When Kendrick Perkins signed on the dotted line to join the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent on the final day of the regular season, his contract paid him a prorated portion of the veteran's minimum salary, worth a whopping $13,156.
A week later, when the Cavs went on the road for their first playoff game of the first round against the Indiana Pacers, Perkins received a fringe benefit from being teammates with LeBron James that was worth well more than his paycheck.
James, looking to create a unified team experience for Cleveland's postseason run, paired with New York-based designer Thom Browne to gift his teammates three of Browne's signature Super 120s twill suits (a light grey, a grey and a charcoal), white oxford shirts, cashmere cardigan sweaters, sunglasses, ties, black pebble grain leather boots (or calf leather low cut trainers), a black Chesterfield overcoat, a bag and a sweat suit with Browne's distinct 4-bar detail.
The retail cost of the total wardrobe the players received is north of $17,120, according to Browne's website (and far more if you include the $41,000 grey alligator Mr. Thom bag that James toted into Bankers Life Fieldhouse the first time the Cavs wore the ensemble).
For every road playoff game, through Indiana, in Toronto and now in Boston, the Cavs have worn the suits from the team hotel, onto the bus, into the visitor's locker room when they make their entrance and up to the postgame podium before they make their exit.
One team. Fifteen players. One aesthetic.
"I think it just forms unity," said Perkins. "I think it shows togetherness -- win or lose -- with them on. Like, when you see when somebody sends out a text and says, 'Hey, we're wearing suit No. 2' and you see everybody wear it, it kind of shows guys that they're all in. I think it's a good thing, man. I think it's a good thing."
Then a grin appeared on the big man's normally menacing face.
"And, it saves people a lot of money from buying clothes."
The practical perk aside, James said the idea -- first hatched by former teammate Dwyane Wade when he was a member of the Cavs earlier in the season -- was all about standing out by standing together.
"It's a great look for all of us to get off the bus like that and appear unified," James said. "It's all class."
When Wade was traded to the Miami Heat in February -- as the Cavs completly overhauled its team by sending six players out and bringing four new players in, before eventually adding Perkins and Okaro White to fill out the 15-man roster -- James said he was unsure whether he would follow through with the idea.
For starters, a fitting had already been arranged for the made-to-measure suits with the team prior to the trade deadline. But after seeing Wade in Miami when Cleveland played a road game there in late March and being urged by his former teammate to carry on with it, the project was picked back up, finalized with a visit to Browne's studio when the Cavs traveled to Manhattan in early April to play their last road game of the regular season against the New York Knicks.
James inspected the items in person, mixing and matching accessories along with Browne to complete the concept, and a follow-up fitting was scheduled in Northeast Ohio for the new Cavs who still needed it.
"LeBron was so supportive from the beginning of the cultural statement we wanted to make," Browne told ESPN.com in an email. "His confidence and leadership in representing the power and individuality of the uniform is what makes him the true superstar and leader that he is."
James, who is a part owner of Liverpool Football Club, noticed soccer teams executing a similar style for years.
"For me, it's normal," said Jose Calderon, who is Spanish. "I'm used to it. In Europe, everybody does that. Every team goes looking the exact same way every time to play. Depending what is your team, you can go all with the same sweats, you can go all with the same suits, but usually everybody dresses to travel the same."
The Cavs aren't as strict with the dress code as many European teams -- they don't wear the suits on the plane, for instance -- but even the times they do wear them has taken some getting used to for a few players.
"For me, I use the hell out of my Adidas merch because if everybody has their style -- JC's got his streetwear, Swish has got Supreme -- if you had to describe mine in one word, it would be 'comfort,'" said Larry Nance Jr., comparing his usual clothing to that of teammates Jordan Clarkson and JR Smith.
"We walk in kind of badass. Like a business meeting."Cavs F Larry Nance, Jr.
But even Nance is starting to become a convert.
