Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

You Can Thank Luc For That

If you know me well enough, you know that I'm not fond of teams creating a uniform set with a black alternate jersey. To me, this signifies nothing more than laziness and a lack of creativity when it comes to jersey design. There are a few teams, though, that do get a pass from me because they did something new or different to incorporate the black uniform into their wardrobe. If you know about the Los Angeles Kings, you already know that they changed their uniforms when Gretzky arrived on the scene. But do you know why that happened?

Thanks to a little investigative journalism done by Trevor Williams, he ran with the notion that I had introduced on Uni Watch that Luc Robitaille had been instrumental in the Kings' switch from purple-and-gold to black-and-silver. We had a few emails go back and forth between myself and Trevor on the merits of Robitaille introducing the new color scheme before he got the word directly from the man who made the switch. Here's the article posted on Friday of last week on Uni Watch written by Trevor Williams.
Since the beginning, the color black has been part of the sporting landscape. The 1901 Baltimore Orioles wore a black jersey and black pants, and many other teams have forged black-based identities over the years — think Raiders, Bruins, the Pittsburgh franchises, and more.

Over past 25 years, however, black has become a popular default option, even for teams who had no previous connection to it. One of the key reasons for black’s recent popularity is the Los Angeles Kings’ 1988 switch from purple and gold to silver and black. In a recent phone interview, former Kings owner Bruce McNall explained that after taking control of the team, he wanted to give the team a distinct identity from Los Angeles’s other purple and gold team, the Lakers.

After asking such Kings players as Luc Robitaille, Jimmy Carson, and Bernie Nicholls for their input, McNall received feedback that choosing black would make them feel bigger and tougher. Robitaille had the greatest impact, telling McNall he enjoyed wearing the black and silver of his junior hockey team, the Hull Olympiques.

"Lou probably had more influence on me than anyone else, but then again he should," McNall recalled. "At that time he was our best player and had won the Calder Trophy."

The Olympiques — Robitaille's junior team — had changed their colors in 1985, soon after Wayne Gretzky had bought the team. While Gretzky and coach Pat Burns linked the color change to old Hull Volants of yesteryear, the Ottawa Citizen's article about the switch was titled "Olympiques sporting L.A. Raiders' colors," which shows what black was associated with back then.

With this in mind, McNall reached out to Raiders owner Al Davis before giving the Kings a silver-and-black makeover. At the time, Davis gave the green light for the Kings having the same colors as the Raiders, but he later expressed some displeasure about it in ESPN's documentary Straight Outta L.A.

"I didn't like that any team was going to use black and silver — those were our colors," Davis said in the film. "They did have beautiful uniforms. I will say that for them. It was classy."

In an unusual twist of fate, hockey's most famous trade brought Gretzky to the Kings just months after McNall had consulted with Robitaille about the color change. The Kings used Gretzky's introductory press conference to showcase not only their new player but also their new home jersey. By late March of 1989, the Los Angeles Times reported that Kings merchandise sales were "mind-boggling", as more Kings jackets had been sold in a year than in the previous decade.

The team received further exposure a few weeks later, when the gangsta rap band N.W.A. released their music video "Straight Outta Compton". Band member Ice Cube later described how the band had originally decided to wear black as a way to be uniform and to show their passion for the Raiders. With the Kings' color change, several members started wearing Kings caps as well.

"The black hats just matched with everything," said N.W.A. member MC Ren in the documentary. "Purple and gold wouldn’t have looked good on us."

In April 1991, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Kings constituted 30% of all NHL-licensed merchandise sales in North America. Other teams took notice: By the start of the 1992-93 NHL season, the North Stars, Senators, and Lightning had each issued a black jersey. By 2005, even the NHL's logo changed from orange and black to silver and black.

The impact wasn't limited to the NHL. My research indicates that between 1988 and 2012, approximately 45% of teams of the four major professional sports leagues either added black or made black more prominent in their color schemes for a period of time. Of those teams that made the switch, approximately 25% eventually ditched the black.

While black's influence has begun to wane with major-level pro teams, its popularity has surged in college sports, racing and international soccer. These sports don’t have the lengthy process design-approval process that the "big four" leagues require, so they can change their jerseys yearly – which many of them do — and black is always trendy option. It's no longer the only option, however, as gray, pink, and camouflage have become, in some ways, the new black.
There you have it, folks: Bruce McNall confirms that Luc Robitaille prompted the change to the silver-and-black for the Kings thanks to the Wayne Gretzky-owned Hull Olympiques. It remains a fairly popular color that teams are turning to today, but there has been a trend to move away from black alternates as of recently. Hopefully, this will lead to more colors being used in the NHL, and some new creative ideas for jersey design.

I want to thank Trevor for allowing me to put forth some evidence to help him gather pieces for this story. I think his piece is well-written, and I was glad to help him get this article posted to Uni Watch. Well done, Trevor, on a great article!

MO' BRO: The Mo' Bro All-Stars have a full roster of players, a couple of coaches, a mascot, and a pair of referees ready to call the game. Included on the distinguished guest list are Mike Gartner, Wendel Clark, Dirk Graham, Grant Fuhr, Dennis Maruk, Larry Robinson, Mike Ramsey, Derek Sanderson, Lanny McDonald, Bryan Trottier, Dave Babych, Dave Schultz, Rod Langway, Jamie Macoun, Harold Snepsts, Dave Tippett, Michel Goulet, Paul MacLean, Mike McPhee, Mike Bullard, Bob Murdoch, Rejean Lemelin, Pat Burns, Joel Quenneville, Bill McCreary, Don VanMassenhoven, and the NJ Devil! But what every good team needs is a trainer, and we have a beautifully 'stached man for that today!

Jim "Bearcat" Murray was a fixture on the Calgary Flames' bench from 1980 until his retirement in 1996. Upon his retirement, Murray was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame unanimously by the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society and the Society of Professional Hockey Equipment Managers. Murray's distinct, moustachioed look actually garnered him several fan clubs around the NHL, most notably in Boston and Montreal where the members of the "Bearcat" Murray fan clubs would sport skullcaps and moustaches to look like the famous Flames trainer! Always quick to hit the ice when a player was down, "Bearcat" Murray earned a Stanley Cup championship in 1989 with the Flames! Not bad for a self-taught athletic trainer, right?

The Mo' Bro All-Stars only have a few days left to fill some important positions, but we'll push on and fill all vacant jobs with a magnificent 'stache! If you want to get in on the action, head over to the Movember page and get registered so your 'stache can stand amongst these great 'staches!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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