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Rockin' The Retros A streetwise Philly marketer, with some juice from hip-hop stars, has turned the throwback jersey into a big-bucks fashion frenzy

Dec. 22, 2003
Dec. 22, 2003

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Dec. 22, 2003

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Rockin' The Retros A streetwise Philly marketer, with some juice from hip-hop stars, has turned the throwback jersey into a big-bucks fashion frenzy

It began, as everything in the culture seems to, with Oprah.
Reuben (Big Rube) Harley had had just about enough of getting up
at 3 a.m. to slave in his grandmother's kitchen. Besides, the
comments he collected as he made the rounds for his small
catering business, delivering chicken and baked goods to
barbershops around Philadelphia, weren't compliments to the chef.
Instead customers mooned over whichever vintage sports jersey Big
Rube had chosen to drape over his 300-plus pounds that day. He'd
tell the curious exactly whose uni he was rocking and, if they
asked, how much it had set him back. He would not, however,
divulge his source: the shotgun retail space of Mitchell & Ness
Nostalgia Co., tucked into a block of Walnut Street in
center-city Philly. A clue to why he so carefully kept his
counsel is right in the name: Ness, as in Eliot, as in what every
anonymous inner-city kid wants to be, if only for a moment:
untouchable. "Whatever everyone else was doing, I was always
[doing something else]," Harley says. "I had to stand out in a
crowd." ¶ Since 1985, when Mitchell & Ness owner Peter Capolino
discovered 12,000 yards of wool flannel in a warehouse, M&N had
carved out a niche as haberdasher to the balding hedge-fund
manager who wanted to look like the Brooklyn Dodgers of his
youth. But Harley was a clotheshorse of a different color, not to
mention generation--one of the few young black customers M&N's
retail store had from the moment he bought his first throwback, a
1983 Andre Thornton Cleveland Indians jersey, as a 17-year-old in
1991.

This is an article from the Dec. 22, 2003 issue Original Layout

It took a decade of steady patronage for Big Rube to realize that
his destiny lay on the other side of the counter. In April 2001,
when he caught an OutKast music video in which the performers
wore vintage baseball jerseys, it occurred to him that every one
of the jerseys hung in his closet. Around the same time, Ms.
Winfrey devoted a show to "women who followed their dreams." The
episode inspired Harley to march into Capolino's office, assert
that he could take the company places it hadn't been and accept
an offer from Capolino of $500 a month plus expenses (and one of
every jersey in the M&N line).

Capolino, 58, has tastes that run toward Barry Manilow and what
Harley calls "that Leave It to Beaver look." Big Rube rolls his
eyes at Capolino's hip-hop malapropisms, according to which Run
DMC is a new pickup truck and R&B music is a record store. But
before Harley made his pitch, M&N was bumbling along with less
than $3 million in annual sales, mostly from its retro baseball
line, and Capolino didn't need a doctorate in urban studies to
realize he had little to lose by bringing aboard this
entrepreneur who had been buying from him on layaway for years.

Partly at Harley's urging, M&N turned from gray flannels to
double knits and mesh. It issued jerseys in hot colors (the
powder blue of Bob McAdoo's Buffalo Braves and Lance Alworth's
San Diego Chargers, the electric greens of Adrian Dantley's Utah
Jazz and Pete Maravich's Atlanta Hawks) and striking patterns
(the horizontal swaths of Wes Unseld's Washington Bullets and
Alex English's Denver Nuggets). It sized to the capacious
dimensions favored by hip-hop artists and pro athletes, not the
body-hugging specifications of buyers for chains such as Modell's
and the Sports Authority.

That summer of 2001 Harley finagled his way into a late-night
party in Manhattan to mark the release of Faith Evans's disk
Faithfully by P. Diddy's Bad Boy Records label. By the time Big
Rube headed back to Philly several days later, he had
instructions from Diddy to assemble a wardrobe. "I'm gonna
spoon-feed you," Harley promised. Staying true to the M&N creed
of forswearing seasonal "collections," he dribbled out product to
his new patron one throwback at a time.

