Michael Jordan capped off his sixth championship and second three peat with the Chicago Bulls in true storybook fashion with a last second go-ahead jumper in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. “The Last Shot” over Bryon Russell is one of Jordan’s most iconic moments. As the story goes, on his way back to the locker room before starting the champagne showers and cigar smoking, Jordan was looking for one thing, his celebratory leather jacket.
The artisan responsible for crafting the eye-catching piece that MJ was so eager to receive was Jeff Hamilton, who was first connected to Jordan back in the ‘80s. Hamilton attended every single Finals game in Jordan's career since 1991 and he gave Jordan a jacket for every title that followed.
Now stationed in Los Angeles, the French designer has been in the fashion industry since 1983. He was the man responsible for launching Guess? For Men. By 1989, he was obtaining licenses with corporations like the NFL and the NBA to craft his one-of-a-kind leather jackets. He's made jackets for everyone from President Bill Clinton to Mike Tyson. He designed leather jackets for the NBA's 50 Greatest Players ceremony at the 1997 All-Star Game. By the 2000s, he was a staple in the hip-hop community, championed by names like Cam’ron and noted for his all-over NBA logo leathers that were unofficially referenced by Supreme in 2018. His list of accolades goes on, but Hamilton admits that, despite having a personal relationship with him for decades, no celebrity ever made him as starstruck as Jordan.
“I was just a kid growing up in Paris and here are the biggest stars in the world. They know me by my first name,” says Hamilton. “I still pinch myself when I see somebody famous and they know who I am.”
Now he's ready for a comeback, and reintroducing his jackets back to the market via a partnership with Mitchell & Ness. Ahead of The Last Dance finale, we chatted with Hamilton about Jordan, the ‘90s Bulls, his impending comeback, and more. Check out the interview below.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Before we get into Jordan, you were very close with the NBA in general at that time. What was that relationship like and how did it start?
I've always been a big basketball fan since I was a kid. I grew up in Paris with a poster of Lew Alcindor and Jerry West in my room. Magic Johnson was getting some jackets from me. A bunch of NBA players wanted some custom stuff from me. At one point I spoke to a friend of mine and he said the NFL and the NBA didn’t have anything high end. I didn’t think people were going to buy those jackets. At the time they were maybe $1,000.
I made a sample and the NFL went crazy with it. They said, 'We'll give you a license.' I said, 'Sure, why not.' I'm a big sports fan, I'll be associated with it. It's going to give me prestige to whatever else I'm doing. Little did I know, everybody would start going crazy over them. I called my buddy in New York that was connected to licensing. I said, 'Can you make me an appointment [with the NBA]?' The NBA said, 'Absolutely. We'd love to be part of it.' I got the NBA, NHL, MLB, NCAA, Disney, Warner Brothers, you name it, every single license I could do.
How did your relationship with Jordan begin?
I made jackets for him starting in ‘85, ‘86. I lived in Los Angeles, but I've been to every single Finals game that Michael [Jordan] ever played. Starting in 1991, I already had the jacket made for the Championship. I saw I was getting a lot of exposure from it. I came up with the idea with the NBA for them to give me credentials to go in the locker room. I started making jackets just for Michael and Scottie originally. As soon as they were doing the Championship celebration, I was in the locker room. Suddenly all the press was taking the pictures and the players themselves felt like they had immediate gratification because when you win the Championship the biggest reward is getting that ring. You don't get that ring until October. But the jackets, they had it right away. They were showing their badge of honor by wearing it like that. I carried the tradition with that, with Michael.
My relationship with [Jordan] was honestly great. I've seen him, I don't know, 50, 100 times in my life. I've met presidents, but every time I meet him my heart just explodes. I cannot even be myself. I'm always so excited to be around him. I have a great relationship with him and his family.
So as the story goes, after the Bulls beat the Jazz in the 1998 Finals, he asked for his jacket and you're there to give it to him in the locker room. What was that like for you, that he is looking for your jacket right after he wins the championship?
He had become accustomed to me bringing him the jacket when he won. In ‘98 he was waiting for the jacket and I had the jacket in my bag on my lap during the whole game. I was very excited obviously.
