When the NBA regular season kicks off Tuesday night, Kyrie Irving will sit in the visitor’s locker room in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena and lace up his personalized Nike sneakers for his debut with the Celtics. In the home locker room, LeBron James will have an array of footwear options within his signature shoe line.
Later that night, across the country in San Francisco, the Warriors’ Steph Curry will tie the laces of his signature shoe with Under Armor. Houston’s James Harden will feature his shoe with Adidas. All will don jerseys with their named emblazoned across the shoulders.
The coaches in each contest, meanwhile, from Brad Stevens to Steve Kerr, have their own uniform for the game —a dapper suit, custom made and tailored for them in a style of their choosing. Their names are elegantly embroidered inside the lapels.
All those suits share a common thread: New Bedford.
For the last eight years, every suit worn by an NBA coach in a game, whether played in Boston or Los Angeles, San Antonio or Minneapolis, was tailored at Joseph Abboud on Belleville Avenue.
When coach Doc Rivers walked off the court in 2010 after his Celtics lost in the NBA Finals, he wore a suit tailored in New Bedford. When Brad Stevens took over as head coach in 2013, fabric from Belleville Avenue traveled with him to every NBA city. As he ushers in a new era with Irving and Gordon Hayward, he’ll do so with ties to the Whaling City.
This year also marks the first season the company will tailor NHL coaches. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy visited the facility recently to be measured. It’s the latest extension into the sports world for Joseph Abboud Manufacturing, which also designs and produces suits for NESN, the official broadcasters of the Boston Red Sox and Bruins.
“From the very beginning of my brand, I’ve always been affiliated with sports and the Olympics because I was able to speak to American men,” Joseph Abboud said. “It didn’t matter the color of your skin, the political preference, your religion, it was always about a great American enterprise like the NBA. Yeah, I’m very proud of it.”
“I always thinks we have a responsibility to make them the best suits we can,” said Abboud, who serves as chief creative director of Tailored Brands Inc., parent company of the firm which bears his name. “When they wear our suits, we want them to feel good. But we also want to be proud.”
Three maps hang in the corporate office of Joseph Abboud in New York City at Madison Avenue and 49th Street. Most of the foot traffic breeze by the outlines of New York City and Milan, Italy. However, the map of New Bedford that hangs alongside draws the most comments.
“We took two world capitals and we also said, for us, New Bedford is just as important,” Abboud said.
That office’s proximity to the NBA store led to its current relationship with the league.
Tony Sapienza, CEO of Joseph Abboud Manufacturing and lifelong Celtics fan, frequented the store quite often, and it was there he bumped into Michael Goldberg, the former executive director for the NBA Coaches Association.
“He had worn the Joseph Abboud brand and he introduced himself,” Sapienza said. “He said we ought to do something together.”
A lunch sparked the deal for the 2009-10 season.
The coaches receive 10 suits a season, 15 if they’re a first-time coach. Joseph Abboud officials travel to Chicago each fall for the NBA coaches summit, meeting with their clients — some familiar faces and always some first-timers — for the fitting sessions. There they meet one of Joseph Abboud’s secret weapons.
‘Best of the best’
Amidst a jungle of hanging suits and the perpetual pounding of industrial sewing machines, Salvatore Mellace reaches into his pocket, fishing out a thimble.
“I was 10-years-old when my father gave me a thimble,” he said with a thick Italian accent. “My father tied this around (my fingers) with a rope for a couple of years — day and night so that this is automatic. So when you sew, the nail will go through this and you don’t poke your skin.”
Now 72-years-old, Mellace possesses more than six decades of tailoring experience and still owns the original thimble his father gave him.
When the NBA coaches flock to Chicago each fall for their coaching summit, Mellace meets each one with tape measure.
The Senior Vice President of Design and Quality needs only about 15 minutes to dictate precise measurements for the perfect fitting suit.
“He is the best of the best. Let me tell you,” Custom Manager Jenny Barroquiero said.
Mellace studied the artform under his father Dominic in Northern Italy. As a young boy in the rebuilding efforts after World War II, Dominic would send his son to the concrete construction sites. Mellace would search for the thick paper bags that once held the concrete and bring them back to his father.
“I used to put the cement bag in this bag, bring it to the factory, clean it, and then we would make the pattern from the cement bag,” Mellace said.
Within the Joseph Abboud Manufacturing facility today, computers efficiently plot the pattern on paper utilizing every inch of the fabric. Machines then precisely cut the fabric. But even with that industrial precision, Mellace keeps his eye on the details.