Retro sports fashion became a full-blown social phenomenon the
following January, when P. Diddy cohosted the American Music
Awards on ABC. From his spot in the wings at L.A.'s Shrine
Auditorium, Big Rube supervised costume changes at every
commercial break, sending his emcee mannequin out in a succession
of jerseys that evoked Cooperstown, Canton and Springfield: a
1969 Tom Seaver Mets; a '94 Drew Bledsoe Patriots; a '73 George
McGinnis Pacers; a '74 Hank Aaron Braves. Eleven jerseys in all.
"Shaq called the next day," Harley says. "He wanted every piece
that Puff wore."

Soon customers began filing into retail temples such as the NBA
Store in New York City, Distant Replays in Atlanta and the Total
Sport chain in the mid-Atlantic states, eager for product from
M&N, which has exclusive licenses from the NBA, the NFL, the NHL
and Major League Baseball to reproduce authentic uniforms that
have been out of circulation for at least five years. A year ago
the company logged $25 million in sales; projections for 2003 are
about $40 million. According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers
Association (SGMA), licensed team and league clothing is the only
sports apparel category to buck a recent trend of declining
sales, and retro jerseys are leading the way.

Meanwhile, sneaker companies are cashing in on a parallel vogue.
Led by the Nike Air Force 1--the Uptowns that have become to
Generations X and Y what Converse Chuck Taylors were to baby
boomers--throwbacks were the lone athletic footwear category to
avoid a net decline in sales in 2002, according to the SGMA. Old
school shoes go naturally with retro jerseys and fitted caps,
according to Andy Hyman, the former bartender who began Distant
Replays as a kiosk in a shopping mall in 1998. "Everybody," he
says, "tries to match 'em up."

The NBA's Hardwood Classics line has spread from a back corner of
the league's Manhattan store across much of the main floor. Old
school leather and satin jackets, velour and fleece warmups,
fitted and knit caps, headbands and wristbands--even
throwback-influenced nba4her dresses--have joined the singlets of
Bird and Magic and Oscar. The league credits much of its
merchandising revenue growth (to $3 billion this year from less
than $2 billion only three years ago) to the retro craze.

A season ago only eight NBA teams suited up for games in retro
uniforms, and then only for one night apiece. This season a dozen
teams will pull on the old stuff, some of them six times each, on
what the league calls Hardwood Classic Nights nights. These
events are designed to drive the sales not only of Hardwood
Classics merchandise but also of new mass-produced apparel lines
from Nike (NBARewind) and Reebok (Fresh Retro), which are less
faithful to the originals but cost only a quarter of the $175 to
$350 that M&N charges for most of its items.

The newcomers cross classic designs with names and numbers of the
moment: Phila graces the front of a Sixers jersey circa 1966, but
a surprise Iverson and 3 cover the back. (Larry Brown never could
turn AI into Hal Greer, but a piece of clothing seems to be
trying.) Consumers who regard that shirt as apostasy can always
turn to ABA retros (you can have your Pittsburgh pro hoops in
either Pipers or Condors), college retros (George Gervin's
Eastern Michigan, Jerry West's West Virginia, Fennis Dembo's
Wyoming), high school retros (Darryl Dawkins's jersey from
Orlando's Maynard Evans High), Rucker League retros (Westsiders
and Uptowners) and even Jewish amateur team retros. (Be the first
at your bar mitzvah in a Philadelphia SPHAs or a Second Story
Morrys.)

Fashion is a remarkably accurate cultural barometer: Flapper
dresses in the Twenties heralded the loosening mores of that era;
the gray flannel suit summed up the uptight '50s. Does the vogue
in retro basketball fashion point where the on-court hoops
culture is headed? It's too soon to say for sure, but in the NBA,
at least, some teams have already shifted from one-on-one
basketball to the more team-oriented old school approach marked
by the New Jersey Nets' Princeton offense and the fluid attacks
of the Dallas Mavericks and the Sacramento Kings.

