The coordinating formal attire of King James & Co. went viral during the NBA playoffs, but how did the league’s unlikely fashion trend come to life?
A version of this story appears in the July 16, 2018, issue of Sports Illustrated. For more great storytelling and in-depth analysis, subscribe to the magazine — and get up to 87 percent off the cover price plus two FREE gifts. Click here for more.
Dwyane Wade and designer Thom Browne were sitting at Cipriani’s in Manhattan last October before the Fashion Group International’s Night of Stars—an award ceremony honoring designers at the top of their games—when Browne had an idea. What if he created custom, matching suits for the Cavaliers to wear during the NBA playoffs in the spring?
His proposal assumed a lot. It was only October, and the season was barely ten days old. There was no guarantee the Cavs would even make it to the Playoffs, although betting on LeBron James, King of Cleveland, the Master of Fashion, the Dunker and Blocker and Rebounder of Basketballs, is never a bad idea. It didn’t hurt that the superstar has been a customer of Browne’s for years. It makes sense that the greatest basketball players alive would turn to one of America’s most highly acclaimed designers to look his best. Browne, who’s been a favorite of LeBron James’s for years, loved the idea of the team presenting a unified front.
“They’re all the most amazing singular individuals, but with the suits, they would put that aside for the playoffs and become this strong unit,” Browne says.
See James and the rest of the athletes on SI's 2018 Fashionable 50 list here.
Last fall Browne and his team flew to Cleveland to hold fittings. But a huge roster shake-up in February meant Browne had to start from scratch on several members of the Cavs’ roster when it came time for a second fitting in New York City two weeks before the playoffs rolled around.
“Of course it wasn’t something we expected,” Browne said. “But we had started the initiative and we were all very happy about following through with the Cavaliers.”
James bought the suits (yes, Wade got his, even though he had been traded to the Heat in February), each one costing a little less than $5,000. Browne says designing for basketball players isn’t a challenge since he makes custom clothing so often—“they’re just taller.” The suits were made in Italy but channel a classic American look, so Browne used Super 120s twill and kept the cut clean, with single-breasted, notched lapels. The Cavs—see Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson’s looks below—won every series in which they rocked their matching bespoke outfits. But when James deviated from the script by pairing shorts with his jacket in the Finals, Cleveland was swept by Golden State. Maybe there’s something to be said for dressing for success.