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How Jeff Hamilton’s Leather NBA Jackets Kick-started a Movement

The NBA marked its 50th anniversary by awarding special leather jackets to its 50 greatest players. Could something similar be in store for the 75th anniversary season?

Awards and assorted trinkets across the world of sports can be incredibly cliche. Trophies, plaques, framed jerseys, and autographed balls have become ubiquitous to the point of over-saturation. But when the NBA turned 50, they wanted to mark the occasion with something more. Something different.

Little did they know they’d start a movement.

When the league named its 50 greatest players of all time as part of its golden anniversary in 1996, the list alone was prestigious enough. The league wanted more than just publishing a list, however, so they honored the players at the season’s All-Star Game in Cleveland. The halftime ceremony featured 47 of the 50 stars, with Shaquille O’Neal nursing a knee injury, Jerry West recovering from surgery, and the late “Pistol” Pete Maravich representing the only three unable to attend.

The players received honorary leather jackets created by famed menswear designer Jeff Hamilton, each customized with the colors of the team they were most closely associated with.

The jackets themselves became a part of NBA lore — but that was just the start for Hamilton and the league. Championship teams from Michael Jordan’s Bulls, the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, Tim Duncan’s Spurs, and the LeBron James-Anthony Davis Lakers would all call upon Hamilton to create special jackets to commemorate their own title wins.

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But Hamilton’s reach extends far beyond the NBA, as icons like Michael Jackson, Drake, Madonna, and Mike Tyson have all dialed his number for work for themselves as well. For many, despite his past as the original men’s designer for Guess Jeans, the 50 Greatest Players jackets were their introduction to Hamilton.

And he’s spent the 25 intervening years further cementing an already iconic legacy.

Now, with the official unveiling of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team nearly here, it’s worth wondering if the jackets will return with a new and revitalized fit for the latest generation of greats worthy of such celebration. It only seems right.

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