Tim Harris, the Lakers’ chief operating officer, laughed as soon as he picked up the phone.
He knew exactly why I was calling.
“So you want to talk about the uniform thing, huh?” he said.
The “uniform thing” has been a point of contention for Lakers fans since the NBA and Nike did away with traditional “home” and “away” uniforms prior to the start of the 2017-18 season. That means the Lakers often wear purple at home and gold on the road, irritating traditionalists and confusing fans.
Last week, the Lakers wore purple at home against the Golden State Warriors, who were wearing gold and looking like the home team at first glance for many watching on television.
“The gold is overwhelming the favorite color of Lakers fans,” Harris said. “It’s not close, but more and more teams want to wear their dark uniforms at home. We like wearing gold at home, but other teams like wearing dark uniforms at home so we wear gold more on the road, but we didn’t want to marginalize purple by always wearing gold at home because we know we’re going to wear it a lot on the road now too.”
Home teams pick which uniform they will wear at home and then the visiting team will choose a contrasting uniform. The teams choose from four core uniforms classified as “editions.” The Lakers have gold (“Icon Edition”), white (“Association Edition”), purple (“Statement Edition”) and “City Edition,” which the team will unveil next week.
Prior to the season, home teams are given a window of time to go on a portal called “LockerVision”and select which uniforms they will wear at home. After every home team makes its choices, the NBA opens the portal again for the road team to pick.
The only requirement is that teams wear their Icon and Association Edition uniforms 10 times each, their Statement Edition uniforms six times and their City or Classic Edition uniforms three times. Outside of those requirements they can do whatever they want. So the Lakers could choose to wear only gold or white for every home game if they wanted to.
“They are allowed to do that,” an NBA official said. “They just have to meet those requirements.”
Teams and the league would like to see all four uniforms get exposure so fans will go out and purchase them. The Lakers will wear all four of their uniforms at least 17 times.
“This is only the [third] year of doing this, but I suspect if we chose to only wear gold and white at home and did as much purple as we could on the road, I think the league would say you’re putting purple too much in a corner,” Harris said. “I think that would be an issue.”
The Lakers, who introduced the tradition of wearing white at home on Sundays and holidays 17 years ago, have tried to incorporate some routine with the new uniform flexibility.
“We also wanted to try our best to have a story attached to the uniform rather than us just throwing darts at the board,” Harris said. “It’s an imperfect science because we can’t always control what uniform we can wear on the road.
“The Association Edition or white uniforms, we try to wear those on Sundays and holidays and we’re going to wear those uniforms 21 times. The Statement Edition or purple uniforms, we try to wear those on Wednesdays and we’ll wear those 17 times. The City Edition, which are coming out next week, will be worn at home only 18 times because it’s endemic to our city and we’ll wear those on Fridays. And the most popular uniform is the Icon Edition or gold uniforms, and we’ll wear those every other time and we’ll wear those 26 times.”
If the Lakers make the playoffs, they are expected to go back to a more traditional model of gold at home, white if the game falls on a Sunday or holiday, and purple on the road — with the understanding that if their opponent chooses to wear a dark uniform at home, they would wear gold.
Lakers fans will have to watch their team wear purple at home only three more times this season and won’t be subjected to it if the Lakers return to the postseason for the first time in seven years.
The bigger question is, will the Lakers go back to wearing only gold and white at home after this season?
“If we asked Lakers fans if they just want us to wear gold and white at home, what would people say?” Harris asked me.
“I guarantee you most Lakers fans would want to see that,” I said.
“I think so too,” he said. “We’ll look at that.”