Two Memphians who are fairly well known in the local Memphis community found common ground in a passion that the mostly blue collar city shares, the love of basketball. I must admit when Nibletz made the move to Memphis I had no idea how much Memphian’s loved the University of Memphis Tigers. Being from Baltimore and having lived in Auburn, the only Tigers I knew were of the blue and orange variety.
The Grizzlies on the other hand I knew. Baltimore’s native son, Rudy Gay, played for the Grizzlies his entire professional career until earlier this year when the Grizzlies traded him to the Toronto Raptors. Anyone from Baltimore or who lived in Baltimore in the early part of the 2000s knew that local Baltimore TV sportscasters had three segments, the Orioles, the Ravens and Rudy Gay. They tracked the high school standout right up to the point where he decided to commit to UConn instead of Maryland. With the stellar record of our closest team since the days of Wes Unsled and Manut Bol, (the Washington Wizards), it was no wonder I had turned to Memphis as my NBA team 6 years ago. So when the opportunity came to move to Memphis there was definitely Grizz appeal. I quickly became a season ticket holder.
What I witnessed first hand through the best and worst of games throughout the 2012-2013 season in person, was nothing less than remarkable. The way Memphis and Memphians come together to support their college and NBA basketball teams is nothing short of remarkable. It reminded me of the days that an AHL, not NHL team, the Baltimore SkipJacks, united Charm City.
Memphis is a town that was built on entrepreneurship, it’s just skipped a few decades recently. Household names like Fedex, Holiday Inn and Autozone found their roots in the Bluff City. The cotton trade, and water to rail transportation were staples in Memphis for hundreds of years. As of late though, the city shows signs of trying times, scars as the team from Hoop City Memphis puts it.
“We may live in an era of plastic surgery, but Memphis wears it’s scars for all to see. They are scars from our history, a darkened past many would like to forget. But all of it has made us what we are as Memphian’s. Getting here wasn’t easy, and there’s still a long way to go, but while we can, let’s pause for a moment and think about how unique Memphis is.” Hoop City Memphis writes on their website.
The t-shirt company is the brain child of two friends, a marketer, Leslie Skelton and a designer Ian Lemmonds. Both, who wear their grit n grind proudly. Skelton grew up in the Memphis area no stranger to a city who’s outskirts are crime ridden (downtown on the other hand is the safest district in Memphis), and no stranger to the businesses that left in droves through the 90’s.
Lemmonds on the other hand grew up in a family of 5 siblings on the brink of poverty. Escape for Lemmonds was found in art, skateboarding and ice hockey.
The two met at Mouse Foundry, an interactive agency in Memphis. Later, both ended up working for two different local papers. Lemmonds is a UX Designer at the local daily and Skelton is now working for one of the areas largest agencies. On the side though they created Hoop City Memphis. They weren’t’ looking to get rich, and they certainly couldn’t predict that the Memphis Grizzlies would be the favorite for many national sports publications, to win the 2013 NBA championship. Hoop City Memphis actually had more Tiger inspired t-shirts than Grizzlies.
Hoop City Memphis is a company that’s more about culture, and uniting a community through the commonality of basketball. “Nothing brings Memphis together like basketball” Skelton told us in a phone interview Monday.
The designs are all creations that Skelton gives most of the credit to Lemmonds for coming up with. While some may be a spin on something familiar they are all original. Memphians wear Hoop City Memphis gear more as a badge of honor, to “rep their city”.
Over the past few weeks, since the Memphis Grizzlies made the pages of the national papers, people have been talking about Memphis’ grit and grind. Many articles we’ve read on the big sites like SBNation, Yahoo Sports, Sports Illustrated and ESPN have talked about this underlying theme in Memphis. On the Hoop City Memphis site, both Lemmonds and Skelton nail that theme on the head. Memphis is a city that’s breaking out of it’s “low self esteem”. That idea can be seen everywhere in the Bluff City. From entrepreneurship on the rise, to the hundreds of thousands that partake in Memphis in May, to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Hoop City Memphis offers shirts that celebrate Memphis. Sure there are shirts that celebrate the Tigers and the Grizzlies but one of their favorites is one that says 38103 which is the zipcode for downtown Memphis. A few of the others deal with “grinding” a theme that Memphis is beginning to embrace, but it didn’t start in Memphis.
Lemmonds explains: “I’m actually a big hockey fan, and a lot of people don’t know, but the notion of a “grinding” team comes from hockey. It’s the idea of just to keep working hard, and eventually an opponent will give in. In the late 90′s the Toronto Maple Leaf’s were constantly called a “grinding” team. The idea of “grinding” is something Memphis needs to embrace in many areas when we compete against other cities – not just in sports, but in education, economic development, entreprenuership, etc. You may not realize it, but Memphis is competing against other cities in ways that are much bigger than sports…”
That was where Lemmonds came up with “Memphis Where Everywhereelse.co Comes To Grind” for the t-shirts given away at the inaugural everywhereelse.co The Startup Conference.
One of Memphis’ biggest industries these days is tourism. With that there are several companies that make t-shirts about Memphis. Skelton and Lemmonds are making t-shirts for Memphians that Memphians are proud to wear and can be found on any nationally televised Grizzlies game spread out in the crowd.
Skelton admitted though, that it’s nice that they are getting orders lately from all over the world. “Sure we have our site optimized but people come to Hoopcitymemphis.com and really like our designs.”
Hoop City Memphis has done such a good job they’ve garnered the attention of a copycat who uses the name “hoop city” which is actually a trademark of the NCAA. The copy cat has actually used property of the Grizzlies by marketing t-shirts with their team name and players faces on them. Imitation is of course the best form of flattery.
I learned about the copycat on Friday night at the Memphis BBQ festival when Memphis Grizzlies DJ Justin Baker, told me the shirt I had just been given that said “Whoop That Trick” on it, was actually from the fake Hoop City company.
As the Memphis Grizzlies continue to make franchise history, you can check out Hoop City Memphis’ shirts here and order some for yourself. For the locals the duo will have a pop up shop at South Of Beale on Main Street this Saturday before game three of the Western Conference Finals.
Want to see what Memphis is all about, come to this: