Founded in 1904 by Frank P. Mitchell and Charlie M. Ness, the company first specialized in handcrafted tennis racquets, golf clubs and sports equipment. As the business grew in the 1930s, they started making uniforms for professional teams based in Philly, like the NFL’s Eagles and MLB’s Athletics and Phillies. In the 1950s, Sisto Capolino, who started at the store in 1917, bought the company.
In 1985, a man strolled into Mitchell & Ness and approached Peter Capolino, Sisto’s son and now-owner of the store, holding pieces of two game-worn uniforms, a 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates vest and a 1949 St. Louis Browns jersey. The customer’s request was simple: could the items be repaired? Fortunately, there was a nearby manufacturer that had piles of wool flannel. The material matched the jerseys and Capolino made the appropriate fixes. From there, he thought, why not incorporate this into the business? He had nothing to lose. That decision would prove to be groundbreaking.
The world of vintage sports apparel didn’t really exist until Capolino resolved to build it. “The store was in a building where above it was a place called Readmor Books that sold old books and magazines— like, they had Sports Illustrated from way back and old baseball programs. People coming into the sporting goods store were really responding to [the vintage jerseys],” Lynn Bloom, the Director of Authentics and Archives at Mitchell & Ness, explained. “He had access to the images, Maple Manufacturing, and ways to get them made and they were becoming pretty popular. He was making them one at a time. People would request [specific jerseys] or he would decide, I’m going to try a Mickey Mantle, or whoever he wanted to make. There was no licensing, there was no deal, there was nothing official happening except this little store in Philadelphia was making old baseball jerseys.” The new endeavor created such a buzz that Sports Illustrated featured Mitchell & Ness in a 1987 article titled “Baseball Flannels are Hot.” Shortly after, the MLB reached out to Capolino and formed a proper licensing agreement, giving Mitchell & Ness the exclusive rights to produce player jerseys. That led to the famous “Cooperstown Collection'' and eventually sparked deals with the NBA, NFL and NHL. Bloom joined Mitchell & Ness in 2001, as the company was in the midst of its craziest boom yet. Three years earlier, in 1998, Big Boi, half of the legendary Atlanta-based rap duo Outkast, wore a retro Nolan Ryan Houston Astros jersey in Goodie Mob’s “Black Ice” music video. That moment put Mitchell & Ness on the map outside of the hardcore baseball fans and sports memorabilia collectors. It was also the beginning of a throwback wave that seemed to take over pop culture.
All of a sudden, everyone started buying vintage jerseys. The style, popularized by athletes and music artists, was to wear them extremely oversized—nothing smaller than an XXL. “It was really [during] that time, in the early 2000s, where every award show, every video that was shot, was like a Mitchell & Ness ad,” Bloom recalls. “It was crazy. We couldn’t keep up with it.” Jay-Z rocked some now-legendary throwbacks in his videos. Same with Fabolous, Jermaine Dupri, hip-hop duo Clipse, Cam’ron, Beanie Sigel, the list goes on and on. When he hosted the 2002 American Music Awards, Diddy rotated through several different jerseys over the course of the evening. About a month later, the NBA All-Star Game came to the city of Philadelphia, and celebrities kept dropping by Mitchell & Ness for the latest jerseys. LeBron James actually met his close friend and longtime agent Rich Paul because of the growing fascination with throwbacks spearheaded by Mitchell & Ness in the early 2000s. At the airport in Akron, OH, Paul was wearing a Warren Moon jersey that caught the attention of James. As it turned out, Paul was selling jerseys just like that out of the trunk of his car and was on his way to Atlanta to purchase more. He gave James the name of his connection and their relationship grew and evolved from there. The era of massive throwbacks would eventually slow down, especially as Jay-Z moved on to the button-up look, but by then, Mitchell & Ness was fully on everybody’s radar. The company has branched out tremendously ever since, developing new products like headwear, hoodies, t-shirts and more. Of course, jerseys have remained popular, too, and continue to be at the heart of the company’s business. In over two decades, Bloom has witnessed Mitchell & Ness explode on an international scale. When she was hired, they were so small that employees didn’t have specific roles; now as Director of Authentics and Archives, she’s in charge of deciding which authentic jerseys the brand is going to make and ensuring that all of them are historically accurate. Once they’ve narrowed down a list of throwbacks to produce, the extensive research process begins, cross referencing any findings with old books, magazines, programs and media guides from the company’s extensive library, checking with collectors and experts in the space, and reaching out to leagues and their respective Halls of Fames for physical samples. All notes are then passed to the Authentic Product Development Team, a group that creates the actual artwork that gets sent to the factory. Multiple samples are manufactured until Bloom and her colleagues believe they have a product that meets Mitchell & Ness’ high standards. Overall, the process takes anywhere from nine months to a year. For the NBA, among the all-time bestsellers are the Vince Carter 1998-99 purple Toronto Raptors jersey, with the pinstripes and iconic dinosaur, and everything Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson. The innovative uniforms from the 1990s—think giant logos, wacky designs and bold colors—always resonate with fans. Just as it was in 1985, when Capolino repaired those first baseball jerseys, Mitchell & Ness is all about celebrating the past, evoking a sense of nostalgia and expressing one’s deep love for sports. “It has been one of the most joyous moments of my career to guide Mitchell & Ness from a cultural phenomenon to an international powerhouse,” says CEO Kevin Wulff. “In the past five years since our acquisition, we have focused on remaining true to our authentic roots while becoming innovators in the product and storytelling space and the brand is hotter than its ever been.” “As a huge fan myself, I think a lot of what resonates with me is being able to recreate those moments in time that we all, as basketball fans, remember and that mean so much to us,” Bloom says. “That’s the best part of the job.”