"I don't know if I can handle another kid wearing an Alex English
Nuggets jersey," says Russ Bengtson, editor-in-chief of Slam,
"but considering how low the scores have been, people do look
back kind of wistfully at the Nuggets' 140-point games. The
bubble has to pop soon, though. When is too much too much? You
take it to the next level, and the next, and the next, and pretty
soon you run out of levels."

For now the elevator is still ascending, stopping at every sport.
For its home opener against North Texas on Aug. 30, Oklahoma
pulled on uniforms from the '40s and '50s, the Bud Wilkinson era.
Once again, The Duke footballs are spotted on the line of
scrimmage at NFL games. At the NHL's Heritage Classic in Edmonton
last month, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore wore a knit
toque along with his mask, a la Jacques Plante, and touched off a
frenzy across Canada for the logoed and tasseled ski cap.
Basketball nonetheless leads the way, accounting for the largest
share of M&N's business, and there was something symbolic about
the fact that the sport's dauphin, LeBron James, temporarily fell
from amateur grace as a high schooler last season by accepting a
couple of free throwback jerseys.

"It's an all-sport thing, but guys identify with basketball
players more than anybody," Harley said last month. He was
sitting in the M&N corporate offices on Philly's South Broad
Street. Moments before, the rap artist Freeway had bopped over
from the retail store to get a moment's face time. The two had
agreed to meet in Manhattan that evening at a Jay-Z concert at
Madison Square Garden for which M&N had designed the ultimate
prop, a huge jersey in Knicks colors that would be raised to the
rafters, as at an NBA immortal's farewell ceremony. "Besides,
basketball is the hood," Harley went on. "Pick up your ball, show
your style. Baggy shorts, bigger jerseys--that's the culture.
Basketball players want to be artists, and artists want to be
basketball players. That's never gonna go away."

Indeed, ballplayers have cut rap records for years, and hip-hop
artists have rhapsodized about basketball shoes since at least
1986, when Run DMC spat about My Adidas. Now Reebok is selling
Jay-Z's hugely popular signature shoe, a stylistic descendant of
the 20-year-old Nike Uptown, and the company has just brought out
a model for rapper 50 Cent. What we're witnessing isn't merely a
convergence of sports, fashion and music but a smoking, twisted
three-car pileup.

Why retro is happening now--and primarily in basketball, the most
cutting-edge, next-obsessed sport of all the majors--is something
of a mystery. But consumers across the demographic spectrum, by
snapping up P.T. Cruisers and merchandise from Restoration
Hardware, seem to be saying that their forebears kept it more
real than anyone does today. Inner-city youths have the
additional motivation that hooked Harley: the desire to
differentiate themselves through bold, high-end style. Baby
boomers, and even Generation Xers now pushing into early middle
age, wish they could stay young, but if they can't, they seem
willing to settle for looking the part, and retro fashion helps
in the self-deception.

Moreover, in an age in which news about the Lakers often comes
with an Eagle, Colo., dateline, many fans simply don't want to
take the chance of wrapping themselves or their kids in the gear
of some clayfoot. Why not pull on shoes from a time when the
worst thing to hit the papers was the allegation that George
McGinnis had sneaked a ciggy butt in practice? Or, if you're
David Stern, why not costume your potential miscreants in
Hardwood Classics?

"Both history and style are driving this," says Hyman of Distant
Replays, where few days go by without some athlete or rap artist
ducking in. "We've got customers who won't leave the store
because they want to fill your ear with sports trivia. But if
some like [the clothes] because they look good, we've got to work
that angle, too."

And so from basketball's Jermaine O'Neal (who has called
jersey-collecting a competitive sport among his Pacers teammates)
to baseball's Cliff Floyd (who has a thing for old Sixers, be
they Billy Cunningham, Jelly Bean Bryant or Moses Malone) to
football's Warren Sapp (who has built a closet for his throwbacks
and usually refuses to buy jerseys of quarterbacks) to rap star
Fabolous (who accessorizes his more than 500 vintage jerseys with
matching warmups), the phenomenon has become, as Hyman puts it,
"Prada for men." On his album Street Dreams, Fabolous gives a
shoutout to the guys at Mitchell & Ness: Rube, tell Pete to keep
it comin'.

