Among the more visible elements of the City’s basketball tradition is our uniform. I grew up with the block letters, moved through the Converse red wave, and am enjoying the chaos of the modern Pitino era. It is surprising, then, that the history of the display of our name on the front has gone so long without an historical account.
In an era of "Combat-this" and "Shoe Label Commemorative-that" we often forget that our uniform is a representative not of a brand, but of us--our teams, our university, our student-athletes, and--in a very unique way--our City. In recent years, our men’s basketball teams—perhaps driven by Adidas’ marketing wiles or Rick Pitino’s allowance for the outlandish (see those ‘Cat Scratch’ and ‘Denim’ UK uniforms)—have taken to the NCAA Final Four floor in infrareds and Zubaz. And, to the unending anger of uniform aesthetes, we’ve seen such success in both that we’ve embraced their absurdity and made it our own. But hey, Louisville is weird, the Kentucky Derby is decadent and depraved, and we're keeping both that way.
The 2012 Infrared. It's not Syracuse. Try not to adjust your screen. It glows naturally. (via uniformcritics.com)
Why? Ahem. National Championship. (via uniformcritics.com)
Over the coming weeks (and months), I will start piecing together, as best I can, a uniform history of the Louisville Cardinals. It will be incomplete. It will be rough and poorly written. Yet, I think it's time we started recording the history of the Bird-on-the-Shorts (which hasn't always been there) and the City Across the Front (which has, right?). If it’s successful, we’ll move on to other uniforms. My inspiration for this is the community over at Paul Lukas’ ever-awesome UniWatch Blog, which I’ve read daily for quite some time.
My hope is that some of you share this obsession with our sports aesthetics--I know how often we all rec the Dunkin' Cardinal--and will join in the conversation as we go along.
We’ll begin with 1948.
We often hear from those up the road of their eight NCAA men’s basketball titles. Those are quaint. But, what often is not discussed is that a number of those early titles came at a time when the championship in college basketball wasn’t as clearly defined as it is today.
In 1937, James Naismith—the inventor of it all—formed the National Association Intercollegiate Basketball Championship to crown a national champion for colleges and universities. Eleven years later, in 1948, the NAIB became the first major national basketball tournament to integrate.
The University of Louisville is the only university to have won men’s basketball championships in both the NCAA and NAIB (read NAIA).
Oh, right, and we won the NAIB--the first of our titles--in 1948.
Peck Hickman, a hipster who obviously invented the Coach Moorer look via upload.wikimedia.org
The 1947-1948 Louisville squad, then part of the Ohio Valley Conference, was coached by Peck Hickman (above, 443-183 overall at Louisville, .708 winning percentage, 23 years as head coach) and posted a 29-6 record. One of those six losses was to Kentucky--and it was a bad one: 57-91.
Jack Coleman (right), the original dunkster standing next to a gifster? via digital.library.louisville.edu
Image: Two Basketball Players with Suitcases being Interviewed, 1950. ULUA.2008.123.0421. University of Louisville Images. University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.http://digital.library.louisville.edu/cdm/ref/collection/uofl/id/790
The team was lead by Jack Coleman (right), who played from 1946-49 and later had his jersey retired. Coleman led the 1948 team while averaging 12.1 ppg, followed by Compton (10.5 ppg), Reeves (9.5 ppg), G. Combs (8.0 ppg), and Knopf (6.7 ppg). (First initials and names are hard to come by for that team. The roster card I found had last names only.)
Visual evidence of this 1948 team is sparse. The uniforms and warmups worn by that 1948 squad were probably similar to those worn above in this photo dated by the University of Louisville librarians to around 1950. What follows is my own educated (?) speculation on the photo.
Although the picture is in black and white, we know the basic color palette of red, black, and white was already set. The white uniforms were presumably lettered, numbered, and striped in red. The belt also was either in red or black. At center chest, a rarity in contemporary uniform design--the team mascot on the jersey. What we see is a Cardinal similar to those seen in the iconic St. Louis Cardinals’ "birds on the bat." No modern Dunkin'' Cardinal, no Red Rage, no "swoop wing" here, kids. These are your grandfather's Cardinals.
The warmup pants, presumably also in red, featured the player number on the upper left hip. The number was absent from the short-sleeved v-necked warmup shirt. The players wore white chucks with what may be red or black socks.
The real beautiful part, however, is the most subtle. Vertically arched lettering. Notice how the letters in Louisville—on both the warmup shirt and jersey—slant upward at the left and downward to the right. Such craftsmanship isn’t often seen now—it’s insanely time intensive.
Evidence suggests that by 1950, the uniforms had again changed. So, if we use the small sample size of Hickman’s earlier years—he took over the team in 1944—then these uniforms posted an impressive 128-42 record (.753 winning percentage).
Up next: We learn about liking Ike and visit the Fifties.