I'm in [the “Last Shot” picture] in the background. His bodyguard came to pick me up to take me to the locker room and first thing that Michael says is, 'Jeffrey, where's my coat?' He was the only one in the world who called me Jeffrey. He put the jacket on and everyone's taking pictures, excited. Stuart Scott said, ‘Come over right now. We're going live in five seconds.’ I said, ‘No. I'm with Michael.’ He said, ‘It’s either that or you come be with me in front of the 60 million people watching me right now.' So, I went on with Stuart Scott. He interviewed me about the jacket. Obviously, my phone's ringing off the hook like crazy after that. We're talking about June, mid July, August. It is 80 to 100 degrees all over America and I sold probably 2,000 jackets that summer. To give you an idea, Michael won the championship in ‘98, we sold 2,000 Bulls championship jackets. The next year, the San Antonio Spurs won the Championship. I sold 37 jackets. There was nothing like [that Bulls jacket].
Do you have any memorable moments related to Jordan and your jackets?
At the time, I would give him his jacket. I wouldn't charge him but he would give me a jersey, a pair of shoes, things like that. That's the way I always worked with him. I actually made championship jackets for Marcus and Jeffrey when they were babies.
I had a pop-up store in Beverly Hills for the All-Star Game back in 2004. [Jordan’s kids] came and they liked some of the jackets. I called the managers and told them to give them whatever they want. They went shopping and I just had to give a present to them because I love Michael so much. I would do it any time for him. They loved a leather art piece of their father I had hanging in the store, but obviously I was not giving that away. It was $75,000. Two days ago, I sent that back to them. I'm sure they would love it for their store, Trophy Room, in Orlando. It's the first or second art piece I ever made. I made it in 1999.
What's the coolest thing that he gave you?
When I went to Barcelona I had the Dream Team jersey. I had a couple of championship rings. I had warm ups, some training shirts, a couple pairs of shoes, and probably four or five jerseys. I had the jerseys from Paris and then a couple of game jerseys.
What exactly is the process to make the jackets like?
I had about 100 to 150 employees from ‘93 until 2002 when I sold my company. I really had the full muscle to get the jackets done very quickly. Today, the average process will take me at least 60 days to make one jacket. I can do multiple jackets but basically the delivery time is about 60 days. Every single logo is cut by hand. I do the design. I do all the different colors and shades. I really want it to be special. Every jacket I deliver is signed with a limited edition plaque on the inside with the date of the event and comes in its own bag. The leather is all Italian lambskin, it's all cut by hand. There's no machine involved at all. It's all a manual process. We put it together like a puzzle.
People started looking at my jackets like they were pieces of art. From a marketing standpoint, I started marketing them like that. On every jacket that was over $1,000, I started signing them. I signed pretty much every single jacket and then started putting the dates on the jackets. By doing that, it looks like my jackets are going up in value kind of like some art pieces. Yesterday I was on eBay, and I don't know if it's a joke or not, but I saw a jacket of mine at $50,000. In fact, people told me so much that my jackets were pieces of art, I became an artist too. We have galleries in Miami, Paris, and London. In ‘97, I had made the jacket for [Jordan] and I made an extra one for me, with his size and his name and everything and he signed it to me, front and back. I think that jacket is probably the most expensive jacket that's out there in the marketplace. I would say the Michael’s own jacket is probably worth over $100,000.
Do you have a favorite jacket that you've done for the Bulls?
By far my favorite jacket of all time is the three-peat, the '98 one. I mean I'm a little biased because I love my three Lakers ones also, I did the '96 one and '97 one, but nothing was close to what '98 was. And not only the financial success, yeah, I probably did over $2 million that summer in sales. For me I loved the whole idea of the design with the colors, with the reds with the wreath around the six trophies and to me it was a very special jacket. And it still is. I still have my own original one.