Capolino has long since bumped up Harley's salary and perks, as
well as his title, to vice president of marketing. (As he lives
larger and larger, Big Rube's jersey size enlarges, too; since
joining M&N in 2001, he's up one notch to an XXXXL.) Running a
circuit that includes music awards shows and All-Star weekends,
he's now equal parts traveling salesman, product-placement guy,
design guru, public face, and confidant to the stars. His
cellphone chirps constantly. "Wassup?" he answers, and,
inevitably, "Watchagot?" But his conversations with clients go
beyond crude commerce. Having achieved the same meteoric success
as so many of the rapmasters and superstars he services, Big Rube
patiently and compassionately hears out his clients as if--well,
as if he were Oprah.

Just don't utter the f word in his presence. "A fad is here
today, gone tomorrow," Harley says. "This isn't a fad, because it
can't be. These uniforms are the history of sports. They're just
like the players wore them, down to the fabric and stitching and
lettering. Styles come and go, but you can't change the 1979
Magic Johnson jersey. It has its place in time."

y definition, a cutting-edge trend can't begin with a
mass-marketing campaign. Style dictated from the top down will
have no Kid Zero, no Promethean urchin who spilled onto the
sidewalk one inspired morning in customized joints or a jersey
that no one had ever rocked. In the late '80s, as Nike, Reebok
and Adidas turned to multimillion-dollar endorsers and flogged
signature lines of basketball shoes, kids on the street could no
longer ask, "Ay yo, Money, where'd you get those?" Everyone knew,
because everyone wore the same few things.

Robert (Bobbito) Garcia, author of Where'd You Get Those? New
York City's Sneaker Culture: 1960-1987, is a music consultant,
deejay, movie actor and writer but also an over-the-moon
basketball Benny, a former pro ballplayer in Puerto Rico who
still travels with a trick ball handling troupe, Project
Playground, that does halftime shows around the world. Garcia cut
off his sneaker survey in '87 because that's when the money and
marketers took over--when high school stars began to choose
colleges based on whether the team wore Nikes, and basketball
shoes became, as Garcia writes, "over-designed and straight-up
ugly."

Bobbito is a throwback himself, to an era when kids weren't
blindly brand-loyal. Coming of age in New York City during the
late '70s and the '80s, he cared less about a shoe's provenance
than its look, feel, performance and ability to confer
distinction. "Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and the
easiest way to avoid it is to always be ahead of everyone in the
sneaker game," he writes. While watching NBA games on TV, he
confesses, he used to hope players would go down with ankle
sprains, so the camera would bore in and he could check out
brand, lacing, colors and customizations.

Garcia recalls a day in the early '80s when an interloper showed
up at Harlem's Goat Park, "a white dude with an old school jump
shot like butter, like he'd played with the Fort Wayne Pistons.
He had on a pair of One-Stars"--the Converse model that appeared
in stores for the 1974-75 season and disappeared, just like that.
Was it the guy's game that had Bobbito and his posse fiending for
those shoes? Or the shoes that had them bugging over his game? In
the retelling, Garcia can't divorce one from the other. In his
head, style and substance had long since merged into one.

You might think Garcia would welcome the vogue in retro shoes,
for it's allowing kids to recapture the foot-fetishism that fired
his own youth. But as a connoisseur, not a collector, he rolls
his eyes at patrons of Soho boutiques like Classic Kicks, and the
Alife Rivington Club, a tiny, signless, buzz-your-way-in space on
a half-abandoned, graffiti-festooned block on the Lower East
Side, where the door opens onto deep-pile carpet, wood paneling
and wall-mounted glass display cases of shoes in hard-to-find
colors.

