Above The Rim Shoots for New Goals in Competitive Sportswear Game : Apparel: Now part of the Reebok team, the San Diego-based basketball clothing and accessories maker aims at next level.


Bob Capener, a basketball stand-out at Brigham Young University during the late 1980s, is a self-described "basketball junkie."

Shortly after graduating from BYU in 1988, Capener, who holds the Cougar's record for most three-point field goals attempted (151), parlayed his knowledge of the game and its players into Above The Rim, a San Diego-based basketball clothing and accessories company.

Above The Rim, which reported $3 million in 1991 revenue, has built a loyal following among young athletes with its line of performance-oriented apparel and accessories. The functional clothing features baggy but comfortable shorts and tank tops with extra-large armholes that facilitate jump shots.

But, with the sale of Above The Rim earlier this month to Reebok International for an undisclosed amount, Capener "has the chance to take Above The Rim to the next level," said Tim Sitek, senior editor of St. Louis-based Sporting Goods Dealer magazine.

Reebok intends to widen Above The Rim's appeal through a new line of Reebok basketball shoes. The Boston-based company will continue to produce Above The Rim's distinctive line of clothing.

Above The Rim also will be the beneficiary of a multimillion-dollar advertising and marketing machine that Reebok has used to grab an estimated 30% of the $5.8-billion athletic shoe department.

"Above The Rim's (retail) lines have been successful, but Reebok is really going to diversify them," Sitek said. "With Above The Rim, Reebok now can say that it's got one-stop shopping . . . to fit you from head-to-toe."

Clothing industry analysts believe that basketball has the potential to join other sports--most notably surfing and volleyball--that have dramatically influenced the casual apparel market.

But Capener, who recently moved to Boston to become Reebok's director of basketball operations, insists that Above The Rim remain close to the basketball court rather than chase the often-fickle fashion tastes of younger athletes. "We've established a name that kids can identify with and relate to in the basketball market," Capener said. "We speak their language."

Consequently, Reebok is likely to build upon Above The Rim's "hard-core" image among serious athletes before marketing is broadened to include non-basketball players, Sitek said.

That emphasis on sport rather than fashion has meant sticking to a rather conservative game plan.

Although surfing fashions have run the gamut from Day-Glo orange to dour blacks and grays, Capener said basketball fashions have remained conservative. "We don't try to force wild new looks on the kids, because basketball consumers are more conservative than surf consumers," he said.

Capener linked Above The Rim's success in large part to the gritty slogans that adorn many of its shirts.

One line--"You can talk the game but can you play the game"--got widespread national exposure recently when Duke University players wore Above The Rim shirts during post-game interviews after defeating the University of Michigan and winning the national collegiate basketball championship.

Other slogans include "Somewhere someone is practicing and when you meet him in head-to-head competition he'll beat you" and "Just elevate and decide in the air."

Capener said the slogans are a hangover from his youth, when he pumped himself up before big games by posting can-do slogans in his bedroom. "Kids really relate to the slogans," Capener said. "The shirts are selling like hot cakes."

Sitek said sales could skyrocket when Above The Rim gets its first nudge from Reebok's advertising and marketing machine.

Above The Rim has sold itself largely through word of mouth among athletes. But, in a world dominated by celebrity endorsements, Above The Rim couldn't effectively compete with Reebok, Nike and other giants in the sports apparel industry.

Reebok's current stable of celebrities includes the Boston Celtics' Dee Brown, the Chicago Bulls' Horace Grant and the Detroit Pistons' Dennis Rodman, currently the National Basketball Assn.'s hottest rebounder.

"There's a natural extension to the professional players," Capener said. "They've reached a certain level that all players would like to reach, and we'll definitely use them in our (campaigns)."

Although Capener has moved to Boston, six Above The Rim employees will remain in San Diego where they will work on product design and marketing.

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