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The Evolution of the Draft Hat

Tim McCarthy

The NBA draft is one of the oddest events in sports. It's filled with tall athletes in awful suits, awkward handshakes with Commissioner Stern and tons of unhappy fans when their team doesn't make the pick they wanted. In 1986, they introduced an element that would become a iconic for years to come ...the draft hat. 

The hat was simple. A "snap-back" hat in a solid color of the team's color and the detailing in the team's accent color. The city name in a sans-serif typeface and then the team name in a big script. The overall design is clear, legible and authentic. This style dominated most of the next decade.

Unfortunately, 1986 was the same year Len Bias over-dosed two days after being picked in the draft by the Boston Celtics.

Fun Fact: In 1987, Kenny "The Jet" Smith was the first guy to put on the team hat on stage when he was drafted by the Sacramento Kings.

in 1994, the style of the hat changed a bit. The type lock up stayed the same, but this year, all team caps were white. The major difference was each team had a contrasting color for the brim. These were very appropriate for the 90s but still had a nice classic feel to them.

Jalen Rose, Jason Kidd, Glenn Robinson & Grant Hill. Two of these guys still play in the NBA!

Two years later, in 1996, the hat loses it's script font and becomes a blocky condensed font with a drop shadow.

Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant & Allen Iverson

From then on, the draft hat design starts to go downhill. Gaudy elements start to be introduced like multiple gradients, metallic colors, and satin finishes. The hat goes from being a classic staple to looking like something that came from a spaceship.

In 2003, Lebron James is selected #1 by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. 

In 2011. the draft hat hits an all-time low by doing everything wrong. There's an abundance of gradients and an over-sized logo that casts a shadow? I don't know how this was approved. 

Fortunately, the NBA draft hat has done a 180 and has attempted to get back to it's roots. In 2012, the draft hat mimicked the mid-90s style. Personally, I don't like the large NBA logo but I'll take it over what I've seen from the years before.