"Some of us have been retro for 30 years," Bobbito says, "and now
we've got people wearing jerseys who don't even play ball. I
mean, they suck at ball. Everything's been taken so far out of
context. Now sneakers have become such icons that they're being
bought and never worn. Yeah, we used to buy joints, put 'em on
ice, then bust 'em out a few years later to be able to say, 'Ha!
You're not wearing these!' But to never wear 'em? It's freaky.

"A lot of people assume that the NBA influences kids, and that's
true. But kids influence the NBA, too, especially with so many
players in the league so young and from urban communities heavily
influenced by hip-hop culture. Off-season, guys come back around,
see the thin sideburns, the Uptowns, the Mitchell & Ness and say,
'Lemme rock that s--- in the league next year!'

"But I get a little tight when I see a kid in Nike Dunks or
Adidas [Superstar] shell-toes who doesn't know where they come
from or who wore them initially. I mean, when I was 13, I knew
who the Harlem Rens were. I knew about that dude from Stanford,
Hank Luisetti. I do mind if people wear Wes Unseld and don't know
who Wes Unseld was. Mitchell & Ness is a status symbol in the
ghetto, which is f---ed up--you got nothing in the bank, no
vision for owning a home, and buying throwback jerseys is to your
detriment unless you have money to burn. But what I hope happens
with the retro phenomenon is that people basically look back and
say, Wow. That they learn history."

Laude Johnson can identify the very moment he became a
self-described "history stalker"--can point to it with as much
precision as Reuben Harley cites that Oprah episode. It was 1996.
Johnson was working as a licensor for the NBA, and the league had
just published its latest encyclopedia, to celebrate its 50th
anniversary. As he leafed through the book's more than 800 pages,
Johnson discovered that only three pages and part of a fourth
addressed black basketball before the NBA and integration. There
was scant mention of all-black teams like the Rens and the
"physical culture clubs" in cities around the Northeast that
didn't play in a formal league yet settled among themselves the
title of "colored basketball world's champion." Johnson, troubled
and curious, chased down a copy of Arthur Ashe's standard text on
the history of African-American sports, A Hard Road to Glory, and
learned more, though not enough to quell what was growing into an
obsession.

Soon Johnson dived into microfiche collections at the Library of
Congress and Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black
Culture. He visited the archives of black newspapers in New York
City, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. He used genealogical
websites to chase down descendants of players and managers. Over
the ensuing years, through stints with Nike, Phat Farm and
Benetton, he spent vacations, sick days and weekends trying to
fill in the blanks. "My wife truly thought I was crazy," he
says.

The stories he came upon reeled him further and further in. He
read about Brooklyn's Smart Set Athletic Club, whose star player
was Lena Horne's father, Edwin. He saw today's symbiosis between
music and basketball prefigured in dance halls and casino
ballrooms where dancing lasted from game's end till dawn. He
learned the tale of Cumberland Posey, a centerfielder for the
storied Homestead Grays, who was an even better basketball
player, first under an assumed name at Duquesne, then for
Pittsburgh's Monticello Athletic Association, and who developed a
friendship and sandlot basketball rivalry with the city's great
white player of the day, a guy named Art Rooney.

In November 1918 Paul Robeson played his last football game for
Rutgers, at the Polo Grounds, then walked across the street to
the Manhattan Casino, the mecca of early black basketball in New
York City, to play for Harlem's St. Christopher Club against its
neighborhood rival, the Alpha Physical Culture Club. Today that
intersection, at 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard,
is the site of Holcombe Rucker Memorial Park. "It's a hell of a
coincidence," Johnson says. "The ghosts of the guys who played at
the Casino probably walk over to share stories with the ghosts of
Rucker Park."

Johnson ultimately poured his discoveries into an as yet
unpublished manuscript that aspires to be the hoops equivalent of
Robert Peterson's landmark history of Negro league baseball, Only
the Ball Was White. But along the way, given his background in
the sportswear business, Johnson couldn't help but daydream. When
he had lived in Brooklyn, he had never heard of the Smart Set. "I
asked myself, How cool would it be to wear a T-shirt that said
Smart Set Athletic Club of Brooklyn? And walk around Brooklyn in
it?"

