By Khalid Salaam
Last week i spoke with Tom Miller owner of Ballher (www.ballher.com), a female athlete apparel line based in Ohio. His brand is gaining in popularity and is sold in the Womens BBall Hall of Fame in Knoxville. We spoke regarding the ins and outs of women’s basketball and the evoloution of the sport as well as the future. I watch NBA, then men’s college basketball first and I even tend to watch college ball more than the WNBA but i respect it all nonetheless. And you should too.
1. What was your initial motivation to create this company?
Statistically, basketball is the #1 participated sport among high school girls in America. As a Varsity girls’ basketball coach, however, I had always noticed a lack of an authentic apparel brand that is reflective of the passion and commitment displayed on the court by today’s female athletes. In observing such, I decided to create a brand name and logo that true “ballhers” can connect with.
2. How has the feedback been?
Despite that we believe we’re the best-kept secret in women’s basketball, the feedback for the ballher brand has been phenomenal. Since, the debut of our online store, we have seen a repeated interest from players, coaches, and fans from all across the country. In fact, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, who carries our brand in their Knoxville, TN gift shop, assures us that our products are some of their very best selling items. What consumers like the most about our products are their overall superior quality and the fact that most of our items are made in the United States
3. Why do you feel it was important to create this company?
It was important to create the ballher brand because it was important to show female athletes that female sports matter. Until now, there really hasn’t been an apparel line for female basketball players that is an appropriate and satisfying counterpart to that which is offered to the male game. Ballher is aiming to change that.
4. What is the immediate future of Ballher?
The immediate future for ballher is to begin the official process of promoting our brand. First and foremost, that is the reason we contacted SLAM before anyone else. We are well aware of SLAM’s influence on the game of basketball, and we are greatly appreciative of any love and credibility that the magazine can send our way. In the meantime, we are also looking to expand our brand by adding some fresh new designs on T-shirts, shorts, socks, hoodies, and warm-up pants. Basically, we want ballher to be about everything basketball.
5. What is your best-case scenario?
The best-case scenario for ballher is to become the future face of women’s basketball. We believe in our brand, and we believe that our popularity will rise with the overall rise of the girl’s game in today’s culture. It is our expectation that this popularity will be reflected in a demand that is apparent in retail stores all over.
6. What are your thoughts on female athlete stereotypes?
Unfortunately, stereotypes are a sad reality for individuals who live in the minority. Obviously, female athletes are still a minority in our male driven sports world. In order to change these misconceptions, opportunities must continue to develop for women at earlier ages so that these stereotypes can eventually be abolished. With more youthful opportunities, athletic minded females will become more of the norm in tomorrow’s society. In turn, some of these same stereotypes that you mentioned will hold less and less meaning.
7. Do you think that those stereotypes (being thought of as a lesbian, etc) hurt recruiting?
For the most part, I do not believe that today’s players are afraid of being labeled by a stereotype due to the fact that they love and play the game of basketball. You have to understand that most players, regardless of gender, are recruited? encouraged to play, or are introduced to the sport at a much earlier age than ever before. For this reason alone, girls that grow up and continue to play the game of basketball play for the love that the game provides them, and not for whether or not society feels that it is acceptable for them to do so.
8.I’ve found that women are some of the biggest detractors of women’s basketball. Why do you think that is and how can that be changed?
I’ve always believed that the overall population has a tendency to gravitate towards that which is given the most publicity. For years, male sports, and the athletes who participate in them, have been given the majority of the media attention. If, for example, that same amount of attention were to be invested in women’s sports, specifically basketball, I believe that the mainstreamed popularity would lead to a subconscious call for both women and men to take an added interest in games that feature on-court battles between highly publicized teams and individual superstars.
9. Women basketball players are paid far less then men. Do you think the gap will ever shrink?
In order for women to be paid more professionally, they must be given more opportunities to market themselves and their game. It’s no secret that there is a direct relationship between the dollar amount that female players are paid and the dollar amount that the female players are currently able to generate. However, if more female players were to be given the opportunity to promote and build brands in the public eye, then big businesses would be able to see that the issue of overall sales and interests has more to do with the amount spent to promote a given product than it has to do with the gender of the person promoting the product. Quite simply, businesses need to spend money to make money, but until that money is made, female athletes will continue to be paid less than their male counterparts.
10. Who can change things on serious level for female basketball players? Candace Parker?
Understandably, in order for big businesses to feel secure in the spending of their promotional dollars, they have to feel secure in the individuals who will be promoting their products. These individuals have to be talented with their gifts, but they also have to be strong, independent, charismatic, and obtainable to a certain look that society attracts towards and relates to. For the NBA and certain brand name companies, that person was Michael Jordan. Now, that person is Lebron James. As for Candace Parker, I do believe that she reflects many of those same major qualities that have come to be expected of individuals representing the current and future trends in mainstream America. She is the definition of a ballher and I do believe that she is capable of extinguishing the outdated stereotypes that have plagued the development and overall support of women’s basketball.