“My first day with the Mavs was September 10, 2001. The day before 9/11,” Al Whitley said.

Whitley has been the Dallas Mavericks’ head equipment manager for the past 17 years.

“I grew up with Steve Nash, who is one of my childhood best friends,” Whitley said as we sat down to talk about his journey and role with the Mavericks. Whitley grew up with Nash in Canada and always dreamed of living in the United States.

After playing four years at Santa Clara University, Nash was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 1996. He was traded to Dallas in 1998 and would spend the next six seasons with the Mavericks.

“Through Steve, I was fortunate enough to meet Mark Cuban and we hit it off and became friends,” Whitley said. “[Cuban and I] were sitting around one day and he asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to live in the states and was willing to do anything, just give me a foot inside the door.

“17 years later, I have loved every minute of it and grateful for the opportunity.”

But as Mavs fans know, Nash’s time in Dallas would come to an end in 2004 when he returned to the Suns as a free agent. Would Whitley follow his best friend to Phoenix or stick around in Dallas and build on the foundation he established for himself?

“It wasn’t that hard because I had been down here for a couple of years and established my own life. The first thing you learn quickly in basketball is that it is a business,” Whitley said.

“He didn’t have to do it, but MC called me and was like, ‘I just wanted you to know that Steve is signing in Phoenix but I want you to stay in Dallas.’ That meant the world to me,” Whitley said.

Now, 14 years later, Whitley is a staple in the organization.

As the head equipment manager of an NBA team, one of your main responsibilities is to manage the team’s uniforms. With help from the players, Whitley picks which version and colors to wear for each game of the season.

This year, Nike has taken over the manufacturing of the NBA’s official apparel. Each team now has four jersey variants: The Icon, Association, Statement, and City editions.

The “Association Edition” is the traditional white jersey while the “Icon Edition” is the traditional blue jerseys for the Mavericks. The navy blue-based jerseys with the Dallas skyline in silver across the chest serves as the “Statement Edition.”

Today marks the official launch of the “City Edition.”

“When it gets on court, I think it is going to look clean and sharp and the guys are going to love it,” Whitley said.

The first and obvious observation of the new jerseys is the black base, a color Dallas has yet to use throughout the history of the franchise.

“Black was a no-brainer. The guys have wanted a black uniform for years. That was the base from the get-go … to fulfill what they wanted,” Whitley said.

“I like the black. It is the first time since I have been here that we are having a black uniform,” J.J. Barea said.

With the black base set, the attention then turned to the incorporation of the traditional Mavericks blue with a new “action green” as a nod to the old school green that was evident in the early days of the franchise.

“The royal blue obviously stays traditional with what we are wearing now. The action green came about with the old school green that people love, this is the new-age green,” Whitley said.

As for what all went into the decision for the new “action green,” Whitley says one of the main goals was to try and emulate the energy and uniqueness of the Dallas skyline.

“A couple of different factors. One was trying to bring the old school green back, but in a present-day form. Action green is a pretty popular color these days,” Whitley said. “We think that Dallas at nighttime has the best cityscape in America. The architecture, the way the buildings are silhouetted. One of the most prominent pieces of that downtown scape is the Bank of America building which is outlined in a green.”

J.J. Barea added that “it’s the new green.”

When designing a jersey such as this, you are bound to have obstacles along the way. I asked Whitley what his biggest roadblock was throughout the process.

“Putting the ‘DAL’ across the jersey was a new idea,” Whitley said. “We have done ‘Dallas,’ ‘Mavericks,’ and ‘Mavs.’ We wanted something different. ‘DFW’ was a preseason jersey years ago. We wanted to do something we have never done before.”

“Dallas is a big bold city, our proprietor is big and bold and we wanted to highlight that in the uniform,” Whitley said.

Nike’s official release adds, “Only in Dallas will you feel the energy the downtown skyline brings to its Dallasites. Marked by the neon glow on the letters, numbers and piping, the new Mavs City Edition Jersey reflects the swagger of the Big D and the vibrancy of Dallas nights.”

As for Mark Cuban, he says he deferred to the team when it came to input for the new designs.

“Despite my incredible fashion sense and ability to create global fashion trends, I deferred to our team for the jerseys,” Cuban said with a grin.

That “team” Cuban was referring to? Along with Whitley and Alison Panasik, the director of merchandising, the Mavericks put together a coalition of people across different departments to work together and provide input throughout the design process.

After Nike sent their representatives to scope out the city of Dallas, they went to work with the team the Mavericks put together to bring the new “City Edition” jerseys to life.

“January 26th we will debut it,” Whitley said. “We will wear it 15-18 times. Quite a bit over the second half of the season. Road and home.”

Even though the organization and team of designers are on board with the new design, they realize they can’t please everyone. For the people who aren’t happy with the new look, fear not, this “edition” will only be around for the rest of this season.

“It is a one-year uniform. These are not our permanent uniforms moving forward. It is supposed to be a fun play. Use out-of-the box colors we have never used before. Experiment a bit,” Whitley said. “We wanted to stay crisp and clean with a little pop to it. I don’t think we got too crazy. But I think on court, when the guys put it on, it’s going to look great.”

As for the next iteration of the “City Edition,” the design is already in place.

“They are planning for over a year in advance,” Whitley said. “We have already planned next year’s City Edition.”

So with 17 years under his belt with the Mavericks, what are his personal favorite and least favorite threads the team has worn over the years?

“My favorite is the old-school green. I love the cowboy hat. That is tied with the royal road, which we won the championship in. I am partial to that,” Whitley said.

“My least favorite is the garbage can ones. The actual grey is something we are probably going to re-visit in the future. That material and the way it came off obviously didn’t work,” Whitley said as we both shared a laugh.

In the NFL, a common tradition is players swapping jerseys after the game as a sign of respect. When I asked Whitley how many players ever request for Dirk Nowitzki’s jersey after games, he admits it happens all of the time.

“All the time. Nowadays, it’s almost every game. They ask him during the game and get back to me through their team,” Whitley said. “Just a show of respect he has around the league. It is the older guys, the Europeans, the younger guys, everybody asks for it.”

So the wait is finally over. Tonight you’ll see the Mavs don the first black jerseys in franchise history as they take the court against the Portland Trail Blazers in front of a raucous American Airlines Center crowd.

You may not be lucky enough to get a chance to swap jerseys with Dirk, but you can get your hands on all the limited edition “City” jerseys, apparel and merchandise at The Hangar and fan shops around the arena now.

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