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A History of Kansas Basketball Uniforms: The 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s

This is the first part in a five part series examining KU's rich basketball heritage from an aesthetic standpoint.

Ed Zurga

Today, leading to the start of the basketball season, we begin a weekly series that explores the basketball uniforms for KU’s storied hoops team. Nowadays, a program gets a new uniform set every two years or so with "special" uniforms tossed in by the major uniform suppliers for the postseason tournaments along with various throwbacks and alternates that see the court sporadically throughout the season. But, back when basketball started to get its foothold in this country, each team was issued a road uniform and a home uniform and they generally stuck with the same look for a significant amount of time. Today, we’ll delve into what KU looked like in the 1950’s through the 1970’s.

The 1950’s

Kansas dominated college basketball in the 50’s with an NCAA title in 1952, a final game appearance in 1953, and that epic three overtime loss in 1957 featuring a certain Wilt Chamberlain for KU. Because KU was so prolific during this stretch, there is ample photographic evidence of the team and the uniforms they were wearing.

During those two consecutive runs to the NCAA title game, KU looked really sharp on the court (and off the court in their warm ups). First off, let’s examine those home white uniforms. They have everything you’d want in a KU home uniform. The word "KANSAS" and the numbers are emblazoned in blue and red, but the shorts are where this uniform gets really cool. Take a closer look at the stripes that gradually get longer as they go down the shorts. Genius. These are the uniforms that KU wore when doing a throwback game against Oklahoma State on February 11, 2012 and it looks like KU got them pretty much spot on. The road (reds!!!!) look equally awesome and the shorts also feature those stripes. Sweet.

But as I researched the 1952 season, I found a little bit of a uniform anomaly. In this photo from a practice session in 1952, I found the white team wearing different shorts. Maybe these were their practice shorts, but if they are, why is the "away" team still wearing their game shorts? Anyone have an answer there?

Uniform Highlights: Stripes!

Overall Grade: A

The 1956-57 season was Wilt Chamberlain’s first as a Jayhawk so there are tons of photos from that season partially because of his debut and dominance but also because KU was again playing for the NCAA title at the end of that season. As you can see, KU changed the striping on the shorts on both the home and away jerseys. They look great. As a bonus, I’m linking to this photo because of the background. I mean, look at Allen Fieldhouse in that one. It’s a thing of beauty.

One thing I can’t understand is why they couldn’t get the shorts correct for the recent "Jayhawkers" movie? No stripes on the way-too-long shorts? C’mon historical accuracy department, you can do better than that. And don’t even get me started on these Chamberlain "throwbacks" that are apparently on sale somewhere. The wrong font is used and his name is on the back in the era of no names on the back of jerseys. Those elements make for a bad throwback. Did they not even look at photos of the era?

Uniform Highlights: The shorts are cool, just not as great as they once were

Overall Grade: A-

The 1960’s

Nothing really changed from a uniform standpoint during the 1960’s. There is some excellent footage of the road blues from 1961 because of the giant brawl between KU and Missouri in Columbia that season. The 1960s are the only decade for KU without a Final Four appearance so some of the visuals are limited. However, It does again look like the same throwback company made another inaccurate replica, this time of a JoJo White jersey. Take a look at this artistic rendering compared to the "throwback". Not even close.

Uniform Highlights: Nothing to complain about, nothing overly exciting

Overall Grade: B

The 1970’s

Seeing what was going on in baseball and the ABA in the 1970’s would lead you to believe that every team was wearing whacked out weirdo uniforms. Nope. Kansas kept it very traditional, as did most of college basketball. The road uniform added a lot more red to the typeface and numbers and I think it looks pretty sharp. I would like to see KU is throwback to the 1974 Final Four Team at some point this season even though it should have technically happened last year. I really like that look. KU added stripes to the shirts in the latter portion of the decade as seen on this great picture of the 1979 preseason All-American team featuring Darnell Valentine.

Uniform Highlights: Enough red to compliment, not too much to distract

Overall Grade: B

Next week, we’ll continue our review of KU uniforms with the modern classics that KU wore in the 1980’s and 1990’s. If there are any glaring omissions to this article, please feel free to add some info down in the comments section.