It all began 15 years ago, with 14 oversized suits, each awful in its own right.
There were extra buttons, too much fabric, too many pant cuffs scraping the floor. It is said that Steve Harvey deserves blame for what happened. That it was Michael Jordan's fault. That maybe it was P. Diddy and Sean John.
On June 26, 2003, four future Hall of Famers entered the league: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But the memory of that historic occasion is, all these years later, tinted in yellow, and in dark purply-brown, and in white cream. The suits worn that night by the '03 super-rookies—and by all present draftees—will live on in infamy, haunting the greatness of that class forever.
It is said that, on draft night in '03, Kirk Hinrich resembled a kid on his way to his First Communion. That Jarvis Hayes might have thought, "F--k it, I'm gonna button all of these, I don't know where to start or end." That the pants were the worst part—that, no, it's got to be the collars—that, no, no, just look at those shoes.
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There are a number of interconnected theories and stories that help explain what happened. But what's clear is that the suits were bad and, ironically, that we can point to the 2003 draft as a jumping-off point for NBA fashion as we now know it.
How did we get here? To find out, all you have to do is turn back the clock—and shield your eyes.
Dwyane Wade, No. 5 pick
Jarvis Hayes, No. 10 pick
Reece Gaines, No. 15 pick
Calyann Barnett, stylist for Wade
Khalilah Beavers, stylist for Anthony
Waraire Boswell, designer to James, Wade, Anthony and Bosh
Rachel Johnson, stylist for James and Bosh
Sami Jenks, stylist at Elevee; styled James and Anthony for 2003 draft
Johnson: I remember the photo vividly.
Beavers: That photo is one of a kind.
Barnett: Every time I look at the picture, I have to burn it out of my head. Now it's burning back in.
Gaines: We swore we all looked good, man, I tell you!
Beavers: They look like preachers and deacons.
Wade: It was just a different time when we came in. Hip-hop culture had a big effect on fashion. At the time, hip-hop culture was baggy jeans, Sean John jeans, hats to the side—that was the Allen Iverson culture. That's where the NBA was when we first got in.
Johnson: Right around this time was the whole metamorphosis between rappers and athletes. It was right before athletes really started mimicking their favorite rappers, wanting to emulate them. Up until then, it's clear they wanted to emulate the players that came before them, like a Michael Jordan sort of style, or an Allen Iverson style.
Boswell: They were from inner-city areas that are rich in love but not finance. So you're dressing in whatever the regional guy thinks is hot.
Beavers: Where they came from, nobody wore tight clothes, everything was baggy. It was a learning process for everybody, there was a curve. It may have looked good at the time, because that's what they knew. The NBA player until now has never been a forward guy.
Hayes: Think about the Michael Jordan-Allen Iverson era that started the baggy clothes look. It was the baggy suit era. I got [my suit] from a close family friend out in Georgia. I doubt if they're still in business now if they're still making suits like that. You wouldn't catch me dead in a suit that size.
Barnett: Everyone looks like they're wearing someone else's suit. If everyone passed their suit around, they might fit.
Jenks: There were no rules! There are rules now in fashion—coats should be a certain length in proportion to your body, and sleeve length, pants length. There are rules that are very important now as I dress my clients. Back then, there were no rules, just: The longer, the bigger, the better.
The No. 1 Pick: LeBron James
Jenks: Obviously LeBron wore all white. That had to have been a request from him—we wouldn't have said, "Hey, let's wear all white!" We like to tap into what they may want to wear and then we guide them. We just brought his dreams to life.
Gaines: LeBron had the all-white Jesus suit. There was a rumor he was gonna do that, so I was prepared to see him in all white.
Hayes: LeBron in the all-white! I thought he was fly. You didn't see too many people walking around in white suits, but shoot, he's LeBron, he could do whatever he wants to do. He pulled it off if you ask me.
Barnett: I think Dwyane said it best: "It looks like he took the hotel bedsheets and just wrapped them around him."
Wade: It was a choice—I'll tell you that. At the time, it wasn't bad. It was like everyone knew he'd be the No. 1 pick, and he came out in the all-white suit. Obviously the suit was huge now that you look back, but it at the time, it was kinda dope.
Johnson: It's obviously cut much too big for him, there are way too many buttons, the lapel is too high. All of that white is something I feel like a gentleman getting married would wear, or a minister christening children. Those shoes [laughs]. Wow.
Barnett: Those black-and-white, like, gator shoes. It looks like he's going to prom.
Beavers: He looks like a marshmallow. You couldn't miss him.
The No. 3 Pick: Carmelo Anthony
Jenks: It was our signature style that we put him in that year. We designed that signature look, and he wore it very well, and it was pretty well-received. I dressed Drew Gooden in that as well [in 2002]. When we did this, people loved it. At the time, trust me, this was hot. This was hot!
Wade: His was very interesting. It was like a trench coat suit. Melo was probably the worst one out of everyone. Over time, everyone's cracking jokes, that I look like a deacon or—there's certain things they say. With Melo's suit, it's, "Wait a minute, Melo. What were you going for? What was the vibe?" Wherever [he bought the suit], I don't think they've done much since.
Barnett: Carmelo just made his own kind of suit. It was like a vest suit, no lapel, Dr. Evil jacket.
Gaines: Melo had the super-extra baggy! I think his fashion game has improved a lot since then. His was one of the worst, looking back on it.
