What happens when basketball’s brashest franchise invests all the way in hip-hop? Run it up.
Every iconic team has a soundtrack.
When Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were owning the NBA, “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project sent shockwaves through the United Center. Years later, and slightly north, flames illuminated The Palace of Auburn Hills when Ben Wallace and the Detroit Pistons came out to Europe’s climactic “The Final Countdown.”
From prog rock to arena glam, guitar riffs have riled up hardcore hoop fans of the teams that shaped league identity in the ’90s and the ’00s.
My friends, times have finally changed.
Deep down in Tenessee, the team of the future is erupting to the sound of their city. The Memphis Grizzlies — from their roster to their fanbase — are rooted in rap.
Not shying away from their personality, Ja Morant and company are laying the smackdown on opposing ball clubs as the PA plays “Whoop That Trick” from the Hustle & Flow score.
When it came to crafting its 2022-23 NBA City Edition Uniforms, the Grizzlies kept that same energy when reaching out for insight and inspiration.
“We had conversations with Juicy J, DJ Paul, Project Pat, 8 Ball & MJG, Al Kapone, and NLE Choppa,” John Pugliese, Grizzlies VP of Broadcast and Production, told Boardroom.
Talking less about design deals and more about sweat equity, the parallels between MC and PG hit harder in Memphis than in any other market.
“Listening to their stories about mixing in their garages and selling cassette tapes out of their box Chevys? Hustling from club to club, radio station to radio station? The grind and the work that they put in is still representative of Memphis flavor today,” says Pugliese.
Continuing our coverage of Nike x NBA City Connect Uniform rollouts, Boardroom caught up with Beaverton brass and 901 shot-callers to hear how the “Big Memphis” jerseys came to be.
Parental discretion is advised.
Most Known Unknown
For decades across the NBA, arenas pandered to dad rock season ticket holders. While always inclusive, the Grizzlies quickly bucked this trend once moving to Memphis.
“We had hip-hop playing in 2001 in The Pyramid,” Pugliese says. “Artists voice over our videos and sit courtside at our games.”
Two decades ago, this played out in the form of DJ Paul breaking out an authentic Jason Williams jersey for the “Ridin’ Spinners” video, baring black and teal Memphis across his chest.
Four years ago, this arc took a new shape the moment Memphis drafted Jaren Jackson Jr. fourth overall. Sure, he hugged his parents and thanked college coach Tom Izzo. But once it was time to really celebrate? He broke into the bars and moves of “Shoot” by BlocBoy JB.
So, when conversations regarding the 2022-23 City Edition uniforms began roughly three years ago, highlighting hip-hop was the direction the Grizzlies wanted to go in. However, would Nike and the NBA be down for the get-down?
“It was instantly embraced by all parties,” Pugliese says. “We knew the direction we wanted to go and felt very strongly about the historical roots of hip-hop in Memphis as well as the hip-hop in Memphis today from Moneybagg Yo to GloRilla.”
“We thought we could do something that was really going to capture where it was and where it’s going. We were fully embraced in that organizationally and city-wise. It was an easy step for us, there wasn’t any red tape to jump through.”
Of course, to know where you’re going is to know where you’ve been. For the Memphis Grizzlies, their storied City Edition uniforms took shape in 2018 with an homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Since then, they’ve touched on tropes tied to the franchise’s first days in Vancouver to Memphis’s musical history that hit on Isaac Hayes and the Beale Street Blues.
To make it all happen, the Grizzlies worked with Chad Campion, Nike‘s Senior Product Line Manager for NBA Uniforms.
While “work” may be the proper word when describing the grit and grind that makes Memphis what it is, the creative process of making this City Edition jersey happen was far from a chore.
“We had a lot of fun with this one,” Campion told Boardroom.
“This uniform has a lot of bling, chrome-inspired detailing, and diamond patterning. The Beale Street blue accents connect hip-hop back to the city of Memphis. It takes a lot of inspiration and nods from the iconic Grizzlies uniforms, with their signature asymmetrical and graphic detail around the neck and hem of the short.”
Though the uniforms are as Memphis as it gets, the excitement around this particular Grizzlies City Edition uniform is buzzing back in Beaverton when considering the Grizzlies star player who’s set to soon see his own Swoosh’d signature sneaker.
“I can’t wait for Ja to be wearing this on-court,” says Campion. “The team’s style of play fits so well with the raw, original sound of Memphis hip-hop. The anthem sign-off may be the best in City Edition history.”
So, what’s this anthem Campion speaks of? It’s a golden grill that appears above the Nike tagging on the left hip, touched on by each player as they tuck in their tops before tip-off.
This winter, the Grizzlies look to make the entire NBA tuck their whole summer in as they attempt the leap from contenders to champions.
Across the organization, their eyes are set on the gold while diamonds dance across their chest.
Since unveiling their “Big Memphis” City Edition uniforms late last week, the team has already played in them twice.
“The players love them, they got it right away,” Pugliese says. “They love the diamond texture, the black base, the chrome effects, and the grill. They embraced them right away and I know they’re going to feel good putting them on.”
All the while, Memphis has continued to be more and more Memphis, both on court and in promotion.
In only a matter of months, the Grizzlies have gone very viral in true-to-town fashion, from Ja Morant switching hands in mid-air to Moneybagg Yo counting blue faces courtside. The toughness of the grit-and-grind era has gone platinum without selling out, making Memphis a diamond in the rough where small-market storytelling is concerned.
While names on the back of Grizzlies jerseys have changed, the same sentiment seen last decade comes through in flash, function, and even font today.
“The grit and grind from Z-Bo and Tony Allen to Ja and Jaren?” Pugliese says. “The players embrace those hardworking ethos and are so connected to the industry through their love of music. No matter how our roster has changed, grit and grind is still part of our ethos as an organization and as a city.”
This proves true when Dillon Brooks hits the hardwood to dive for a loose ball as much as it does when DJ Mic Tee hits the play button on “Whoop That Trick” and the entire FedExForum absolutely loses it.
“It’s about the defiance, the hard work, and the pride that they have in Memphis,” Pugliese says.
“Hip-hop and hoops have been tied together for so long. We think it’s done better here in Memphis than anywhere else.”
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