From Ballboy To Businessman
Jason Franklin, a former Chicago Bulls ballboy, hits it big selling NBA apparel.
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
If you’ve gone to an NBA game and perhaps visited the team shop inside the arena, you’ve seen, and maybe even bought gear made by Sportiqe Apparel Co. while you were in there. What you may not have been aware of is that t-shirt or rugby you either saw or purchased is the brainchild of Jason Franklin, a native of Deerfield, IL, and a former Chicago Bulls ballboy.
Like most successful entrepreneurs, what started out as just a simple idea – or in this case, sketches—on paper has turned into a very lucrative business.
Franklin and I took in a Chicago Bulls preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks at the United Center recently – I can’t remember the last time I had an actual ticket to a Chicago Bulls game – and we instantly clicked and did so much talking about his business, our lives growing up as Bulls fans in Chicago, and his time as a ballboy, that we paid almost no attention to what was happening on the court.
To give you a little background on Sportiqe, the company currently sells NBA licensed apparel for all 30 teams (the Chicago Bulls, ironically enough, was one of his first accounts) and is currently in negotiations to obtain licensing rights for the NFL and Major League Baseball as well. The company also makes NCAA licensed apparel as well as gear for a variety of large corporations including ESPN. You can purchase most of these products at the Sportiqe website or in the NBA Store, both online and at the flagship store in New York City. You can also find it at large retail outlets like Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and Urban Outfitters, or, as previously mentioned, in the NBA team shops at the arenas.
So yes, you too can look as cool as guys like Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, and Steve Nash who rock his gear on a regular basis. Derek Jeter has been spotted in it. So has Matthew McConaughey. And just about every time you see Mark Cuban on the sidelines, chances are he’s wearing something made by Sportiqe. “Cuban wears my stuff all the time,” said Franklin.
But it doesn’t stop there. Sportiqe also makes apparel for musicians too.
Franklin has made t-shirts for bands like O.A.R., The Fray, and Puddle of Mud, and for solo artists like Justin Timberlake and John Mayer. Most recently he’s made exclusive apparel for Dave Matthews Band – a relationship that spans 4 years – who is wearing custom Sportiqe gear on his current tour.
Franklin has experience with designing things that appeal to musical artists.
Before he went into business on his own, he did designs for a company that made and sold baseball caps. Back in the day, he designed the lids that Mitchell & Ness would sell as accompaniments to their throwback gear and these caps would pop up in rap videos all the time. Jay-Z has worn ballcaps designed by Jason Franklin in his videos.
How’s that for “street cred”?
At only 32 years old, Franklin is one of the up-and-comers in the athletic apparel industry operating with a logic that is both sound and very forward thinking.
“Most team-oriented apparel is typically athletic in nature in to begin with. Yeah, people wear it, but is it really considered fashion? I wanted to bring fashion into sports. I want people to support their favorite teams and I want them to look good doing it. That’s what Sportiqe gear is all about.”
When he was younger, Jason Franklin was a ballboy during the Chicago Bulls second three-peat and was fortunate enough to be chosen in what—unbeknownst to me – is a very competitive process. “5,000 kids applied, 500 were interviewed, and only three were chosen,” says Franklin of the process and who, despite other obligations, was very committed to the job. “I was in college at the University of Iowa at the time and I would commute back-and-forth just to go to games.”
Growing up in Deerfield is where his love for sports began. His father was a big-time fan of Chicago sports teams and he was also a Bulls season ticket holder and would take Jason and his brother to games all the time when they were kids. But he got his sense of fashion and his knack for designing clothes from the women in his family.
“My mom designed clothes and my grandma did too. I mean, I liked basketball, but I just wasn’t very good at playing it. So I just stuck to what I knew best and I’m fortunate enough to still be around sports, which is what I love.”
It’s his love of sports that has provided the backdrop to some very interesting stories in his life, but the stories about his time as a ballboy for the Bulls during their championship heyday are easily some of his best.
“Sometimes Luc Longley would take me home after games or even pick me up from my house and I would ride to the arena with him. Jason Caffey would stop by the house when we had BBQ’s. Scottie Pippen and I are still friends to this day. Being a ballboy was just a very cool experience for me.”
But the story that trumps them all is the one involving this magazine, Scoop Jackson, and Michael Jordan.
“Scoop had written an article in SLAM on MJ and showed up to a game with a copy of the magazine and a very nice, hand-written thank you note to Michael. He asked me to deliver it to him so I said cool and took it back to the locker room. I walk up to MJ and give him the magazine and the note and tell him it’s from Scoop. He acknowledges it, takes the note, reads it, then opens the magazine and reads the article. Now usually, I would’ve left by now but for some reason I just hung around and after MJ was done with both he gave them back to me and told me to toss them. My first reaction was, ‘No way!’ Look, I’d read SLAM since I was a kid and Scoop Jackson was like the coolest dude ever to me. He’d taken the time to write this note and then personally deliver it to Michael along with a copy of the magazine so no way was I going to just throw it in the trash. I hung on to it and I still have it to this day. It’s framed in my house.”
If your reaction to reading that was anything like mine was after hearing it, you can close your mouth now.