Ron Artest is BALL’N
The Lakers forward reps for the sneaker brand in LA.
by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
Ron Artest is confused.
I want to know who he thinks should be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
“Who is in the running?”
I tell him that Dwight Howard is likely the favorite. “He’s a hell of a rebounder, so maybe he’ll get it,” Ron says.
“Would you vote for yourself if you had a vote?”
Ron pauses. “I’ve been doing this a long time, locking up, you know?” “So, I don’t really know how they vote.”
On Saturday, Artest was at the Sportie LA sneaker shop off Melrose making an appearance on behalf of his shoe and apparel company, BALL’N. Artest and the Lakers had flown back from Portland earlier that morning, following a loss to the Blazers in a game that featured a few heated moments between him and forward Gerald Wallace. “Yeah, you know that’s great for basketball, a lot of passion” Artest said of his battle with Wallace. “He got a little aggressive and that is great for the game.”
About 200 fans showed up on the picturesque LA afternoon to meet one of their favorite Lakers, many bringing Ron-Ron some gifts: photographs, muffins, stuffed animals (a young girl approached him after the event and handed him a stuffed bunny with a basketball, running off in pure excitement).
Ron was very happy to see the support for his brand. “Usually at these events fans bring a lot of other stuff they want signed but a lot of people came to support the shoe today which is great,” he says. “I think people are getting used to it as I wear it. We just need to stick with the times and make sure our swag is up to date. Right now people like the shoe and I think word is going to get around.”
BALL’N is the creation of Chicago native Rodney Jeter, who started the athletic lifestyle brand in 1991. While stationed in Korea during a stint in the Army, Jeter had the opportunity to tour a sneaker factory and what he saw there made a major impact. Nike and other top sneakers that were selling back home in Chicago for $100, were being produced in Korea for under $25. He immediately became interested in the sneaker business model. “I was already a sneaker head and basketball fan so I started thinking that this is a business I might want to get into when my time in the service is up,” Jeter recalls. “I became good friends with a guy who had his own manufacturing shop. I started making designs and he started making the shoes. I wanted to do what Phillip Knight did.”
Jeter was inspired by a book he read while researching the business: Swoosh: The Unauthorized story of Nike and the men who played there by J.B. Strasser and Laurie Becklund (we chronicled Swoosh last fall during our interviews with agent David Falk).
The book describes how Nike was built, much of it through the eyes of one of Knight’s top confidants, Rob Strasser. Jeter re-read the book numerous times, outlining key chapters as the blueprint to building his own brand. He ended up writing Rob Strasser a letter, chronicling his journey and thanking him for the knowledge shared in Swoosh.
“Six months later he called me and we met,” Jeter says. “He asked me to come do some consulting work for him and Peter Moore. They were over at adidas basketball at that point. It was an incredible lesson.”
Jeter continued to soak up knowledge of the footwear game while working with Strasser and continuing to grind on his own. His efforts led to an apparel deal with the Bike athletic company.
The basketball footwear game is dominated by Nike. Brand Jordan claims 61 percent of the market and Nike 31 percent. Three other brands round out the market: adidas (3 percent), Reebok (2.5 percent) & And1 (1 percent). Despite his early success as an entrepreneur, Jeter admits that it has been a struggle getting his brand to this point as an independent businessman. “It’s still difficult,” he says. “We’re not even a fly on a horse’s butt when compared to a Nike or adidas as far as what they’re doing. For our level, what we’ve been able to do is really monumental. A brand from the streets being able to launch with an NBA player first year out the gate, we’re very lucky. We are very fortunate to have a good sourcing partner overseas that has really gotten behind us and given us their 30 years worth of experience, making the learning curve sharper for us.”
BALL’N might alter its logo’s size in the future according to Jeter, but he likes the current size for visibility purposes. The brand also hopes to branch into other sports as well. “One thing that’s good about BALL’N is that it doesn’t matter what sport you’re in if you’re BALL’N,” Jeter says. “The goal for us is to be in every sport that connects to the inner city. We’re going to touch all those avenues.”