Kansas State is best known for wearing purple, but its basketball team once identified with a different color — lavender.
The Wildcats will return to that era on Saturday against TCU when they honor their past by wearing throwback uniforms that feature lavender jerseys, dark purple shorts, white socks and lavender shoes.
“I think they are great,” K-State guard Barry Brown said. “They mean a lot for K-State, just the way they look. I actually tried them on and I like the way they fit. I think I look nice in them.”
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger remembers reacting the same way when he wore the original lavender uniforms as a K-State player. They made their debut in 1973 when he was a junior playing under Jack Hartman.
The shorts were a little shorter than what K-State players will wear on Saturday, but they were the same otherwise. Few, if any, college basketball teams wore two-tone uniforms at the time. They were definitely different. Some thought they were too radical. Others thought they were charmingly bold. The Wildcats and their fans grew to cherish them.
“Players loved it,” Kruger said. “It was a little out of the ordinary, for sure, back in the day and very out of the ordinary for Coach Hartman. You know, he was pretty straight-arrowed. For him to come up with that idea was very surprising. He threw it out there and the players were excited.”
The only downside: Home teams only wore white uniforms at the time. K-State wore its new, unusual look on the road. Opposing fans, as you might imagine, didn’t share the Wildcats’ love for them.
“We took a little verbal abuse on the road, of course,” Kruger said. “The colors were a little softer than what people were used to and the fans let us know it, normal road stuff. But the players liked wearing them.”
It helped that K-State won (a lot) during its lavender era. From 1973-82, the main time the Wildcats wore softer colors, they went 186-81. Mike Evans and Chuckie Williams lit up scoreboards and Rolando Blackman made it onto the cover of Sports Illustrated when he gunned down Oregon State in the 1981 NCAA Tournament.
The shot he made to beat the Beavers became one of the most iconic photos in K-State basketball history, and he was wearing a lavender jersey.
“I still remember when I was young, seeing them,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “I remember the cover of Sports Illustrated with Rolando. At that time … to do something different in that conservative era of uniforms definitely caught attention. I think it is great.”
Weber said K-State director of basketball operations Drew Speraw has worked with Nike for the past two years to create throwback lavender uniforms. Trying to match the old colors took time. Still, it was an easier process than Hartman faced when he originally created the look.
Back then, he worked directly with Knight’s Sporting Goods in Salina to find the right color combination.
Now that the throwbacks are here, Weber plans to wear them on special occasions, perhaps once a year. Maybe more if they win. On Saturday, Weber will honor Hartman with his own throwback look — a houndstooth sports coat and a throwback tie with an old K-State logo.
“I don’t think I am going to be in GQ magazine with it,” Weber said, “but it’s a nice thing to honor coach and what he did here.”
K-State players are excited to wear the lavender. They were already breaking in their lavender shoes at practice on Thursday.
“It’s big for K-Staters,” K-State junior forward Dean Wade said, “to see them and bring them back and see us play in them.”
Their lone gripe: the shorts are too long. Believe it are not, K-State players think they can pull off 1970-style shorts.
“I would have loved that,” Brown said. “No sarcasm at all.”
The throwback jerseys already feel like a hit with fans, too. K-State students have been wearing lavender shirts at games all season.
It should be fun to see an old color return to Bramlage Coliseum.
“I don’t know of any other team that wears lavender or does the two-tone look,” Kruger said. “It will be great to see them again. I just hope they enjoy wearing them as much as we did.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett