For the 2018-19 campaign, expect a flood of color to be making its way to the feet of NBA players across the league, all season long.

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