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From the moment the NBA and Adidas introduced short-sleeved jerseys during the 2013-14 season, LeBron James was not a fan. It seems he hasn't warmed to them very much in the years since.
He said as much prior to the Christmas 2013 showcase game during which he and his then-Miami Heat teammates were set to wear them, before later changing his tune, as the league office sent out statements about how the NBA "would never want players to feel restricted." James renewed his complaint less than three months later, though, proclaiming himself "not a big fan of the jerseys" after shooting 6-for-18 during a loss to the San Antonio Spurs, and saying that "every time I shoot it feels like it's just pulling right up underneath my arm."
"I have to figure something out the next time I have to wear them," James said, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst.
He didn't have to wear them once last season, his first year back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he did have to don the sleeves during Wednesday's nationally televised matchup with the New York Knicks, as the Cavs unveiled one of their three new alternate uniforms. After opening the game 4-for-10 from the field, including 0-for-2 marks from both 3-point range and the foul line, a frustrated James took it upon himself to do a little impromptu tailoring as he came back down the court on defense:
ESPN's broadcast reported that James later took scissors to the sleeves in the next timeout to try to clean up the rips and finish the job of letting the guns out. This seems like the kind of thing that would result in LeBron having to get a new jersey — y'know, like Darko Milicic, Josh McRoberts and Marc Gasol did after ripping their jerseys — but apparently not.
James isn't the only player who has complained about the sleeved jerseys — not by a long shot — but I'm pretty sure he is the first one to tear them apart in the middle of the game, which is the sort of statement that you'd expect the league might address in some way.
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As he did after publicizing his initial concerns in 2013, James tempered his complaint after the game, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
"I was just frustrated with myself, I was just off rhythm a lot tonight, and the jersey was the only thing I could go to," James said. "I couldn't do nothing to my face."
James abstained from more criticism when asked further questions about the uniforms.
"I don't know, it might be mental, man," James said. "It's OK. The jerseys are nice. We love the jerseys. The black looks great. It's been awhile since this franchise has worn black. So it's great to be out there and wear those uniforms. I was in my own way. I was frustrated with my shot, I couldn't make a bucket, so like I said, I had to take it out on something."
For what it's worth, James did practice in the sleeved uniform before Wednesday's game, according to Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group, and he and the other Cavs signed off on them prior to the contest. The league does not mandate that teams wear sleeved jerseys, "though the jersey concept is supported by the league because they sell," according to Vardon. (At least some past reports have suggested otherwise.)
"Ultimately, if the players don't like them, we'll move on to something else," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck way back in March of 2014.
Despite teams' persistence in introducing new sleeved alternates, it sure looked Wednesday as if at least one pretty important player really, really doesn't like them, and just told the entire basketball-watching world as much on national television. Maybe that's something worth exploring, if not immediately, then at the very least when the other guys take over the league's apparel deal.
Despite his on-court demonstration of dismay, though, James declined to press the issue after the game, according to McMenamin:
"I mean, if the fans love them, I love them," James said. "That's what it's all about. I think our fans here in Cleveland and around the world and around the league love the uniforms. I'll wear them for 48 minutes in a ballgame. Obviously, I'm so used to the sleeveless cutoffs, whatever you want to call them — tank tops — I've been playing in tank tops my whole life. But for a game here, a game there, I don't mind it."
James didn't exactly start setting the world on fire after making his preferred alterations, but he did turn it on as the game wore on, scoring 15 points after making the change. You'd figure there'd be a bit more wind resistance and drag with that fabric flapping in the breeze, but as it turns out, LeBron was still able to move quickly and get off the floor a little bit:
— NBA (@NBA) November 5, 2015
— NBA (@NBA) November 5, 2015
James finished with a game-high 23 points on 9-for-23 shooting, five rebounds, four steals, three assists and one block in 35 minutes, leading Cleveland back from an 11-point third-quarter deficit to earn a 96-86 win over the visiting Knicks. Mo Williams added 22 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Kevin Love (11 points, 12 rebounds) and Tristan Thompson (10 points, 13 rebounds) each chipped in double-doubles for the Cavs, who outscored New York 24-0 in fast-break points and improved to 4-1.
Carmelo Anthony continued to struggle with his shot, missing 12 of his 18 attempts from the field on his way to a team-high 17 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal in 37 minutes. Rookie Kristaps Porzingis battled foul trouble throughout, but scored 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting with four rebounds, two blocks, two steals and an assist in 20 1/2 minutes for the Knicks, who fell to 2-3 on the season.
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