Supreme swag: J.R. Smith, Kelly Oubre Jr. and the flyest shooting sleeves of all time
In the new era of uniform sponsorship, some players are already pushing the rules
J.R. Smith threw on a crisp T-shirt, tied up his do-rag and slid a beanie on his head. This was after a 106-99 road win on Sunday over the Washington Wizards in which LeBron James made a bold style statement via a special pair of his Nike LeBron 15 “EQUALITY” sneakers. Yet Smith reflected on his most important style moment from the week: The one that broke the internet — much like when Smith decided to go shirtless everywhere after his Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Finals.
On Dec. 14, in a highly anticipated matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers and their rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, Smith took the hardwood at The Q donning one of the latest creations from the billion-dollar streetwear brand Supreme. On his left arm, the shooting guard rocked a Dri-Fit Nike shooting sleeve featuring the timeless Jerry West-silhouetted NBA logo and, more prominently, the iconic slanted Supreme script.
“I thought the sleeve was dope,” Smith said Sunday night. “Obviously, Supreme is an amazing brand, but the fact that they did a collaboration with Nike and the league? It felt like a no-brainer for me.” The shooting sleeve was released in two colors, black and red, online and in the brand’s flagship stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York; Los Angeles; London; and Paris on Dec. 7 (and two days later in Japan).
If JR Smith wasn't already the coolest player in the NBA, he is now because he's wearing a Supreme shooting sleeve pic.twitter.com/RBiWb5viCp
— Jack Morrissey (@jack_morrissey3) December 15, 2017
While wearing the sleeve, Smith surpassed Chauncey Billups on the NBA’s all-time list for most made 3-pointers. For the lovable player nicknamed “Swish,” it was a fitting accomplishment — and one done with a whole lotta swag. The Supreme accessory, which Smith says a friend of his brother’s copped for him in New York and dropped off before the game, served as the perfect complement to Cleveland’s black alternate “Statement” jerseys, designed by Nike, the official apparel provider of the NBA.
“It looked dope and matched our uniforms,” Smith said after the Cavs beat the Lakers 121-112. While Smith ran up and down the floor, folks reacted in real time on Twitter to the streetwear-meets-hoops moment — through eyes emojis, predictions the guard would go for “a smooth 50 points” and declarations that what he wore on his arm made the night an “instant classic.” Even King James posted a photo of his teammate in the sleeve on Instagram with the caption “Swag on ’em then @teamswish 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥.”
“That’s what it was made for,” Smith said in D.C. of the frenzy.
Yet Smith wasn’t the first player to break out the Supreme sleeve on the court. He actually rode the wave of the man colloquially known as “Wave Papi,” aka third-year Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. Two days before the Cavs played the Lakers, the Wizards faced the Brooklyn Nets, and Oubre played the first two quarters of the game with the red version of the sleeve on his right leg.
A team trainer told him to switch it at halftime. Technically, the sleeve violates the uniform policy outlined in Article XXXVII, Section 2, Paragraph A of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, which reads, “During any NBA game or practice, including warm-up periods and going to and from the locker room to the playing floor, a player shall wear only the Uniform as supplied by his Team. For purposes of the preceding sentence only, ‘Uniform’ means all clothing and other items (such as kneepads, wristbands and headbands, but not including Sneakers) worn by a player during an NBA game or practice. ‘Sneakers’ means athletic shoes of the type worn by players while playing an NBA game.”
an important moment in nba history pic.twitter.com/usc5zOjSRj
— Abe Schwadron (@abe_squad) December 13, 2017
Although his team made him take it off, Oubre found somewhat of a loophole in the NBA’s rules by wearing an item also branded by the league and its uniform supplier. Supreme has a long history of collaborating with Nike, including a reported upcoming line of jerseys.
“It had the NBA logo on it, has a Nike sign on it. The NBA is sponsored by Nike, it’s just Supreme, so I don’t really know what’s the quarrel,” Oubre said after the Wizards ended up falling 103-98 to the Nets. “They shouldn’t have sold it to me or they shouldn’t have dropped it if we can’t wear it. And it has the NBA logo on it, because I play in the NBA, right? I should be able to wear anything that has the logo of what I represent.”
While this season in the NBA marks the first year that team jerseys feature sponsor patches, Oubre’s and Smith’s accessory decisions represent a different type of promotion. It’s branding on their own terms. A way to put on for a company that’s symbolic of both the culture and the arms race of style that takes place every night across the league, in the tunnels of arenas and at news conference podiums through pre- and postgame outfits.
“It’s just something wavy, honestly,” Oubre said of the sleeve. “I don’t know if it’s too wavy for [the league], but honestly I had fun.”
Oubre and Smith have yet to be fined for overstepping the uniform boundaries, so the question most certainly on every hypebeast’s mind is: Will the sleeve return?
“Probably not,” Smith said. “It draws too much attention to me. … It takes away from my team.”
Sadly, there’s a chance we might not see the sleeve on an NBA court again, whether for fear of a fine or the hesitancy to jack the trend’s two earliest adopters. Regardless, for two nights, Oubre and Smith brought some Supreme swag to the court — and it was absolutely glorious.