Miami Heat

How the Miami Heat created the best NBA jerseys of all time

It’s Jan. 25 and the Miami Heat are hosting the Sacramento Kings, but this isn’t just any late-regular season game. This is the debut of the Heat’s Vice jersey that will take the league by storm and, although they weren’t worn until 2018, the roots for the league’s most successful city edition uniform go back many years before.

You know the jersey: Crisp white with the laser pink script across the font and the neon-powder blue numbering. It’s the Miami Grand Beach Hotel turned into cloth, drawing inspirations from the city’s historic art deco scenery and the ridiculously successful “Miami Vice” TV show from the 1980s. It’s arguably the best alternate jersey in the NBA, and one the team and its fans had wanted for quite some time.

There was a social media movement for a Vice concept as far back as 2015 (if not earlier). In August of 2015, Heat owner Micky Arison posted pictures of fan-made concepts to his Instagram with the caption: “If u would like to see Adidas produce these jerseys comment here and I will pass it on to them and the NBA.”

The internet doesn’t agree on anything. Anything except these jerseys. But despite an overwhelmingly positive response, it didn’t happen. Two months after Arison’s post, the Heat and Adidas went in a different direction, with a uniform that honored the military and another shrug-inducing option they called the “Legacy” jersey, which was basically a white jersey with a black stripe down one side. The groundswell for Vice was so strong, however, that in the post unveiling the alternates for the 2015-16 season, Arison felt compelled to write “Love that there’s so much excitement around HEAT Uniforms! And I hear you on the Miami Vice uni’s but that’s a conversation for another day.”

It turns out that conversation never stopped. Brett Maurer, the Heat’s lead designer for the Vice concept, says the in-house design team had been toying with the idea for years, and started talking with Nike in 2016 about bringing the design to life. After announcing the partnership in 2015, Nike took the reins for producing the NBA’s uniforms in time for the 2017-18 season. Every team would get a set of four uniforms — the reimagined home and away kits called the “Association” and “Icon” editions, a throwback jersey and a “City Edition” that was originally described by Nike as “Inspired by The Community.”

Maurer described the initial call with Nike as “a bit of a dream brief.” The Heat’s design team wanted to do something that spoke to the Miami community and celebrated the fans who had supported the team from the beginning. For the “Day Ones.” Vice was the way to go.

“While Vice is definitely a national hit, it was always in the back of our heads of ‘How are we going to tie this back’?” Maurer said.

The Vice jerseys can be described as fresh, but they actually combine concepts new and old.

The silhouette is that of the Heat’s original uniforms they wore from their inception in 1988 until 1999, complete with the doubled-up piping that trims the shirt and shorts, while the numerals are the same design as the standard jerseys the team wears today. Meanwhile, the Miami script across the front is taken from the original Miami Arena, where the team played in until 2008 before moving into the AmericanAirlines Arena.

Before landing on the arena-style script, the design team experimented with several different fonts. “But none of that was ours. We were talking back and forth and saying ’This all feels very 1980s, but is it Heat?’ and the answer to a lot of those scripts was ‘No, it wasn’t,’” Maurer said. “Once we saw [the arena script] and once it hit the table, we owned that. That was us for a decade plus.

“That was it.”

After finalizing the design, the next step for Maurer was lifting the design from the computer, but that had its own hurdles.

“Color was something we went back and forth with Nike on quite a bit,” Maurer said. “When you’re making things on the computer everything looks one way, but when you start bringing it into the physical world, colors change, colors look different on different materials, and the samples we got back from Nike, we wanted to tweak a little bit.”

Maurer and Nike worked together to find the perfect shades of blue and pink. Nike sent Maurer boxes of prototypes. “Ten or 20 of each color in a variety of shades and hues,” Maurer said. “And I’m sure Nike’s got a room full of these things.” They decided on the two shades you see today, dubbed “blue gale” and “laser fuchsia.”

With the colors in place, the Heat were off to the races. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, the designs did go across Pat Riley’s desk. “We run everything by basketball operations,” Maurer said. “Everything is done with the players in mind.

“It still feels like a Heat jersey.”

The process was a careful and diligent one. The team knew they had a hit on their hands if they got them right. Despite several teams debuting their city edition jerseys early in the 2017-18 season, the Heat didn’t unveil theirs until late January. But something was still missing.

Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Disem, a Miami-based artist who has been painting murals for 15 years, started working on perhaps his most famous project in February, just days after the Heat wore the Vice jerseys for the first time. It’s on the wall of Morphe Fitness in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, and it features Dwyane Wade in a Vice jersey.

“As an artist, my biggest influence is Miami, so anybody that has a big influence in Miami has a big influence on me,” Disem said in a video on the Heat’s website. “It’s my way of giving back to those that influenced me to paint them.

“Wade’s definitely… I’m a huge Heat fan, so he’s definitely had a huge impact on me as an artist, as a fan and as a Miamian.”

The Heat completed a trade at February’s deadline to bring Wade back to Miami after a year-and-a-half separation. The Heat had worn the Vice jerseys five times before Wade rejoined the team for its Feb. 9 game against the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the sixth time the Heat wore the Vice jersey, but the first time for Wade. There was something about the Heat getting the franchise’s greatest player back and wearing a jersey inspired by the team’s history and place in Miami that brought everything full circle. Wade was Vice’s Marlboro Man. The design team came up with the product, and now they had the perfect model.

Vice became the most successful city edition uniform in the league. It surpassed the sales of every other city edition jersey in the league combined, according to the Heat. Players had custom shoes made, even asking the design team for the color codes to provide the manufacturer to get the colorway exactly right.

The Heat wore the white Vice jerseys 15 times in 2017-18 and, this season will switch to a black jersey scheme for 15 games, the first one being Friday, Nov. 9 against the Indiana Pacers.

If last year’s jersey represented white sand and hotels on beach fronts, this season’s iteration is inspired by the bustling nightlife of South Beach. The neon pink and blue contrasting against the black backdrop conjure images of walking along Ocean Drive on a humid Saturday night. It’s seashells to sex appeal. The Miami Grand Beach Hotel turned into the Clevelander.

“We’ve been calling it the sequel and it’s almost like a movie to us,” said Heat business communications manager Lorenzo Butler. “It moves into Miami nights, in terms of when you look at it as a jersey. It all speaks to Miami at night. When you look at the jersey, yes, it’s a black jersey, but it’s alive.”

Vice will be bigger this season. The design team expanded the concept to the court design, which on Miami’s “Vice Nights” this season borrows from the original Miami Arena hardwood, featuring the filled-in paint and thick double lines embroidering the sideline. The team is offering more merchandise, including baby onesies and even inviting fans to trade in their license plates in exchange for a Vice version. Don’t be surprised to see more custom kicks (the NBA’s recent lift on color restrictions could lead to some bananas concepts). Hell, at this rate Virgil Abloh might get involved (just kidding, sort of).

“That’s the coolest thing,” Wade told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “It’s not just the jersey, but to be able to go all in, all the way around. That makes it an even more special night, when we get the opportunity to get on the court. I think it’s going to bring some excitement to even the players.

“So it will be cool to the fans, definitely, to come in and feel a different environment, a different vibe. So look forward to it.”

No city edition in the league has captured the imagination of its community quite like Vice. It’s more than a dope jersey.

The city of Miami has turned around since the 1980s when its reputation was soaked in cocaine and crime. Now, Miami is one of the foremost emerging cities in the country. Thanks to recent renovations, local investments, and companies like Saint Laurent and events like Art Basel treating Miami like a second home, Florida’s foremost melting pot has established itself as a worldwide destination. Vice seeks to capture that momentum. “It was really about putting Miami on a global stage,” Butler said.

Next: Ryan Arcidiacono is proving he belongs in the NBA

It’s a concept combining the old and new traditions of South Florida’s most successful sports franchise and most vibrant city, bringing together the contemporary feel of the Design District and the colorful pallet of Wynwood to bring together something authentically Miami. And, just like the city, it took some time, but the result is something sensational.

As for what comes next, Maurer says, “Stay tuned.”

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