"I would not say I'm antisuit. It's just, for me, that was probably the furthest outside my comfort zone," Nance said. "To be honest with you, now I'm starting to like it, though. ... We walk in kind of badass. Like a business meeting."
The first "meeting" went terrible, however. Cleveland went to Indiana for Game 3, debuted the suits and proceeded to blow a 17-point lead as it fell behind in the series 2-1 to the lower-seeded Pacers.
"When we lost our first game," said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, "I knew it would be a story."
The story wasn't just that Cavs were embarrassed on the court after wearing the suits, but the cut of the suits were also criticized up and down. The pants, dubbed "high trousers" by Browne, fall to just above the ankle, leading to shots like, "Did they run out of material?" and "Where's the flood?" being made on social media.
Part of the James and Browne's shared vision was to push the envelope a bit, however.
"The way that LeBron and the team wore the clothing proves their confidence in being true individuals," Browne wrote. "This should be inspiring to everyone and everyone should embrace seeing things differently."
The rapper Drake piled on during the Raptors series when he and Perkins got into a bizarre midcourt shouting match during Game 1 of the second round. Drake made a comment on Instagram afterward, sarcastically explaining the incident happened because, "I just said I liked the hem on his capris."
The Cavs are 3-4 on the road in the playoffs, meaning they are 3-4 in the suits (including 0-2 in the Eastern Conference finals in the suits heading into Game 5 in Boston on Wednesday), but the practice has become ingrained at this point regardless of win-loss record.
"I think it's a unique way to show togetherness not only for our team but in society today," said Cavs forward Jeff Green. "For me, I take it as more than us. ... Especially when you're dealing with a lot of different backgrounds like we have."
To Green's point, the Cavs' melting pot consists of mostly African-American players, but there are also Caucasian guys in Kevin Love and Kyle Korver, the aforementioned Spanish Calderon, Clarkson, who is half Filipino; Cedi Osman, who is Turkish; and Ante Zizic, who is Croatian.
"It's an amazing moment and also message," Green continued. "I'm just grateful to be a part of it. I think it was historic when people first saw it."
When asked if he's gained business from the exposure the Cavs get, Browne echoed Green's take on things.
"This wasn't a commercial initiative for me," he wrote. "This was a cultural initiative that represents to power of unity and true individuality."
As the playoffs have gone on, several Cavs players have expressed their individuality by adding their own twists to the uniforms.
Clarkson rolls his sleeves up. Tristan Thompson accessorizes, putting his stamp on the outfit the way Will Smith's character once did to his Bel Air Academy uniform on "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."
"Will turned his blazer inside out," Thompson said. "Just because the suit covers a lot -- we got the cardigan part, the pants and the blazer -- so the way you can make your own style is with your sunglasses or with our shoes, now. Now that we're wearing our own shoes, that's how we kind of bring the Fresh Prince."
Asked to reflect on the idea this week, James said it was "organic" and "easy." "Best part was nobody had no problems," James said. "Sometimes you get complaints from a bunch of grown men. There was no egos. Nobody bucking against the idea. That was the best part for me."
Well, maybe some ego. When James was asked which Cavs player pulled off the suit the best, he didn't miss a beat: "Me. Of course I look the best. What kind of question is that?"
It has been James' custom to give out gifts to his teammates in the postseason. Before the 2015 NBA Finals, he passed out Beats by Dre headphones, Apple Watches and Samsung Edge phones. James had business relationships with both Apple (which owns Beats by Dre) and Samsung at the time.
In the 2016 postseason, he gave out personalized shields -- the same size medieval soldiers would feasibly use in battle -- and more headphones.
In 2018 it was the suits. What will be next? "I don't have many postseasons left, man," James told ESPN with a laugh.
And the Cavs don't have too many road games left in these playoffs -- a maximum of six should they make it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals -- to wear the suits.
"It's easy to pack for the trips now," said Calderon. "You don't have to think too much."
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