When apparel and sports marketing hold hands, it's usually the makers of casual threads and athletic footwear, like Nike (NYSE:NKE), Reebok (NYSE:RBK), or Motley Fool Hidden Gems stock pick Saucony (NASDAQ:SCNYA), doing the courting. That's why it may seem odd at first to see the well-dressed Perry Ellis (NASDAQ:PERY) scoring a thorough marketing deal with the NBA's Miami Heat.

Then again, maybe not. Basketball is one of the few sports where the coaches -- and even sidelined players -- deck themselves out in business suits during the game. The climate-controlled indoor environment affords that kind of luxury.

Perry Ellis, the upscale-apparel maker based in Miami, couldn't have picked a better time to support the local team. Its broadcasting and in-stadium marketing bits come as the Heat has all but clinched the top seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference and has drawn greater nationally televised exposure since signing on Shaquille O'Neal.

Sporting events are easy draws for sponsors. No one questions why Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) will bend over backwards to equip star golfers with its clubs or why Nike signed up a young LeBron James to a $90 million, seven-year endorsement contract. OK, a lot of us initially questioned Nike over that last move, but the investment has paid off for the company so far.

Why? Because despite the dark clouds hanging over the sporting world's sky -- like the recent steroids scandal in baseball -- athletes command an audience. They may sometimes be reluctant role models, yet the stars of any pro sport will attract the big endorsement deals beyond their lucrative playing contracts because they are young, rich, famous, and athletically gifted.

Perry Ellis knows that a hot NBA team offers the company a great chance to gain some more exposure for its product lines. With its stock having tripled over the past three years, it's hoping that its customers won't be the only ones looking good.

Some more branded Foolishness:

  • When Nike lost Jordan, it found LeBron James.
  • If you think Saucony has sole, check out some of the other Hidden Gems recommendations.
  • Talk shop about the company that knows all about sports marketing in our Nike discussion board.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is psyched to see his hometown Heat playing so well and wonders how badly the team will crush the Lakers come Thursday night. He does not own shares in any company mentioned in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.