Leaving 'Em in Stitches : Malik Sealy Makes Statement With Fashion Design as Well as Looking Good for Clippers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Clipper guard Malik Sealy has a big name to live up to.

Sealy's father, Sidney, a bodyguard for Malcolm X, named his youngest son after the late Muslim leader, who was assassinated in 1965, six years before his son was born.

"Malik (Mah-LEEK) was one of Brother Minister Malcolm X's Muslim names (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)," the elder Sealy explained. "Do you know what it means? It means king.

"A lot of brothers are named after him. He was very smart and self-taught."

Said Sealy's mother, Ann, "Malik wasn't aware of the whole story until someone blessed him (for his name) and he asked his father, 'How did I get this name?' "

Sidney Sealy, whose Muslim name is Suliaman, which means wise man, became a Muslim after he was introduced to Malcolm X and attended his mosque in Harlem.

"I'll be a Muslim till I die," he said.

A former Golden Gloves boxer, Sealy became one of Malcolm X's bodyguards. Although he was present when Malcolm X was slain at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 18, 1965, Sealy wasn't helping with security.

"It was a very horrible day," Sealy recalled. "To see someone that you respect go down like that.

"I wasn't on the stage (protecting Malcolm X) because he didn't want anyone on stage. The (police) that were supposed to be there weren't there. The bodyguards were there, but the police weren't on guard. They were downstairs. It was like it was a setup."

Sealy, 61, a New York City cab driver, instilled Muslim values, among them self-reliance, in his four children, Sydney, 31; Dessalines, 30; Amir, 25, and Malik, 24.

Malik Sealy formed his own clothing company--Malik Sealy XXI--after signing a reported $6-million, five-year contract with the Indiana Pacers in 1992.

"Before sports I was sewing," Sealy said. "When basketball came along, that's when I moved away from sewing. But my mother taught me how to sew at a young age. It was something my grandmother did. Everybody in the family learned to sew.

"My mother never just wanted us to do one thing. She had a saying that's it's an awfully poor rabbit that just has one hole. That's true about life. You have to have other avenues."

The business is run in New York by Sealy's mother, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, and his brother, Dessalines. Sealy says it is thriving.

Sealy, who designed the uniforms worn by the Pacers' women's dance team last year, designed a neckwear collection and a line of suspenders that are sold in about 250 upscale stores such as Bloomingdale's and Barney's. He eventually hopes to expand the line to include men's dress shirts and suits.

Although he has a design team, Sealy comes up with most of the concepts for his products and takes an active role in the business.

"My mother has been a seamstress all her life and she's been in the fashion business all her life," he said. "We always used to have unique clothes. People would go, 'Wow, where did you get that?' And my mother made them."

He wears expensive designer watches on both wrists so that he can keep up with his business.

"I have a West Coast watch and an East Coast watch," he said. "The right wrist is the right time and the left wrist is East Coast time. It's just a little fashion thing. Also for my business, it's easier to just look at this hand and see what time it is rather than look at it and subtract three hours. And I haven't seen a watch with two separate faces that I like."

Perhaps the Clippers' best dressed player, Sealy has had teammates seek him out for fashion advice.

Sealy has looked just as good on the court this season.

Sealy, who was acquired from the Pacers along with point guard Pooh Richardson and the rights to Nebraska swingman Eric Piatkowski for disgruntled point guard Mark Jackson and the rights to Greg Minor in a draft-day trade last June, averaged 20.3 points in his first six games as a starter.

The Clippers, who opened the season with 16 consecutive losses, played their best two games after Sealy moved into the starting lineup in place of guard Terry Dehere, who suffered a sprained right ankle in the Clippers' first victory of the season.

Although Dehere is sound, he hasn't been able to dislodge Sealy, who averaged 27.5 points in his first two starts.

Sealy scored 25 points in his first start as the Clippers defeated the Lakers by 25 points on Dec. 9 at the Forum. He had a career-high 28 points the next night as the Clippers forced the Seattle SuperSonics into double overtime before losing, 132-127.

A small forward for the first two years of his NBA career, Sealy has been more productive since Coach Bill Fitch switched him to shooting guard this season. Fitch even used Sealy at point guard in the exhibition season to improve his court awareness.

"I think he's got a much better chance of being a player in this league playing guard," Fitch said. "He's a guard. If he had to play small forward he would end up being a lesser role or a guy that's a mistake, drafted high and didn't play."

Sealy seems comfortable playing guard.

"You have to make the adjustment if you want to play," Sealy said. "I'm trying to make the best of it and play as well as I can."

Sealy's success seems to have improved his self-confidence.

"I wouldn't say I'm surprised," he said. "I'm pleased, because this is the type of position you work to get to. Although things aren't going as well as I would like them to go, there are positive things coming out of this season, as far as me playing consistent minutesand being confident that I can go out there and make mistakes and not have to look over my shoulder every three or four minutes."

Sealy spent his first two seasons in the NBA looking over his shoulder.

The Pacers' No. 1 draft pick in 1992, Sealy found himself at odds with Coach Bob Hill after reporting to camp out of shape. He played in only 58 games as a rookie, averaging 5.7 points.

Given new life last season after the Pacers hired Coach Larry Brown, Sealy was expected to play a key role for the Pacers.

He started well, averaging 12.4 points in his first 12 games after Derrick McKey was injured, but his season fell apart after he was sidelined for 13 games because of a sprained right ankle last December. Sealy never worked his way back into the rotation and played in only 43 games, averaging 6.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 14.5 minutes.

But what hurt more than the injury was being left off the playoff roster.

"For the first round I didn't want to see any games," he said. "I didn't travel and I didn't see any of the (home games). I just stayed in my house. I thought about just going home, but sometimes your initial reaction isn't the best reaction."

But his attitude changed as the Pacers came within a game of reaching the NBA Finals, losing to the New York Knicks in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals.

"At this point the only thing I was thinking about was my playoff share," he said. "I was hoping we would keep winning because my playoff share would increase."

He didn't ask to be traded when the season ended.

"I don't believe players have control over it," he said. "Basically, this is the type of league where you're like a piece of meat, and if they want to cook you they'll cook you and if not, you'll just have to sit and rot."

Brown said Sealy wouldn't have started for the Pacers this season.

"Malik didn't want to be traded, but he knew he wasn't going to beat out Derrick and he knew he was going to play behind Reggie (Miller) and Byron (Scott)," Brown said. "And he's entering his third year and he wants to play. I can understand that.

"I think Malik is terrific. I always felt he was a quality player in this league. He started out very well and then he got hurt and then we traded for Derrick and he got hurt. It was very, very tough on Malik because he went from a starter to the bench. And then we (signed) Byron and that gave him no opportunity to be a backup off guard and he was limited inminutes."

Sealy wasn't disappointed after he was traded to the Clippers because he realized he'd get more playing time than in Indiana.

He has adapted well to living in Los Angeles, renting a three-level house in Venice, seven blocks from the boardwalk.

"The people here are more fake than they are in New York," he said. "Everybody's a star in L.A. I don't think I've met a person yet who works a regular job. Everyone's an actor or actress. Sure you are.

"A lot of people go out there looking for stardom and never find it."

But Malik Sealy has found stardom with the Clippers.

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