Mitchell & Ness takes pride in creating
exact replicas of your favorite jerseys.
From '80s classics to today's biggest stars,
here are the venerable brand's best-selling
NBA jerseys of all time.
WORDS RUSS BENGTSON
The only thing LIL NOAH JAMES, an emerging hip-hop artist out of Atlanta, loves more than music is his Mitchell & Ness jersey collection.
WORDS DEYSCHA SMITH
He's only 11 years old, but Lil Noah James already has more Mitchell & Ness jerseys than most of us have probably ever owned. The young hip-hop artist, originally from Bridgeport, CT, and currently residing in Atlanta, has a really impressive collection. When we hopped on a Zoom call in December, he confidently said that he’s owned over 500 in total, many of which he’s since grown out of. As of our call, he says he’s got about 150 that he keeps inside his closet and stored in bins.
“I started collecting jerseys around the age of 5. My favorite Mitchell & Ness jerseys are the Kobe Bryant [number] 8, I don’t even have that. The Lakers purple and gold one, I like. The black and red MJ one, that’s another one I don’t have. I like the green Kevin Garnett, I have that one. T-Wolves KG, Miami Heat Shaq. A lot of them. LeBron when he played in Cleveland his first year. I like the Scottie Pippen ones.” Just from listening to Lil Noah, it’s clear that he’s already so passionate about the game—from basketball to his music career. Even though he’s only in elementary school, he can hold his own in an interview—and on a track. He’s already dropped a handful of singles, including “2K21 (Mamba Time),” a tribute to the late Lakers legend that has garnered over 73,261 streams on Spotify. In the music video, which has 13,000 views on his YouTube channel, James, who idolizes Bryant, rocks a purple Lakers Hardwood Classics satin raglan full-snap jacket while he’s rapping in the booth about Bryant’s dominance. “I have a lot of Nike jerseys, but I really like rocking the old ones,” he says. “I look up to my idols like Kobe, LeBron and Jordan, and other people…I like baggy jerseys, so that’s what Mitchell & Ness really brings for me.” James wears a jersey pretty much every day and says it’s become a part of everyday life. He’s rocked a few of them at NBA games and events, too, including 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend, where he appeared on an NBA TV broadcast wearing a purple and gold Mitchell & Ness Magic Johnson Lakers jersey. He also wore a black Mitchell & Ness Lakers jacket in the many selfies he took with stars, including LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Jayson Tatum and Diana Taurasi. James, who mostly listens to Lil Bow Wow, Drake, Lil Baby, Fetty Wap and Soulja Boy, started rapping when he was around 7 or 8 years old. While he often references basketball, he says he also wants to tell his own story through music. “I just write my raps off of how I'm feeling. I only write about my life, I don't write about stuff that I haven't done or am going to do. I just write about what's in the present and about me.” On songs like “Thank You,” James opens up about being born prematurely at 25 weeks and 1.5 pounds, as well as about the loss of his twin sister, Nalah Jade. He gives her a shoutout on “Sometimes,” featuring Omar Wilson—“Rest in peace Nalah Jade, I’m always praying for sis”—and keeps it real about having to balance all the traveling he does with school and chores. James says that he’s been “working on stuff in the studio” and has about three or four songs that haven't been released yet. All that hard work is starting to pay off, too, and a few people at his school, New Manchester Elementary, have even started coming up to him to compliment his music. “I was actually shocked that they knew who I was. Two people in school came up to me and asked for an autograph.” As he continues to build out his career, we bet Lil Noah James will continue building out his Mitchell & Ness collection. The question isn’t will he rock a throwback in a future video, but which one?