Published On: Sat, Jun 2nd, 2018

Going viral: The story behind the trend-setting Cavaliers t-shirts

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Several years ago, George and Greg Vlosich, who run GV Art + Design, a creative boutique selling apparel with original artwork in Cleveland, collaborated with J.R. Smith, on a t-shirt inspired by a famous quote the Cavaliers guard said when he joined the team in 2015.

“Worse come to worse,” Smith said at the time, “my motto is, ‘When in doubt, shoot the ball.’”

On Friday, the day after a crazy finish to Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, the shirt created by the Vlosich brothers was being passed around the Internet for obvious reasons. It definitely wasn’t the first time one of their t-shirts had gone viral. In fact, they’ve made a habit of it this year.

Earlier this season, LeBron James posted the famous Internet meme of the Arthur fist on Instagram, with the caption “mood,” just minutes after Kyrie Irving scored 35 points against the Atlanta Hawks. Many speculated James was upset at management for the trade.

As the meme became a major talking point on social media, the Vlosich brothers brainstormed a shirt featuring Arthur with the word MOOD. It became one of their best-selling shirts. Someone from the Cavaliers reached out to them and said James had become aware of the shirt, and wanted to get a few that he could pass out to his teammates.

Players including Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green, and James were among the players who wore the shirt designed by the Vlosich brothers.

While the Arthur shirt had been the highlight of this season for the Vlosich brothers, that all changed when an ESPN commentator re-branded Toronto as LeBronto during the Cavaliers’ second round sweep of the Raptors on a national broadcast.

Once it became another social media sensation, Greg and George brainstormed their LEBRONTO shirt, which features James sitting on top of Toronto’s CN Tower, as a homage to Drake’s Views album cover. The orders came in right away. They even sent about 50 shirts to customers from Toronto, who told them they were fans of James.

The Vlosich brothers have been getting a lot of attention this season for their t-shirt designs, but back home in Cleveland, they’ve been well-known artists for over a decade.

George, 39, and Greg, 34, grew up as die-hard Cleveland sports fans, with a love of art. At the age of 10, George picked up an Etch-a-Sketch and started drawing everything, from the U.S. Capitol Building to portraits of his favorite players, including Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken. Greg, meanwhile, made the basketball team at Cleveland State University as a walk on.

In 2007, George put his Etch-a-Sketch skills on display for a national audience when the Cavaliers reached the NBA Finals.

The video of George creating James on Etch-a-Sketch drew over a million view within a week, and was named best viral video of the year by 20/20. The national attention encouraged the Vlosich brothers to continue using their creative direction to tap into the rabid fanbases in Cleveland who wanted to represent their city and sports teams.

In 2009, the brothers hit just the right note with an apparel campaign centered around the slogan “Cleveland That I Love,” as a way for fans to rally around the pride they had for their city. The Vlosich brothers started walking into bars in Cleveland wearing these shirts, and received favorable responses.

There has been plenty of national attention for the Vlosich brothers’ t-shirts throughout the years, including a Woah Delly shirt which became popular during the team’s run to the NBA Finals in 2015. On their website, GV Artwork + Design has t-shirt designs for all of the major sports teams in Cleveland.

The Cavaliers shirts stand out, including a shirt on the front page featuring James with the face paint and costume of The Ultimate Warrior, a reference to the 2016 NBA Finals when James wore an Ultimate Warrior t-shirt after the Cavs won the championship.

Greg and George admit the space for sports t-shirts in Cleveland has gotten a lot more competitive in the past decade. “When we started, there was one other company who had like two shirts,” Greg told theScore. “No one else was doing it. They saw the success we had, and in the last four years, shirt companies have been popping up like crazy.”

Because of their art backgrounds, the Vlosich brothers believe it gives them an advantage. Another edge they have over some of their competitors: they are die-hard Cleveland sports fans who have their pulse on what’s going on. “It really helps,” Greg said. “It separates us from the cookie-cutter logo shirts. They’re not fans.”

George added: “We look at it more as a piece of artwork than a team shirt.”

Ahead of this year’s Finals, the Vlosich brothers came up with a t-shirt concept in Warriors colors with the words GOLDEN HATE. It has become a best-seller in recent days. “Everytime I watch them, I’m just like, ‘I hate the Warriors,’” George said. “There are more teams out there who hate the Warriors than love the Cavs.”

The Vlosich brothers are also thinking ahead. As James heads to free agency this summer, they’re considering re-launching one of their favorite shirt designs, which they came up with in 2014, when James announced his return to the Cavaliers.

It’s a t-shirt featuring an interpretation of James’ signature basketball sneakers standing on a Yellow Brick Road leading into the Cleveland skyline. The shirt reads: “There’s no place like home.”

It would be the perfect t-shirt for fans to celebrate with if James re-signs with the Cavaliers.

But for now, the focus is squarely on the NBA Finals, not just to see if the Cavaliers can pull off the upset, but to be ready when the next t-shirt idea springs up.

“A lot of it is about timing,” Greg said. “We’ll be watching these games tightly.”

Alex Wong is an NBA freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, The New Yorker, Vice Sports, and Complex, among other publications.

(Photos courtesy: GV Art + Design)

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