Before he got around to sending his manuscript off to publishers,
he caught wind of the retro craze and decided to launch a line of
vintage replica apparel. He riddled out colors and details of
uniforms from game accounts and the odd photograph, then used
computer software to reproduce logos for such teams as the
Washington, D.C., 12th Streeters and the Atlantic City Vandals,
who played in the 1910s and '20s. He secured from erstwhile Rens
star John Isaacs, as well as the descendants of Robeson and
Horne, the right to use their names. And he attached to each
item--the line includes jerseys, cage shirts, caps and casino
jackets--a hangtag with a brief history of the team. Since its
rollout in September, the authenticity and subtle styling of
Black Fives apparel has made it a hit. It also may be the only
sportswear line whose website includes a bibliography.

Johnson has slipped product to the usual tastemakers, from LeBron
James and Jermaine O'Neal to P. Diddy and Ludacris to John Salley
of The Best Damn Sports Show Period and Big Tigger of BET's Rap
City. But he has a tweedier audience in mind, too, that's just as
hip in its own way. And so Black Fives gear has made its way to
the homecoming fashion show at Howard University and into the
hands of Princeton professor Cornel West, who's the Oprah of the
chin-stroking set.

"I have to be the Big Rube as well as the big bookkeeper, big
driver, big stock boy, big salesperson and big p.r. guy," says
Johnson, who works XXXXXXXXL days. "It's draining, but I signed
up for it. I'm not trying for a slam dunk, like Jay-Z and
Mitchell & Ness. I'm just trying to box out and hit my foul
shots."

The cage shirts have been a particular hit. In basketball's
infancy, games took place in wire-mesh cages and players wore
long sleeves to protect themselves from laceration. "There's
never been a long-sleeve throwback with cuffs till now," Johnson
says. "Retailers constantly complain, 'How can I sell a tank top
in basketball season?' And I've had lots tell me that not
everyone likes big, loud letters and numbers. They have customers
who want something clean and preppy."

With engineering degrees from Carnegie Mellon and Stanford and a
comfortable house in Greenwich, Conn., Johnson looks across a
social chasm at Reuben Harley, albeit with admiration. "Rube is
an organically grown kid from Philly who lit the match," he says.
"The gas leak had started already, but he made it explode."

At the same time the nexus with hip-hop culture leaves Johnson
unsettled. "In basketball, marketers try to glamorize [playground
stars and drug casualties] Earl Manigault and Joe Hammond, and as
a result, that's how far back a lot of black people want to go.
It's as if we got rescued off the playground. A lot of older
black players have told me they didn't realize they were part of
basketball until the NBA came along. Well, Black Fives is like
saying we were on the Mayflower, and that resonates with people.

"I'm not a politician or a sociologist, just someone who thinks
it must have been pretty cool to have been involved in basketball
then. We're letting people see that there's something really
attractive about that time. No clutter, just refined, clean
lines. Look at the logos. There's not a rocket ship among them. I
don't want to go back to 1910 and get lynched, but there is
something worth recapturing from the old days. My jerseys are an
excuse for a father to have a conversation with his son, as
opposed to an argument over why anyone would spend $350 on a
friggin' Nolan Ryan jersey." (The average price of a Black Fives
jersey is $225.)

Even today, history can illuminate some surprising things. Two
players thought to be among the NBA's most incorrigible--Iverson
and Rasheed Wallace--have been the most conscientious in using
fashion to nod toward the game's past. Iverson will wear jerseys
of Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson in press conferences and make
clear that he's honoring them for having paved the way for him.
Wallace, meanwhile, wears Air Force 1s in games.

