As the Cleveland Cavaliers and President Barack Obama stood on the South Lawn of the White House, and forward Kevin Love presented a Cavs jersey with “16” stitched on the back, the first thing the Commander-in-Chief noticed were the sleeves.
“I like this,” said Obama. “But these sleeves, they get tight. Can I rip them?”
“I’ll show you exactly how to do it,” said LeBron James, the four-time MVP whose 2015-16 season was capped off with an NBA Championship, but also as being the first — and only — player to rip the sleeves on his jersey in the middle of a game. When it comes to James’ most-discussed highlights of the season, falling right behind the clip of him blocking Golden State’s Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the NBA Finals is that of him tearing at his black, alternate Cavs jersey after missing a jump shot midway through the second quarter during the team’s 10-point win over the New York Knicks.
Forget for a moment that the 44th president of the United States plays basketball in sweatpants, thus making sleeves more of a utilitarian likelihood than an inconvenience. What Obama said, however, referenced more of the cultural impact of James’ decision to rip the sleeves off of his jersey and NBA uniforms in general, more so than some sort of referendum on what a 55-year-old man deems to be fashionably hip.
As with anything related to James, the internet was ablaze following this act of mesh-tearing frustration. Two years earlier, when James was a member of the Miami Heat, he vented about the NBA’s newfangled sleeved look, saying that every time he shot, it felt as if the fabric was bunching underneath his right arm. Anyone who follows James’ game knows that shooting is the least dominant aspect of what the three-time champion does on a nightly basis, so encumbering his weakest aspect was a non-starter.
This time around, a mustachioed James physically tore the uniform, ultimately creating a bat-like appearance as the black sleeves hung down from his shoulders as if it were a witch’s costume. As the web is wont to do, we immediately had videos of NBA TV’s The Starters, TNT’s Kenny Smith and ESPN’s Lindsay Czarniak attempting to do the same.
Depending on who you ask, the new sleeved jerseys are big sellers for their respective teams as sleeves, by most accounts, are more socially acceptable than, well, no sleeves. A way to generate more revenue for the league, the NBA has always attempted to stay ahead of the pack when it comes to style-based items, but this — this was a drastic change.
Players weren’t fans of the change, basketball purists were even less so.