Fly Away On My Zephyr
February 3, 2008 | Kevin Zdancewicz

 Zephyrs Throwbacks

We’ve talked about NBA throwbacks before (look for the baseball edition of the “Kicking It Old School” series sometime this semester) and I mentioned that going retro works really well on the hardwood since basketball uniforms are so simple. We talked about the Washington Wizards’ unique gold and black alternates last year. Well, today’s featured jersey brings those two topics together, as Washington has worn alternate throwbacks for a few games this season.


I know what you’re thinking: “When were the Wizards ever called the Washington Zephyrs? I know they were the Bullets, but I’ve never heard of the Zephyrs!” Ok, first of all, calm down. The answer to your question is…never. Technically that was never the team’s name. These throwback jerseys are in tribute to the Chicago Zephyrs – one of the many monikers that the current Washington franchise has had in its history. The original team name was the Chicago Packers (which is ironic because Chicagoans hate the Packers now) and was changed to the Zephyrs after a season. A year later, the team moved to Baltimore and adopted the nickname Bullets after the former ABL/BAA/NBA franchise (who originally adopted the name after a nearby ammunition factory). The team was known as the Baltimore Bullets (for ten years), the Capitol Bullets (for a season), and the more familiar Washington Bullets (for 23 years) before the name was changed to the Washington Wizards in 1997 (According to the team's web site, the name Wizards "depicts energy and an omnipresent power, and brings to light what is hoped to be the wise and magical nature of the team." Not sure what’s so magical about a 10-38 record, but that’s neither here nor there).


This genealogical study begs the question of whether a team should wear throwbacks to forbearers of a current franchise that played in a different city. While the Chicago Zephyrs and Washington Wizards are essentially different names for the same team, a throwback is not only supposed to hearken back to an earlier time in a franchise’s history, but should also be a celebration of the hometown (Please forgive me for ignoring the ten ton merchandising elephant in the room). When teams like the Blackhawks and Red Wings wear retro jerseys, it’s a big deal because of each team’s history and connection to its home city. While teams like the Tampa Bay Rays (est. 1998) don’t have much to “throw back” to, at least they pay tribute to the area with St. Petersburg Pelicans jerseys (love that chest insignia). A monkey wrench in this debate is the fact that the early history of professional basketball is rife with teams springing up, moving and folding – how attached to the team could Chicago really be after two seasons, in an era where it seemed like a team leaving or disbanding was a matter of when not if.


Casting the throwback legitimacy issue aside, these are some solid throwback jerseys. The uniforms are based on these (here’s a partially obstructed close-up view). Sure, they’re simple – whereas many NBA throwbacks go for the jugular in terms of ostentatiousness – but the cleaner look from a past era is a nice contrast to some of the team’s current looks, plus the black and gold does go along with the team’s current color scheme. I especially love the way the “Z” in Zephyrs extends underneath the first half of the word. Such an effortless touch: unique enough to be noteworthy, but still something that fits in amongst current NBA jerseys. Another nice aspect of the throwbacks is the shorts waistband which is styled to create the look of a mock belt – a great example of attention to detail in rendering a retro tribute.


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