Decked out in an oatmeal-colored, two-button single-breasted
wool suit, Suns forward Clifford Robinson stands before a mirror
at Dion Scott, a posh Beverly Hills boutique, and reflects on
how hard it is to dress for success, NBA-style. "When you're
6'10", you don't find suits like this off the rack," Robinson
says, shooting the monogrammed cuffs of his tobacco-colored
Italian cotton shirt. That's why Robinson shops at Dion Scott.
Now in its fifth year, the shop boasts a Who's Who of NBA
clients, including Kobe Bryant, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill and
Shawn Kemp. Each pays top dollar for custom-made suits, hats,
shoes and casual wear.
Even before Pat Riley began prowling the sidelines in Armani,
fashion played a big part in the NBA scene, but today's players
have taken it to a new level--from Charles Oakley's brightly
colored 1920s-style gangster ensembles to Alonzo Mourning's
conservative GQ business suits. "For a lot of them it's a
competition," says Dion Lattimore, cofounder of Dion Scott.
"They all want to be the best-dressed on their teams."
To Lattimore's delight, that often means cutting-edge fashion.
Shaquille O'Neal once requested a black-and-white checkered
wool, 12-button double-breasted suit with a long coat. Another
time he ordered a fire-engine-red suit with baggy pants. "Shaq's
probably our most fashion-forward client," Lattimore says. "He's
not scared to experiment."
While some NBA players are dedicated clothes hounds--Hakeem
Olajuwon brings in fabrics from his native Africa--others leave
the big decisions to a higher power. "One time David Robinson
bought some clothes without telling his wife, and she didn't
agree with his decisions," Lattimore recalls. "So she called to
let me know, in no uncertain terms, not to let him pick out
anything else without her. Now we make sure Mrs. Robinson is
Lattimore, 36, and partner Scott Torrellas, 32, met in 1989
while working for David Rickey, an Orange County tailor who
provided clothing for guests on ESPN's UpClose. Realizing that
there was a profitable market in outfitting athletes, they went
out on their own in '94. "Our first big client was Magic
Johnson," Lattimore says. "The first time I sat with him, he
ordered $80,000 worth of clothing. It kind of snowballed from
there." Today Dion Scott has about 2,000 client-athletes,
including stars of sports other than basketball, such as Ken
Griffey Jr. The firm has 14 employees and takes in an estimated
$2.5 million per year. "We can take care of the whole team and
have them all look different," Torrellas says.
Browsing at Dion Scott a few hours before a game with the
Clippers, Clifford Robinson says he's warming up for the
evening. "When I look good, I feel good," Robinson explains,
adjusting his silk tie. "And when I feel good, I play good."
COLOR PHOTO: DARRELL MIHO Torrellas (left) and Lattimore take the measure of Clifford Robinson.