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Rachel Johnson, 38, either has one of the best jobs in professional sports or the worst. She’s the personal stylist for NBA superstars such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, and Chris Paul, among many others. Which means she spends her days finding clothes for people who might as well have gigantism. Because of her influence, the Miami Heat’s LeBron James—whom all eyes will be watching on Tuesday night at game four of the NBA Finals—was dubbed “the Game’s Best-Dressed” by GQ magazine. But what about his headbands, which haven’t been fashionable since Olivia Newton-John got physical? Is Johnson responsible for those? We decided to call her and find out.Photograph by Richard Perry/The New York Times via Redux
You want to make a prediction about tonight’s game?
My prediction is: Whoever scores the most points in the paint and whoever has the most offensive rebounds tonight is going to win this game.
I meant predictions about fashion.
Like how? What the players will be wearing?
How about headbands? Is LeBron going with one or two headbands tonight?
(Laughs.) I have no clue.
Was the headband your idea?
No, that’s all him. The headbands really are functional for him. He wears them literally to keep sweat out of his eyes.
Are you sure he’s not just hiding his receding hairline?
No, no. He’s extremely active on the court, always flying around, blocking, doing more than anyone else. It’s not really a fashion statement. It’s definitely more about function.
If Miami wins, LeBron is going to have a busy schedule. There’ll be parades, talk shows, and so forth. Have you been working on his media-blitz wardrobe?
Oh yeah, I’m actually formulating that plan right now in Miami. I work very closely with Nike (NKE), so there are a few things in the works for the myriad of media that’ll ensue after this win.
Can you give us a hint?
We’re really into colors these days.
As opposed to what?
I’m talking about bold colors, tempered with more muted tones like beige and khaki. That’s where our minds are in terms of expectations.
What’s the most difficult part of picking out clothes for athletes? Is it finding the gigantic shoes? The enormous pants? The ridiculously big underwear?
Putting together a look for athletes, especially those who live within the size range that most of my clients live in—my first challenge is actually working with designers to have them understand the proportions. My clients are extremely tall, but I don’t think of them in those terms. I don’t approach it like, “Oh my God, this gentleman is so tall.” Or “His arms are so long, what am I going to do?” It’s more about embracing those differences. You’re finding ways to applaud the length and the muscles and the build.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it?
Absolutely. I’m all about enhancing the male body and creating looks that frame your body, as opposed to hiding or camouflaging it.
Do you charge by the hour or the yard?
(Laughs.) I definitely charge by the yard. It always works out better.
Who’s the biggest player you’ve worked with, just in terms of body mass?
Shaq was definitely the biggest. I don’t work with him regularly but had the pleasure of working with him on an ad campaign. He’s so self-confident that no matter what you put on him, as long as it’s the right proportions, he looks great.
Proportions make all the difference?
Oh yeah. It’s all about tailoring. You have to make sure the proportions match their bodies. I think that’s one area where gentlemen in general need to develop their acumen.
Give us some measurements for Shaq that would blow our mind.
His foot is a size 22.
Couldn’t he just wear a couple of kayaks and call it a day?
One thing I’ve found with most athletes, it’s all about the footwear. Usually, when they’re being styled, it’s like: “Put me in whatever you think is going to look good, but please make sure that my shoes are comfortable and I can make it through the night.” That’s usually everybody’s main concern.
Unnecessary glasses have become a popular look for NBA athletes. Do you approve?
I completely support it when it’s done in moderation.
When’s the right time for non-prescription glasses?
When you’re in a business meeting or any situation in which a gentleman needs to present himself in a very serious light. It’s a great way to change the way people perceive you.
Athletes have big personalities and big egos. How do you win their respect? Do you have to be the biggest or loudest person in the room to get their attention?
Not really. For me, it’s all about business. I’m very no-nonsense. When a gentleman comes to me and they want to be dressed, they understand that they need the service and they’re ready to turn themselves over to me.
So you don’t get a lot of arguments?
Rarely. I’m not hired so that they can fight against me. I’m coming in to become part of their team and help build their brand and make them more marketable.
Have you ever had a Jerry Maguire moment?
When a client forces you to demonstrate your enthusiasm to keep his business. “Show me the money,” that sort of thing.
(Laughs.) No, thank goodness. My work speaks for itself. When I’m presenting looks and ideas to a client, they walk into a room and instantly they know—just visually—how much I care.
Who’s going to play you in the movie about sports stylists?
I don’t know. I never ever thought about that before. I just hope that she is multi-faceted, whoever she is. And she definitely has to be tall.