Just before midnight on March 4, 1990, 15-year-old Darius Lamont was pulled through the back door of a friend’s home in Charlotte, N.C.
His attacker wanted the teenager’s green-and-white Eagles Starter-brand jacket, valued at $125. During their struggle, the attacker pulled out a gun and shot Lamont in the face.
When police arrived, the jacket was gone. Lamont died 10 hours later.
His death — like the jacket — was part of a trend.
The growing popularity of professional sports in the late 1980s and early ’90s spawned a new cultural status symbol: expensive sports gear lined in team colors and affixed with hulking logos. The apparel was marketed to the eager-to-impress in their teens and early 20s. But the gear was so popular that some young wearers became crime victims.
As the 2017 NFL season kicks off and sports stores start to push their cold-weather gear, we look back on the chaos that followed the rise in sports-gear popularity and crimes spurred by the Starter-brand jacket trend.
In the 1980s and ’90s, the jackets were manufactured by the Starter Corp. of New Haven, Conn. The company was licensed to produce gear for all the major professional teams, including baseball, hockey, basketball, and football. While the brand still exists, it’s now an underutilized subsidy of Iconix Brand Group, which continues to sell the jackets for about $100 each.
Starter’s business peaked in 1992, when the brand made $350 million in sales. The most popular product was the winter-weight jacket, worn by gangster rappers and Hollywood superstars alike.
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But the status symbol also led to a secondary industry: jacket theft. In Philadelphia, especially in the lower Northeast, some who couldn’t afford one turned to violence.
Two and three times a week, the police blotter was full. On one week in 1993:
– “14-year-old boy was jumped by a group of four men at 8:45 p.m. Jan 23 in the 6300 block of Charles Street and robbed of his $100 warmup jacket”
– “14-year-old boy was punched and robbed of his $100 Starter jacket at 9:15 p.m. Jan. 22 in the 4100 block of Levick Street by a group of three teen-age boys”
– “A 13-year-old boy was robbed of his $100 Starter jacket at 3:15 p.m. Jan. 21 in the 1500 block of Foulkrod Street by a 15-year-old boy”
Philadelphia police went so far as to send the freshest-faced cops undercover as decoys to catch would-be thieves. A Mayfair neighborhood group offered to put jackets on a registry, scribbling assigned serial numbers in three separate and secret locations on the jackets. But the thieves caught on, cutting out the serial numbers after they were lifted.
In 1993, when Robert Levins was inspector of the Northeast Police Division, he told then-Daily News columnist Jill Porter that he would lecture parents.
“I tell parents that I wouldn’t buy one for my child because of the fact — why put a target on your kid?” he said. “Why make your kid a victim? Buy him a nice coat, but it doesn’t have to be a Starter jacket or a sports team jacket.”
Porter wrote in response: “Sounds good to me, but try telling that to your kid.”
James Lamont, Darius’ father, told the Charlotte Observer that he had given his son money for Christmas to buy the jacket.
“It’s a shame you can’t buy something for your child,” he said, “without worrying if he’ll be safe to wear it.”