I did a collaboration with Nike where we made a jacket and that was unheard of then. You're talking probably 1995. I made only 23 jackets of Michael with his face on the back and everything, kind of like the one I did of Kobe for Drake. We shipped the jackets in a glass case and we sold that only through Niketown, and at the time there was only one Niketown in Chicago. That jacket was $10,000. They all were signed by Michael. The funny thing is I cannot find any information on that jacket anymore. You never see that jacket online. Even my own jackets were sold.
Have you been watching The Last Dance?
Of course. I feel like I'm a part of it because I remember the moment. Every moment that I see them coming in and going up to the bus or doing this or going to that, I mean I'm part of all that stuff. I don't know if I'm in it. I haven't seen the last two episodes but I'm very good friends with Dennis [Rodman] and Scottie. I knew Scottie before he was the first championship and I'm still friends with him. I still see him at least once a week in Beverly Hills. I really feel that I'm part of that era. I get so excited when I watch the documentary. I’m never deleting it from my DVR because I love to watch it over and over.
A few years ago, Supreme released a Nike collab covered in NBA logos that many compared to your jackets. What are your thoughts on that, a few years removed?
It was bittersweet because I am a very big fan of Supreme. I like to think that I'm part of the culture. And I really believe maintaining the culture the way it really was. I was very flattered that Supreme, such a great brand, duplicated me with Nike. I got a lot of press at the time saying that Supreme and Nike should have given credit to Jeff Hamilton for inspiring that release. They just released something new again, a jacket for baseball, which is like mine as well. But on the other hand, they posted Kobe wearing my jacket when Kobe passed away.
Your Lakers jackets got a lot of attention recently with people wearing them to honor Kobe when he passed. As a Lakers fan, as somebody who was close to Kobe, what did you think about seeing people choose to honor him with your jackets like that?
Kobe seeing Michael wearing the jackets in the locker room, I think he really embraced the whole feeling of it, hence all those iconic pictures of him wearing the jacket after every single Championship. I was a huge Kobe fan. I was lucky enough to know him, be able to talk to him, talk to Vanessa and make jackets for her, be with him at the All-Star games. Being so close to him, it was a shock. And I still cannot believe it. I still feel the pain. On the flip side, I mean everybody started showering me with DMs wanting the jackets. A couple weeks before that I was at the Barclays Center for Yams Day with ASAP Rocky. He wore the second year, the back-to-back Lakers one. I was going to mail it to him and he said, ‘No, no I don't want you to mail it to me. I want you to come to the concert.’ So they sent me a first-class ticket, the plane, the limousine and everything, and I went to the concert with him. I'm still getting tons of people wanting to buy that jacket. I would say probably 80 percent of the people that want some high end stuff, is all related to Michael and Kobe.
With the popularity of vintage clothing, have you considered re-releasing some designs and starting the brand up again?
I don't have the license anymore, but I'm trying to work out something through the NBA. I'm in contact with them right now. I'm also doing it through Mitchell & Ness. I did this collaboration with Mitchell & Ness to release some of the jackets so they could reintroduce them in the marketplace. That whole thing basically is on hold due to [COVID-19]. I already had designed the jackets, and they've already been approved by the NBA. We do the higher end ones and we're doing some hoodies and some hats with everything matching up together. The original idea was to release it in July, but now I think we'll probably coordinate that to when the NBA season starts.
I'm also announcing, hopefully in the next couple of months, my own website with a whole lifestyle brand and doing a lot of collaborations with a lot of big companies.
What goals do you have for the future?
I would love to be able to re-release all the jackets that have become iconic with Michael and Kobe. And my dream would be to also do a collaboration with Supreme.
I've been doing these jackets since 1986, like 34, 35 years, a lot of people have tried to knock me off and tried to create the process like that. But nobody has been able to do it the way I'm doing it. I'm not showing off and it's not an ego thing. It's just the idea that I really put a lot of pride and love in everything that I do. And for me, the jacket has to be perfect. I don't care if the jacket costs me $2,000 and I'm going to have to sell it for $4,000. The jacket has to be perfect because my name is on it.
I've been asked to write books which I'm not really interested in doing because I want my story to end up on an amazing comeback and that's basically what I'm trying to do right now. I'm not complaining. Things are good but I still want to be...I want to have a Dapper Dan moment.