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Wednesday, May 8
Old-school is still cool with today's star athletes

By Darren Rovell

Peter Capolino is rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics to reach this year's NBA Finals. If he gets his dream matchup, the 57-year-old owner of Mitchell & Ness Nostalgic Co., likely will see a bump in revenue.

Just like what George Mikan wore 40 years ago.
The Celtics and Lakers are among the best-selling teams for Mitchell & Ness, which manufactures vintage jerseys of Major League Baseball, NBA and NFL teams. Capolino's company makes authentic reproductions of Celtics and Lakers apparel from the days of Bill Russell to Larry Bird and George Mikan to Magic Johnson.

Jerseys and warm-up jackets aren't cheap; prices range from $175 to $400 apiece. But that hasn't stopped the target demographic of 16- to 35-year-old African-American males from buying the jerseys -- sometimes two or three at a time.

It wasn't always that way. When Capolino started making baseball jerseys in 1989, he was mostly dealing with 35- to 55-year-old Caucasian males. That changed 10 years later when members of the hip-hop group OutKast began wearing his reproductions of Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals jerseys during concerts and in music videos.

"I used to watch MTV and BET with the sound off just so that I could see my garments," Capolino said. "Now I've become friends with the guys, so I actually like their music."

Thanks to exposure provided by rappers and hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z, Lil' Bow Wow and P. Diddy, revenues have risen from $2.2 million in 1999 to more than $5 million last year. In June 2001, Capolino hired a director of urban marketing to help place his jerseys on the backs of more entertainers in the limelight. The strategy has worked.

Old-School Favorites
Top 5 Selling Hardwood Classic jerseys at the NBA Store*
Year Team Player
1987-88 Nuggets Alex English
1977-78 Sixers Julius Erving
1996-97 Sixers Allen Iverson
1979-80 Lakers Magic Johnson
1986-87 Hawks Dominique Wilkins
*Alphabetical Order
Based on the success of the company's NBA Hardwood Classics line, revenues are expected to exceed $12 million this year, Capolino said. At the NBA Store in New York, sales of the old-school jerseys are up by 275 percent, league officials say.

Athletes also have opened accounts with the company. Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal has specially tailored jerseys of Jerry West (Lakers, 1961-62 home), Bill Russell (Celtics, 1962-63 road) and Wilt Chamberlain (76ers, 1966-67 home) -- all measuring a chest size 60.

"He's trying to collect a lot of the jerseys of the older centers," said Capolino, who also counts Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal and Bulls forward Jalen Rose among his clients.

"The players want stuff that's real, and a lot of them have a nice appreciation of history," said Capolino, who made 1,200 sales in three days in his 800-square-foot store in Philadelphia when the NBA All-Star Game was in town in February.

He also has his share of mothers of NBA players as customers. Ann Iverson, mother of Allen Iverson, has eight vintage Philadelphia 76ers jerseys with her son's name and number on the back. The mothers of Darius Miles and Mark Jackson also have accounts with Capolino. "I love the moms," Capolino said.

McFarlane will now make Ricky Williams, the Dolphin.
Figurine science
Comic book and toy mogul Todd McFarlane didn't panic in early March when he heard running back Ricky Williams was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Miami Dolphins -- even though Williams was supposed to be painted as a Saints player in Series 4 of McFarlane's NFL figurines scheduled to debut in September.

"Working with active players is a whole lot different than working with retired players," McFarlane said. "Sandy Koufax will always be a Dodger, but guys playing now won't always be with their teams. That's why you have to play general manager. You have to know when the draft is coming, when the trade deadlines are, how many years left a guy has in his contract or whether he'll be a free agent."

Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds were originally scheduled to appear in Series 1 of McFarlane's baseball figures, which debuted in April. But McFarlane said he couldn't afford to gamble in the offseason since Bonds hadn't signed his Giants contract and Giambi had yet to sign with the Yankees when it was time to go into production.

"You want to make the figures as accurate as possible and in their current uniforms," McFarlane said. "In the case of Bonds, it wouldn't have mattered, but for Giambi I would have had a bunch of him on the A's with a goatee instead of having him in the Yankees uniform without that cool-dude facial hair."

Bonds will now appear in Series 2 and Giambi will appear in Series 3. McFarlane said some Ricky Williams Saints figures will be made for nostalgic diehard Saints fans.

Seattle Slew crew
Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner who died on Tuesday, the 25th anniversary of his victory in the Kentucky Derby, won 14 of 17 races and earned $1,208,726 on the racetrack. But it was in retirement that the black stallion proved to be most prolific.

Seattle Slew
Seattle Slew, in 1997, galloping at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky.
Seattle Slew commanded a $300,000 stud fee earlier this year, the second highest in 2002, according to Through Dec. 31, 2001, he sired 1,066 horses, a figure that will continue to climb through the end of this year, according to Margaret Layton, communications director of Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky. All horses foaled this year will not be officially registered with the Jockey Club until Dec. 31. Father to 102 stakeswinners and broodmare sire (grandfather) of another 100 stakeswinners, Slew also earned distinction a year ago when five of nine horses who won the prestigious Eclipse Awards for 2000 were his descendants.

He also was believed to be the only stakeswinner to grace the cover of a clothing catalog when Land's End used a tightly cropped photo of Seattle Slew's distinctive golden-color eye on its March 1999 catalog, Layton said.

Betting record
Although the final tally has not yet been confirmed, officials at Churchill Downs say Saturday's 11-race card set a single-day North American record handle. A total of $123.3 million was wagered on the day, including $79 million on the Derby alone. Eighty-nine percent of that $79 million was wagered at off-track betting facilities in Las Vegas, Canada and off-shore sites. Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher said 80 percent of normal races at Churchill Downs are bet outside the racetrack.

Roseanne Rosannadanna award
Fila has given up on suing Wolverines coach Tommy Amaker and the University of Michigan -- at least for now. In October, Fila filed a $1 million-plus lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Maryland, claiming Amaker ditched his individual contract with the sports apparel company after leaving Seton Hall to accept a job at Michigan. Just two months before hiring Amaker, Michigan signed a seven-year deal with Nike, worth as much as $28 million. Amaker was in the middle of his deal with Fila, which would have paid him a minimum of $1 million over five years.

The Fila contract included a clause stipulating that if Amaker accepted another coaching job, he was to pressure his new school to sign with Fila. Howe Burch, Fila's senior vice president for sports marketing, told that the company agreed to drop the suit for the time being.

Amaker was unavailable for comment, and a Michigan spokesman acknowledged only that the case was dropped by Fila on Feb. 28.

Motivational teacher
Jim Morris, whose story as a high school baseball coach who eventually realized his dream of playing in the major leagues was the inspiration for "The Rookie," has been busy on the public speaking tour in the six weeks since the movie's release in late March. Earning as much as $20,000 a speech, Morris has talked to two to three groups and companies a week, including Sprint PCS and Structure. "The Rookie" remains popular, so far grossing $65 million at the box office.

Morris reportedly received a $500,000 advance from publisher Little Brown for his hardcover book "The Oldest Rookie," which debuted last April. The softcover, by Warner Books, hit shelves this March.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for, can be reached at

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