“I follow through all the garments to make sure that everything is on spec,” he said.
Movable waist-high shelves scatter throughout Joseph Abboud Manufacturing. The small metal racks include a stick with a white piece of paper attached at the top that reads, “NBA Coaches for Salvatore.”
What lies on the racks varies. There could be a portion of a suit, a jacket or pants. Regardless of the point in time of the suit’s life, Mellace examines them.
“I check to make sure that the chest piece is nice and straight, that the pocket is good,” Mellace said. “I check the waist, make sure that … it matches according to my number. Otherwise it’s going to be big or small. It’s no good.”
There are at least six checkpoints a suit has to clear under Mellace’s watch. For efficiency and organizational purposes, an entire order reaches each checkpoint at the same time.
Any issue regardless of its minuscule nature is repaired by hand. It takes about three or four weeks for the process to be fully completed.
“It’s very important that when (Barroquiero) ships the personal suits for them, they’ve got to be perfect,” Mellace said.
“To make a custom suit is an art.”
‘She’s the boss’
After Mellace takes a coach’s measurements, Barroqueiro helps them narrow more than 300 swatches down to 10 suit selections. Additional modifications are possible within each suit, like lapels, buttons, pockets and more.
“When Brad (Stevens) was the new Celtics coach, he was so overwhelmed. He was like, ‘I really don’t need 15 suits. This is a lot,’” Barroquiero said. “You could tell it was too much for him to handle. He was so sweet, though. He was like, ‘I don’t know what else to get.’”
Veteran coaches understand the process. Some waste little time in selecting suits. Others flip through hundreds of swatches, snap pictures on their phones and asked for suggestions from their wives.
Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers fell into the category of coaches who thoroughly enjoyed the process.
“He loves the swatches,” Barroquiero said. “He’ll sit and he loves looking and feeling.”
Other coaches took notice.
Tom Thibodeau, who served as Rivers’ associate head coach in Boston, asked Barroquiero one year to match his order with everything Rivers placed.
″‘He has good taste. I’m just going to do everything he did,’” Barroquiero remembers Thibodeau saying. She said she hoped he and Rivers would text one another to ensure they didn’t wear the same suit to game.
Barroquiero’s role differs depending on the coach.
“They trust Jenny. No question about that,” Mellace said. “They don’t trust me, but they trust her. They trust me for one thing. But when it comes to lining, fabric and style, she’s the boss.”
Barroquiero stacks the swatches categorically in an attempt to make the decision-making process easier.
Coaches flock toward navy. But color only accounts for a portion of the process.
“They’ll pick out a linen. I tell them that’s going to wrinkle,” she said. “You probably don’t want that. If you’re going to Florida and you want to wear it on vacation, that’s fine but not to a game because it’s going to be really wrinkly. So you just guide them.”
‘You don’t believe it’
Tens of thousands of yards of fabric, stacked in spools, rise more than a dozen feet off the ground in the southern end of Joseph Abboud Manufacturing.
They account for most of the swatches presented for the coaches. At times Barroquiero will walk through the tree-trunk sized spools. A specific fabric links her to a coach or NESN client.
“I know Brad Stevens wants just subtle fabrics, so you help him pick those subtle fabrics,” she said. “Whereas you know that Jim Rice, you show him something boring he’s going to say, ‘eh uh, that’s not for me.’”
Some of the spools will only contain 5 to 10 yards of material, but they’re exclusive to Joseph Abboud shows. They’re often referred to as “sample patterns” and right up the alley of the former Hall of Fame left fielder for the Boston Red Sox.
“Jim Rice comes to the factory to pick out his swatches,” Barroquiero said, “because he knows there’s always sample pieces here. He wants something different. He loves to walk through and pick out what he wants.”
At any given time, the unassuming two-story brick building could host Boston sports royalty. Rivers, Rice and newly ordained Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy have all walked through the congestion of sewing machines and hanging fabric.
“You do (have to pinch yourself). You almost do,” Sapienza said “It’s like you don’t believe it. You’re talking to (Hall of Famer Dennis) Eckersley. He’s talking to you about throwing fastballs. Or you’re talking to Jim Rice on how he hits home runs.”
The feelings extend beyond the date when the suits ship out of the New Bedford facility.
There are more than 1,200 NBA games a season. Playoffs can jump the number by more than 100.
Regardless of the contests, Barroquireo’s reaction is the same.
“Every time there’s a game on,” she said. “You’re like ’Ahhh! He’s wearing our suit.”
Follow Michael Bonner on Twitter @MikeBBonnerSCT