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Utah Jazz PR

'We do listen': Why and how the Jazz brought back their classic mountain jerseys

By Ryan Miller, | Posted - Sep. 6, 2019 at 1:45 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — On Aug. 28, Bart Sharp woke up feeling calm.

Well, maybe not exactly calm, but not nervous either. That was a foreign feeling for an unveiling day.

For two years now, Sharp has been the Utah Jazz senior vice president of marketing. He’s supervised the rollouts of the Nike line of jerseys, and with each new uniform comes some nerves. There’s always a little uncertainty about how the fans will respond.

The gold Statement jerseys? The leaks made it seem fans weren’t too enthused.

The green Earned jerseys? Those, too.

The ever-popular City Jerseys? Sharp already knew what everyone else soon would: You have to see the whole thing — the players, the jerseys, the court — together to fully appreciate it.

But last Wednesday, when the Jazz announced they were bringing back the classic purple mountain jersey, he already knew what the response would be.

“With this release, I did not have any of that fear,” Sharp said. “With other releases? Yes. I think with just about everything else there's an element of the design being polarizing ... In this though, we knew there was enough of a demand out there that the overwhelming sentiment was going to be, ‘This is awesome.’”

That about sums up the fans’ reaction to the announcement.

It led to the biggest sales day in Jazz Store history — ever. And that was without physical merchandise to sell.

The animated highlight mashup featuring Karl Malone, John Stockton, Jeff Hornacek, Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert wearing the jersey was the team’s highest engaging social media post by “leaps and bounds,” according to Sharp.

After an offseason that already created so much excitement, the mountain jerseys were like the cherry on top for a fan base.

Bringing them back

The Jazz want to make it clear: They listen to the fan base.

“As an organization, we recognize that we're fortunate enough to have a very passionate and a very supportive fan base,” Sharp said. “And so, in fact, we do listen to them. We pay attention to what people want.”

What they heard — and have heard for some time — is how much fans wanted to see the mountain jerseys back. Yes, the Jazz have seen the fan-made jersey mockups featuring the mountains and the online polls with the late '90s era jersey coming out on top. So the thought was if the fans want it, might as well bring it back.

“This is basketball, this is the NBA, it's fun,” Sharp said. “There's not too many things you can do that go out and say, ‘Hey, we're out here to have fun and create excitement and energy and let people be a part of that as well.’”

With all the alternate jerseys flying around, it may seem that Nike is treating the NBA like it does the University of Oregon and allow an unlimited supply of uniforms. But that’s not necessarily the case. While there is more freedom, there are still parameters for each set.

The front of the Utah Jazz Classic jersey that will be worn this upcoming season. (Utah Jazz)

Each team can have a Classic, a City, and Statement jersey to go along with the regular home and away sets — but there are rules and timelines for how often those can be changed. For example, the additional Earned jerseys that playoff teams were able to wear last season will not be returning as actual uniforms this year (Sharp didn’t elaborate on what exactly they would be).

So with the Jazz wearing the 40th anniversary jerseys last year, this upcoming season was the first time since Nike took over that the mountain jerseys could come back — and not have it feel rushed.

Designing the jerseys (the new uniforms are a slightly different shade of purple than the 90s versions) and the throwback court, along with planning the reveal, was a process that took months — and in some cases years. The Jazz wanted to get everything right.

“One of the key things on this is, we recognize we have a rich history,” Sharp said. “And we're really proud of our history. And this is to celebrate that successful period of time. But we also have an unbelievable brand of basketball on the court right now that represents the Utah Jazz that we want to continue to focus on.”

It might be a coincidence (the jerseys were coming back this season whether the Jazz hit it big in the offseason or not), but it seems appropriate the uniform Malone and Stockton wore to the NBA Finals is coming back for the year that many believe the Jazz have a shot of returning to that stage.

Rolling it out

It took about four seconds for Sharp to realize that the Jazz had struck gold.

That’s about how long the preview edit was for what would eventually become the unveiling animation. After watching those short frames, he had one thought: “This is going to be dynamite.”

The Jazz had thrown around a lot of ideas on how to best announce the jerseys. The marketing team wanted to honor the players who had worn the uniforms before, but bringing the likes of Malone and Stockton into Salt Lake just for a video shoot didn’t seem logical. So the team came up with the idea to put together the two eras with animation.

“Our video team goes in, and they create the video using all of the footage — historical and then from this past season with the players in there,” Sharp said. “And they create that with the audio and with the music and everything. And then Walker TKL goes in and animates it.”

Walker TKL is a graphic designer based in Chicago that the Jazz have worked with in the past. He has done several animations including ones of LeBron James, James Harden and, of course, plenty of his hometown Bulls.

He’s done some impressive work. On Twitter, he called the throwback announcement video the best animation he’s ever done.

Most would agree.

“You can see that enthusiasm and excitement that's there,” Sharp said. “That's what’s been great about it, is seeing the responses from fans old and from fans new.”

The reaction has been positive up and down the board, with ESPN even saying that the uniform reveal was "on another level," but social media engagement wasn’t the only thing the Jazz were hoping to accomplish by animating the past and the present together.

They wanted it to help bridge the two eras together and connect two generations of fans — just like they’re hoping the uniforms themselves will do.

“I think if you're asking someone like me,” Sharp said, "it's a little bit more nostalgic. But when I sit down and I share the video with my 12-year-old son, and I get the opportunity to reintroduce him to Karl Malone and John Stockton and then him see Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley in the jersey, he sees that as ‘This is just cool. This is retro.’”

Ryan Miller

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