CLEVELAND — If actions speak louder than words, LeBron James might as well have been screaming to the NBA about how much he detests sleeved uniforms Wednesday.
Having started the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ game against the New York Knicks 4-for-11 from the field and 0-for-2 from the free throw line, James ripped open the sleeves on both arms after missing a 3-pointer with 7:08 remaining in the second quarter and the Cavs trailing 36-27. Cleveland went on to win 96-86, with James finishing the game 9-for-23 from the field.
The Cavs debuted a new black alternative sleeved jersey against New York, the team’s fifth uniform through its first five games, and James chose to do something about the league choosing fashion over function.
“I was just frustrated with myself, I was just off rhythm a lot tonight, and the jersey was the only thing I could go to,” James said. “I couldn’t do nothing to my face.”
James abstained from more criticism when asked further questions about the uniforms.
“I don’t know, it might be mental, man,” James said. “It’s OK. The jerseys are nice. We love the jerseys. The black looks great. It’s been awhile since this franchise has worn black. So it’s great to be out there and wear those uniforms. I was in my own way. I was frustrated with my shot, I couldn’t make a bucket, so like I said, I had to take it out on something.”
Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, a close friend of James’, empathized with James’ actions.
“It was a little tight,” Anthony said. “A little tight, probably was restricting his shot a little bit.”
According to Cleveland.com, James practiced in the sleeved jersey and gave his OK before the team added it to the uniform rotation. Asked what he would say if he were asked for his input about wearing sleeves again, James took the high road.
“I mean, if the fans love them, I love them,” James said. “That’s what it’s all about. I think our fans here in Cleveland and around the world and around the league love the uniforms. I’ll wear them for 48 minutes in a ballgame. Obviously, I’m so used to the sleeveless cutoffs, whatever you want to call them — tank tops — I’ve been playing in tank tops my whole life. But for a game here, a game there, I don’t mind it.”
When a team adds a new uniform to its collection, it must wear that jersey three to six times throughout the course of the season, according to the NBA.
In the past, James spoke out about his dislike for sleeved uniforms, which were introduced by the NBA as an alternate look two seasons ago.
“I’m not making excuses, but I’m not a big fan of the jerseys,” James said in March 2014 after a 6-for-18 shooting night against the San Antonio Spurs while wearing sleeves. “Every time I shoot it feels like it’s just pulling right up underneath my arm. I already don’t have much room for error on my jump shot. It’s definitely not a good thing.”
Later during the 2013-14 season, commissioner Adam Silver told Bleacher Report that he planned to meet with players to discuss permanently going back to the sleeveless look, even though sleeved jerseys were selling well merchandise-wise in stores.
“Ultimately, if the players don’t like them, we’ll move on to something else,” Silver said at the time.
“The jersey was the only thing I could go to. I couldn’t do nothing to my face.”
Back then, James specifically criticized the sleeves for affecting his 3-point shot. James went into the Knicks game shooting 1-for-13 from 3-point range in the first four games of the season. He went 0-for-3 Wednesday before tearing his sleeves and 1-for-2 after.
Kevin Love also seemed bothered by the uniform, rolling his right sleeve up to his armpit to free up his shooting arm when he went to the free throw line for two attempts in the second quarter.
The rest of the Cavs offered mixed opinions of the look.
“I thought they were interesting,” Matthew Dellavedova said. “I’m probably more of a traditional singlet kind of guy.”
“I don’t really want to discuss the jerseys,” Mo Williams said. “I actually like them, so I’ll leave that alone. They look pretty cool to me.”
Cavs coach David Blatt sidestepped the question about the uniforms, instead focusing on the game’s result.
“All I know is, we’re 1-0 with those jerseys,” he said.
ESPN.com’s Ian Begley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.