Before I even get started here, let me say that I haven't even convinced myself there's going to actually be a throwback jersey resurgence. But I'm pretty sure. After all, everything goes in cycles (as Q-Tip once told his Pops), and jerseys seem to be one of the most obvious push backs to the normcore, selvedge, button-up wave, and the perfect companion piece to the ever-ongoing sneaker boom. As for throwbacks, well, as '90s basketball sneaker retros continue to be produced, why not a pairing? Works for wine.
In the late 1990s, Allen Iverson helped kick off what would become the first throwback jersey era by wearing a 1966-67 Mitchell & Ness version of his own No. 3 jersey on the cover of SLAM magazine. Now, Iverson's own jersey is a throwback. And it's not only him. Mitchell & Ness may have started out with serious nostalgia—stitch-for-stitch woolen replica baseball jerseys of long-retired Hall of Famers—but the cycle has gotten shorter. Right now it's possible to purchase Mitchell & Ness jerseys of active players from their current teams, in the case of Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant, thanks to long careers and constantly changing jersey styles. The past is barely even the past anymore. Maybe it's the Internet and the short attention spans it encourages, but, nowadays, something barely ends before there's already nostalgia for it.
This second throwback jersey boom, if there indeed is one, will be quite different from the one that came before, which is too bad, really, because all of those jerseys purchased the last time around didn't just go away. There must be closets across the country full of the ones that guys like Fabolous made popular in sizes that Fab would have worn: size 56 or 60 or 64 Alex English Nuggets rainbows or Jerry West All-Star jerseys (the ones that said WEST on both the front and back) or orange Spirits of St. Louis Moses Malone and Marvin Barnes, or oddities like the Joe Namath Rams jersey that a high schooler named LeBron James wore to ABCD Camp one summer. Not much to do with those except turn them into dresses or quilts, or let Dr. Romanelli Frankenstein flip them into something else entirely. Maybe he could use all the leftover size 8 pinwheel fitteds, too, assuming the stickers haven't fused with the brims by now.
A Hall of Famer's jersey in a reasonable size is no less a piece of traditional Americana than a chambray shirt or selvage denim and should be treated as such—more so the jerseys of failures and washouts, if we're being honest.
This modern throwback era—again, if there evern is one—will feature slimmer jerseys to go with the much slimmer (skinnier?) jeans and players who are more familiar. Michael Jordan has finally granted permission to replicate his jerseys, so plenty of his classics will return (some have already). But there will also be Iverson and Shaq, Mutombo and McGrady. Outside of basketball, there will be Favre and Deion, Eric Lindros and Jaromir Jagr, Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez. (Take a second to look these guys up if you need to, it's cool.) Actually, it'll be like those first Mitchell & Ness customers, buying exact replicas of the jerseys of their childhood heroes, except instead of hanging them on their office wall, they'll be wearing them. And the exact replicas will be supplemented by more plentiful take-down versions, vintage originals and even game-worn ones, scoured from basements or secondhand stores or eBay.
There will, of course, be oddities, sometimes cherished more than the absolute classics just for their esoteric nature alone. Rasheed Wallace played one game with the Atlanta Hawks. Michael Jordan wore a No. 12 Bulls jersey with no name on it one night when his game jersey was stolen. Brett Favre was a Jet. All of these jerseys will eventually be worn by someone who is basically just trolling in real life. All of the steroid era boogeymen—Canseco and Bonds and McGwire, oh my—will likely enjoy a resurgence as well, one simultaneously ironic and wistful. Ditto NBA washouts like Darius Miles and Stromile Swift, buoyed along by residual hype and SportsCenter-fueled memories. Feel free to wear them backwards.
And, yeah, sure, maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part. After all, all of the Mitchell & Ness I bought in the early '00s—save for the XXXL snap front Astros bullpen sweater—still fits. I've held onto the Dominique Wilkins Hawks, the Clyde Drexler Blazers (which I inexplicably wore,with jorts no less, as media to a Lakers/Nets NBA Finals game), the George Gervin Spurs that he signed for me, and even an Earl Monroe Bullets with his less commonly seen 33. And while all the accompanying detritus—the aforementioned giant pinwheel fitteds and such—are hopelessly out of style, jerseys never really have been. A Hall of Famer's jersey in a reasonable size is no less a piece of traditional Americana than a chambray shirt or selvage denim and should be treated as such—more so the jerseys of failures and washouts, if we're being honest.
So don't be ashamed to cop that jersey, or rock the ones you already own. Don't wait for some kind of official comeback either: a Kanye co-sign or a Dipset led revolution (especially since Killa Cam is apparently wearing suits now). The revolution starts with the people, and it's only a click away. Long live the throwback.
Russ Bengtson is a Senior Staff Writer at Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.