Wed, Dec 03, 2014 - Page 19 News List

NBA reveals ‘ugly’ Christmas tops

NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Cole Aldrich of the New York Knicks is familiar with his teammates’ bold fashion choices: the hats and the scarves, the culottes and the high tops. The Knicks’ locker room is not a place for the meek.

So at this stage of Aldrich’s career, it takes something extraordinary to catch him by surprise.

Enter the NBA, which recently released a collection of holiday-themed sweaters that defy easy description. Before a recent home game, Aldrich was shown photographs of several of them. He let it all sink in.

“Um,” Aldrich said. “Yeah, you know, they’re unique. They’re: wow.”

He paused. He seemed particularly taken by the Carmelo Anthony sweater, a kaleidoscope of colors and graphics, including the Knicks logo on the front and Anthony’s nickname (Melo) and jersey number (7) on the back. Not to be overlooked was the snowflake trim.

“Is there a way I can find me one?” Aldrich asked.

There is, in fact. The ugly sweaters — and yes, that is how the league is marketing them — are being sold on the league’s Web site and at other online stores, arena shops and Lids locations.

Designs were created for 30 teams, and 10 player-specific sweaters are available. The Kobe Bryant version, with his nickname Black Mamba stitched across the back, is particularly “festive.”

“They speak for themselves,” said Lisa Piken Koper, the league’s vice president of licensing. “The idea is that they’re so bad, they’re amazing.”

In a twist, the man whose company was responsible for introducing the Christmas sweaters to the NBA was, until last year, unfamiliar with the concept of ugly sweaters.

Michael Lewis, the chief executive at Forever Collectibles, said he showed up for work one morning in December last year to discover that most of his employees were wearing ugly sweaters, a growing tradition in the art of holiday kitsch.

“One after another,” Lewis said of his employees, “looking hideous.”

Eventually, one of them hatched an unconventional idea: Why not make ugly sweaters for sports teams?

Lewis was less than convinced.

“We don’t do apparel,” said Lewis, who described his company as one of the country’s leading manufacturers of sports-themed “trinkets and treasures” — a one-stop source for everything from Miami Heat tote bags to Los Angeles Kings dog tag bottle openers (Stanley Cup commemorative edition).

Ugly sweaters, though?

“I thought the leagues would laugh at me if I brought this to them, but my people were insistent: ‘Michael, we’ll draw up some sketches,’” Lewis said.

Lo and behold, the NFL signed on. Others, including the NHL, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the NBA, soon followed.

An NBA spokeswoman said sales of the ugly sweaters (at about US$85 each) had been brisk, even though Forever Collectibles wanted exclusivity to be part of the draw.

“If you live in New York,” Lewis said, “you don’t want to see 20 people coming and going with the same Carmelo sweater.”

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