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 included."
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."