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TALL ORDERS : The height of fashion for these NBA players is custom clothing that fits their long frames--not to mention their sense of style. For some, establishing a 'rep as a dresser' has led them on quests for unusual fabrics and tailors who can suit their tastes.


Where do basketball players go to celebrate the signing of their first NBA contract? No, not Disneyland. Many of them make tracks to a tailor.

Some players are just too tall to wear off-the-rack menswear--suits, jackets, pants--that is typically designed to fit men 6 feet, 3 inches and shorter. Others may be able to find a suit jacket that will fit, but the matching pants will be too large. So most NBA players are only too happy to indulge in custom-made clothing. And why not? Suit prices may start at about $1,000, but the average NBA salary is $1.33 million.

When they join the brotherhood of the NBA, rookies are frequently introduced to a nationwide loop of stores and tailors that specialize in athletes. Designer Everett Hall of Silver Spring, Md., for example, outfits many NBA players. One of his customers is 6-foot-6 Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns, who buys his suits twice a year, 10 at a time.

Once some players become accustomed to wearing one-of-a-kind jackets, Sea Island cotton shirts and made-to-order cashmere overcoats, they take an active role in designing their own garments and finding unusual fabrics. When he's on the road, 6-foot-9 Laker Sam Perkins spends his free time shopping for suit fabrics. Others, such as Laker James Worthy and Kevin Willis of the Atlanta Hawks, have opened their own custom-made clothing businesses.

Willis, 7 feet, studied fashion design at Michigan State before he came to the NBA. As a teen-ager, he says, "I knew what looked good, what colors worked. I was good at putting things together even though we had no money and I had no clothes." He says it was mid-season of his rookie year when he cut loose and started ordering custom clothing.

For rookies who want to cut a clothing swath--and Willis says lots of them want to establish a "rep as a dresser"--there are old-timers in the NBA who will guide them to the custom tailors and stores that specialize in large sizes. Mark Jackson of the Clippers, 6 feet, 3 inches, says it was "some of the older guys" who introduced him to his Houston tailor, K.W. Wong.

Players and team officials confirm that when teams go to Atlanta to play the Hawks, a pit stop at Friedman's-- the place for men's shoes in large sizes--is a must. The three-story shop stocks thousands of pairs of shoes (prices range from $65 to $1,000). And while most stores top out at a Size 13, Friedman's carries sizes up to a 20. This year Friedman's published its first mail-order catalogue.

Owner Bruce Teilhaber can rattle off a long list of NBA clients: Laker A.C. Green , Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons), Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets), Barkley, Worthy, and Manute Bol (Philadelphia 76ers.) As for Atlanta Hawk Dominique Wilkins, "he's a great customer, he's bought every shoe in the store," Teilhaber says.

A stopover in the Los Angeles area to play the Lakers or Clippers is an opportunity to shop at David Rickey, a custom-clothing store in Costa Mesa that counts hundreds of athletes--basketball players, jockeys and everyone in between--among its customers. Like most custom-clothing stores, David Rickey stocks swatches rather than suits, but the store does carry shoes, ties, furnishings and some sportswear.

Rick Lamitie, one of the owners, says basketball players are big business. Magic Johnson appears in David Rickey's magazine advertisements, and is wearing clothes from the store on the cover of the February issue of GQ.

The average price for a custom-made suit from David Rickey is $1,700 says Lamitie. Shaquille O'Neal (Orlando Magic), David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs), Shawn Kemp (Seattle Supersonics), Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls) and Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Dunleavy are customers, as is 6-foot-10 Clipper Danny Manning, "but he won't tell anyone that he shops here because he doesn't want anyone looking as good as he does," quips Lamitie.

When the schedule takes a team to Washington to play the Bullets, many players will detour to see the Hall brothers of Silver Springs, Md. Everett (the designing half of the duo) and Edwin (the business half) make custom suits and sportswear. Eighty percent of their big spenders are athletes, says Everett, who charges $795 to $1,250 for a suit.

Patrick Ewing, 7 feet, of the New York Knicks, and James Edwards, 7 feet, 1 inch, of the Lakers, are regular customers, as is Barkley. Last year Barkley called the Halls and said, "I need something for the Olympics." The order was open-ended. Five suits, five shorts and matching shirts, and 15 pants with matching shirts later, he was ready to go for the gold.

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