We shouldn't kid ourselves: It's unlikely that either player
would be making such a fashion statement if the gear didn't also
help him stand out. Listen to Jacksonville Jaguars defensive
tackle Marcus Stroud, who cites World B. Free's Cleveland
Cavaliers jersey as his favorite simply because, as he puts it,
"I haven't seen anyone else with that one." Indeed, in Bobbito's
book there's a dorky publicity still of Free himself, circa 1974,
when he was Lloyd Free, a Brooklyn-bred gunner for Guilford
(N.C.) College. He's wearing mismatched Chuck Taylors, one high
black and one low black, and practically screaming, "You've never
seen anyone else in these!"

That hey-look-at-me urge seems to be primordial. Which suggests
that, as long as there's fresh product in the pipeline, someone
will wear it, if only to set himself apart, to collect on Reuben
Harley's solemn promise: "Every jersey we make, you're gonna get
a comment." At the same time, Jay-Z's farewell record, The Black
Album, includes a cut called What More Can I Say, and some
culture vultures wonder if one line--and I don't wear jerseys I'm
thirty plus--may signal the beginning of the end of retro
fashion.

In any case, now that we're lousy with retro shoes and retro
shirts and retro caps and retro sweats and retro headbands, it's
impossible not to wonder if someone will fill the lone niche
remaining. We're talking, of course, about true retro shorts.
Mention this to Big Rube, and his face registers discomfort,
contempt and every emotion in between. (Is it John Stockton he's
picturing? Isiah Thomas? Bob Kurland in satin Marilyn Monroes?)
"I call 'em coochie cutters," Harley says, shaking his head
emphatically. "No. The culture wouldn't accept it."

It's the culture, after all, that leaks the gas. Long before a
Reuben Harley or Bobbito Garcia or Claude Johnson puts a match to
it.

COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS HOT, HOTTER, HOTTEST The Wes Unseld 1977-78 home jersey, retailed at $430, is a classic case of retro fashion catching fire.COLOR PHOTO: photographs by clay patrick mcbride OLD-FASHIONED GUY Mitchell & Ness has a human billboard in Harley (15, with friends in Philadelphia), here giving cred to a 1965-66 Hal Greer 76ers jersey.COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1979 WILLIE STARGELL PIRATES, $325COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1964-65 HAL GREER SIXERS, $260COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1975 JOSE CRUZ ASTROS, $400COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1982-83 DAVE WILLIAMS CANUCKS, $300COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1963 LANCE ALWORTH CHARGERS, $450COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1933 CUBS, $225COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CLAY PATRICK MCBRIDE BOBBITO'S SPIN Writer and deejay Garcia, a trick ball handler, thinks retro gear should be worn, not hoarded.COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1983 CARLTON FISK WHITE SOX, $325COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1976 GAYLORD PERRY RANGERS, $350COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1983-84 SIDNEY MONCRIEF BUCKS, $300COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1976 JOE MORGAN REDS, $375COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1966-67 DAVE BING PISTONS, $250COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1976 JIM PALMER ORIOLES, $325COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1974-75 BOB MCADOO BRAVES, $260COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1983 ANDRE THORNTON INDIANS, $225COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1971 REGGIE JACKSON A'S, $300COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1973-74 PETE MARAVICH HAWKS, $300COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1984 WAYNE GRETZKY ALL-STAR, $350COLOR PHOTO: ALL JERSEYS COURTESY OF MITCHELL & NESS 1982 TONY GWYNN PADRES, $375COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF BLACK FIVES INC. (JERSEY) FASHION STATEMENT Johnson sees his throwback long-sleeved cage shirts (top) as lessons in African-American history. WASHINGTON 12TH STREETERS, $220COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CLAY PATRICK MCBRIDE [See caption above]
What we're witnessing isn't merely a convergence of sports,
fashion and music but a SMOKING, TWISTED THREE-CAR PILEUP.
"THIS ISN'T A FAD," Harley says. "These uniforms are the history
of sports. Styles come and go, but you can't change the '79 Magic
Johnson jersey."