The tall side of fashion

Monday, November 28, 2005

With the new NBA dress code mandating business-casual attire, some players are trading sweat suits for tailored suits. But where does a really tall guy shop for clothes?

The average height in the league is 6-7, making it difficult for players to find suits off the rack. But the good news for the big guys is that there is no shortage of fashion designers who do custom and made-to-measure clothing and that are more than willing to help out.

"I take a lot of pride in how I look," said Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, who already was one of the league's snappier dressers before the dress code was instituted.

"I have my own little style that works for me, I don't try to bite into anybody else's style. When I get clothes made, I make them to my own taste and when you see me come into the arena, that's how I felt that day."

One advantage of being a professional athlete is that clothing manufacturers love to have the pros wearing their apparel. Some clothing companies even track players down in their hotel rooms.

"They come find us," said 6-foot-11 Utah Jazz center Jarron Collins. "On a road trip here [in Charlotte], a clothing company called my room and said 'Do you need anything?' They come to your room with fabric."

Having the companies come to them is a big change for Collins from his playing days at Stanford.

"That wasn't provided in college," he said. "We don't have money for $1,500 suits."

Old hat for Mutombo

Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo has known for years how difficult it can be to get clothing in his size. At 7-2, Mutombo used to get his clothes imported from France. NBA commissioner David Stern's dress code is nothing new to Mutombo, who has been abiding by one ever since he played at Georgetown for coach John Thompson.

"It was mandatory in college that we had to wear a suit," Mutombo said. "I think it's kind of funny -- now we get the opportunity to make millions and millions of dollars and we're required to wear suits. Well, we were required to wear them in college when we made nothing."

At least the penalty for not following the rules now is just a fine. In college Mutombo remembers it was a lot more severe.

"If we didn't do what the coach wanted us to do, we could get kicked off the team or lose our scholarship," he said.

Even the most outspoken critics of the dress code have conformed. Allen Iverson has traded in his do-rag, gold chains and throwback jersey for a leather coat, tan slacks and light brown boots.

"It's my job. I just have to deal with it. It's just that I bought a lot of stuff in the summer and out of nowhere you can't wear it," he said. "I don't have a problem with it. I'll do it for the rest of the season."

Getting dressed up isn't totally new to the players this season, since a lot of the NBA franchises already had dress codes in place. However, when it comes to how to dress, there is a higher authority to players such as Miami Heat center Shaquille O'Neal, who has always been one of the best dressers in the league.

"David Stern should get with the mothers of the NBA and let the moms decide what the dress code should be," O'Neal said. "I asked my mother if I could wear a chain, and she told me yeah. So I do stuff that my parents allow me to do."

Unfortunately for the Heat, O'Neal has been wearing a lot of suits on the bench over the last few weeks as he recovers from a sprained ankle.

New York Knicks guard Stephon Marbury has taken it upon himself to help out some of his fashion-challenged teammates. Marbury, who appeared in the Joseph Abboud spring 2005 ad campaign, will outfit each of his teammates in a Joseph Abboud custom-designed suit.

"We understand that some players may disagree with the new changes, however I think Joseph Abboud can help them look stylish, young and successful without wearing their father's suit," said Marty Staff, president of JA Apparel.

New York players were invited to make an appointment at the showroom in Manhattan to be personally fitted for a suit.

"That's big-time right there," said Golden State Warriors guard Jason Richardson, who playfully wondered when veteran teammate Adonal Foyle would make the same offer.

"When are you going to buy us a suit?" Richardson asked his teammate. "You've got nine years in the league, that's a vet move."

The 6-10 Foyle, who wears a size 50 suit, promised Richardson they'd talk when the Warriors end a league-worst 11-year playoff drought.

Richardson is one of several players who criticized the policy at first but insists he won't need a shopping spree, because he has plenty of clothes in his wardrobe that will work with the new rule.

Teaching the youngsters

Warriors guard Derek Fisher is doing his part. He plans to take Golden State's four rookies, Aaron Miles, Monta Ellis, Ike Diogu and Chris Taft, on a shopping trip to San Francisco next month to show the players what kind of clothes are appropriate.

With an 82-game season, players need a variety of suits. Sports jackets at shops that cater to big and tall men range from $150-$600, and that's when they're off the rack -- custom-made suits cost much more.

Thank goodness the league's minimum salary is $398,000.

Making the suits presents challenges to the tailors.

"Most of these very tall people are so used to having clothes that are too short or small on them," said tailor Jay Greenfield, who made suits for former New York Knicks star Patrick Ewing. "They want them longer than they should be."

Since there is no stock suit size for the big guys, it is sometimes a matter of mix and match.

"It would be the shoulder of a size 50 on the body of a size 43," said Greenfield.

The suits though, are just part of the look -- players also need to find a good pair of shoes. For that, there is only one place to shop, Friedman Shoes in Atlanta.

"Everyone gets their shoes made at that place," said Mutombo, who finds a wide selection for his size-22 feet.

Friedman Shoes is so well known around the NBA that some teams go as a group when they play the Hawks.

"We have a team trip there," Collins said. "A small there is a size 9. They cater to Shaq."

Collins wears a size 16 or 17, which he said is average around the league.

Shoes aren't the only items that draw players to specific stores or cities. Los Angeles and New York are the two main places for getting clothes needed to conform to the league's new code.

Melvin Ely, a 6-10 center, discovered when he was traded in 2004 to the Bobcats from the Los Angeles Clippers that Charlotte wasn't a hotbed for clothes. So he decided to do some serious shopping this past summer on the West Coast.

"When I went to LA to play in the summer league, I went with an empty bag, and I filled it up with shoes and clothes," he said.

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