This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at the infamous Dallas Mavericks alternate jersey that can be found in NBA Live 2004.
Nothing turns us basketball fans into fashion critics quite like a new NBA jersey design. It’s rare to get a uniform that we universally agree is good or bad, especially when it comes to some of the colourful designs of the mid to late 90s. There are a handful of jerseys that draw close to a unanimous reaction however, be it positive or negative. The uniforms that are reviled by almost everyone – even the most ardent fans of the teams that sport them – become infamous, especially if they somehow stick around beyond a single season.
On the other hand, negative reception can derail plans for a uniform design to become a staple of the team’s branding. Indeed, the jersey I’m talking about today – the Dallas Mavericks’ infamous “trash bag” uniform – was scrapped after being worn in just one game. It’s a jersey that’s been talked about at length, given that it’s a mainstay on most “all-time worst jerseys” lists, but it does have an interesting history with NBA Live 2004. Let’s take a look back…way back…
As I noted, the Mavericks’ trash bag jersey isn’t a forgotten chapter in NBA uniform lore. If someone compiles a listicle article on the worst jerseys in league history, it’s bound to be on there, and usually somewhere in the top three (if not at number one). Again, its infamy stems not only from the negative reactions to its appearance, but the fact it was only worn once, in the Mavs’ 2004 season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers on October 28th, 2003. It’s not the only new NBA jersey design to ever receive a frosty welcome upon its debut, but as the story goes, the trash bag uniforms were such a flop that Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban immediately scrapped them.
The “trash bag” moniker comes from the image that sprang to most people’s minds upon seeing them on the court for the first time. They had a metallic-grey colour scheme, which seemed like a good idea on paper, but didn’t pan out in execution. The actual jerseys were a darker shade of grey than anticipated, and the material that was used gave them a shiny appearance. Under the arena lights, and especially once the players began sweating in them, it really did look as though the Mavs were wearing brown uniforms made out of trash bags. Reflecting on them ten years later in 2013, Cuban himself described them as looking like “wet garbage bags”, which is apt.
Its unimpressive debut spelled the end of the Mavs’ metallic alternates as game-worn jerseys, but the story doesn’t quite end there. Beyond remaining an object of scorn, like so many rarities and oddities, they’ve become a collector’s item. We can certainly understand that in the basketball gaming community, where rare copies of NBA Elite 11 have sold for several thousands of dollars, as have other games that are known for their elusiveness rather than their quality. Jersey collectors have sought out the trash bag uniforms – both replicas and game-worn jerseys – and despite their reputation they haven’t been cheap to buy, attracting offers in the range of $6000 USD.
Interestingly, they might not be as bad as they looked in their lone appearance back in 2003. That’s an increasingly common sentiment, one that Tim Cato – who spoke to the collector who has received offers of $6000 for his trash bag Dirk Nowitzki jersey for his SB Nation article on the infamous uniforms – initially scoffed at. However, as he recounts and illustrates with this video, it’s not as crazy of a suggestion as it seems. Under natural lighting, and when they’re not drenched with sweat, the jerseys do look better than they did in that Mavericks-Lakers game. That’s not to say they’re brilliant, and the grey is still darker than intended, but you can see what they were going for.
That brings us to NBA Live 2004. While getting your hands on a replica trash bag jersey (to say nothing of a game-worn uniform) is expensive, you can experience the look far more cheaply on the virtual hardwood. Whether it’s the PC or console version you’re after, you can find NBA Live 2004 on eBay for under $20, as opposed to the hundreds or thousands you’d have to spend on a trash bag uniform. It’s unlocked by default, immediately selectable as an alternate jersey for the Mavericks. Whether it’s in an exhibition game or in the new Dynasty mode – where of course you can play that October 28th game against the Lakers – you can outfit the Mavericks in that alternate.
Notably, the jersey is a significantly lighter shade of grey/silver in the game; maybe a bit closer to what it was intended to be in real life. This means that while it still isn’t likely to make many people’s lists of the best jerseys in NBA history, it looks a lot better on the virtual hardwood than it did in reality. Oftentimes we’ll complain that the colours of various jerseys in video games fail to resemble the actual uniforms – the red of the Chicago Bulls’ jerseys looking too pink has been a common example over the years – but on this occasion, the inaccuracy of the jersey (or perhaps, accuracy to the original design) ultimately turned out to be something of an improvement.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the trash bag uniform’s appearance in NBA Live 2004 is its exclusivity. As far as I can tell, when it comes to video games, that jersey can only be found in NBA Live 2004. I can confirm that it isn’t in ESPN NBA Basketball – aka NBA 2K4 – despite the game including other alternate jerseys and the ability to select them. It’s also not unlockable via a code, as some jerseys were back in the day. That may seem odd these days, given the wide range of jerseys in NBA 2K, but back then NBA Live generally had the better selection of uniforms. As far as I can tell, it’s also unavailable in NBA ShootOut 2004 and NBA Inside Drive 2004.
This makes it almost as rare of a sight in video games as it was in real life. Indeed, the trash bag jersey hasn’t appeared among the retro jerseys in any subsequent titles. It doesn’t even appear in NBA Live 2005 or ESPN NBA 2K5, being pulled from the virtual hardwood almost as quickly as Mark Cuban ordered it removed from stores and the Mavericks’ equipment room. With that in mind, it’s not altogether surprising that they haven’t resurfaced as a retro uniform in NBA Live or NBA 2K. Then again, the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets’ red Valentine’s Day jersey – worn just once on February 14th, 2007 – was included among the throwbacks in NBA Live 10.
I must of course clarify that I’m only talking about official appearances here. Both the Mavericks’ trash bags and the Hornets’ (now Pelicans) rosy red uniform that was later auctioned off to raise money for the American Heart Association have been modded into other titles. In fact, when our own bigh0rt was creating his NBA Jam mod for NBA 2K14 PC, the trash bag jersey was the choice of garb to be worn by the Dallas Mavericks. I’d suggest that the infamy and distinctive designs suited the tone of the mod very well, even if further reflection suggests that the uniform wasn’t quite as bad as it’s usually considered to be. It certainly made them stand out on the court.
That was obviously the intention in real life as well, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out so well there. Still, if it’s better to be infamous than forgotten, then the trash bag jerseys unquestionably achieved that. Their exclusivity to NBA Live 2004 serves as an additional trivia note for the jerseys on the virtual hardwood, and underscores just what a unique uniform they were. Personally, I’m all in favour of them being added to the impressive selection of retro jerseys in NBA 2K. It might take some convincing for Mark Cuban to agree, but a correctly coloured version might just give the virtual Mavs that desired look with an edge, rather than one of wet, brown garbage bags.