Beavers: Melo's outfit looks like something—whew—I don't know. I don't even know what to call it. They all had the Steve Harvey back-in-the-day thing going on.
Johnson: The tailoring leaves something to be desired. The shirt and tie combination is lackluster at best. It's very drab. But even if he wanted to wear gray with a white shirt and a gray tie, there's a way to do that beautifully. How many buttons did Melo have? Four, five, six buttons—and he only buttoned the top button!
Jenks: He is wearing eight or nine buttons.
The No. 4 Pick: Chris Bosh
Barnett: I honestly am going to go ahead and say Chris Bosh might have had the best suit on.
Wade: I know his suit jacket was long as s--t. I remember that. He's already tall and slender, and it was a lot of material. The jackets at the time went to the end of your hand, and we all have long arms—our hands go to our knees, so our jackets go down there. That's how it was fitted back then.
Johnson: The sleeve lengths on all these joints are just horrific.
Beavers: I hate that color, taupe. It looks like the old lady there at the church. The pants are huge and Chris is a slimmer person, so his pants could probably fit three of him in there.
Johnson: It's bad. It's all the buttons, that color—that manila folder, oh my God, it's so bad. That cuff at the bottom, and do you see those shoes? Do you see that cuff? You can see the seams at the side of the legs—that's how seams look when they're not ironed. Damn. I hope my boys don't get mad at me for talking s--t, but they know their suits are bad.
Boswell: Yeah man, this is—wow, that suit, bro. It's just big, man. It's super-duper big. Look at those pants! This is my brother, so I'm not gonna talk bad, but if he saw himself, he'd be like, "Man, I've come a long way."
The No. 5 Pick: Dwyane Wade
Wade: I got my suit from a designer, a suit maker in Chicago. I said I wanted a blue suit and a black suit—I'm gonna go with safe colors. I didn't know where I was getting drafted, so I went neutral. Guys who knew where they were getting drafted went with the team color vibe. It's funny when you look back at suits, nobody was doing tight stuff. The more leg rolls the better, that's what I thought. For the time, I was fresh. It wasn't as classic as I wanted it to be.
Jenks: He looked amazing at the time. It's more professional, more conservative, the dark color, the notch collar. He was probably going more for a business look.
Beavers: Dwyane looks like he works on Wall Street. It's just bad.
Barnett: I don't think it was a good look [even] in 2003. Dwyane's top isn't too terrible, but when you get down to the bottom it's like he's wearing somebody else's pants. They literally are like bell-bottoms. When I started working with Dwyane, for four years I was cleaning the suits out of his closet.
Gaines: After the draft, I get to Orlando, I'm like, "Why is Grant Hill wearing this skinny-ass suit?" I come to find out he looks great and I look ridiculous. He was already fitted, Italian-cut. He knew what the hell he was doing.
Hayes: I look at it now—I have the picture in my office at home—and I'm like, "What the hell were we thinking?" You see a picture of LeBron in his white baggy suit, and in the Finals he had on a suit with shorts! The times have changed.
Beavers: There was of course [the implementation of the 2005 dress code], so they had to dress a certain way. That's where it kind of all started for us. The guys saw it and the precedent was set. What do you do? There's no choice—you have to come in and look great.
Johnson: The reason these guys were wearing those giant suits was because they hadn't fully embraced their bodies yet. These are men who grew up taller than everyone, their clothes never fit, they had to wear hand-me-downs, their pants didn't fit, they were awkward, or whatever. So it took time for them to be confident with their bodies. [After the dress code], instead of wearing these clown suits and camouflaging themselves, it was all about embracing their bodies and showing how beautiful they are.
Hayes: There was a lot of guys that didn't like it, but I think the dress code kind of chaperoned the current era. As an athlete, the only way to express yourself was the way and manner in which you played. Once we knew the rule wasn't going anywhere, guys took that as another way of expressing themselves in a more colorful way.
Wade: When David Stern made the transition to change the image and the dress code, [fashion] took on a life of its own and became competitive amongst players. Then you got the stylists.
Beavers: [Melo and I] got rid of damn near everything. Within a year all of his previous clothes were not there anymore. We gave them away, donated them to friends, family, charity. I wouldn't be surprised if he still has [the draft suit] somewhere—it's a memorable occasion, and I'd never say throw it away, as horrible as it may be.
Johnson: In 2006, I remember the first time I went to LeBron's closet, how much stuff we got rid of, and how much we laughed at everything that was in there. He still had [his draft-night suit], of course, but he wasn't wearing that stuff anymore. It's a growth and evolution process.
Boswell: Now all the fashion houses want to dress these guys—that's largely due to stylists like me and Rachel and others. It was that tight-knit group of individuals who these guys would go to and say, "I gotta look right." And those who made that wise choice ended up reaping the benefits.
Hayes: We're getting back to the tight uniforms and suits. Now it's like John Stockton size, where you could see the tights under the shorts. I like the more tapered look now. I like the fit a little bit better. You don't get caught in the door when you're getting in the car.
Jenks: Fashion has evolved so much, men are practically wearing women's clothes—skin-tight garments. We're going to be doing this again when all the guys are wearing their girlfriends' pants, with their ankles out, and when they can barely button their tight jackets. We'll be doing this again. I'll be talking to you again in 15 years.
Editor's Note: Comments have been condensed and edited for clarity.