How A Chicago Bulls Ball Boy Launched A Top Sports Apparel Company

Everyone remembers their first date.

Not everyone is driven to their first date by NBA legend, Scottie Pippen, though.

From a young age, Sportiqe founder, Jason Franklin, has lived a life less ordinary than most. It is that life less ordinary, though, that has allowed Franklin to become one of the NBA’s most-popular apparel providers.

At 15 years old, Franklin found himself like many other boys growing up in America: A lover of sports, but someone whose talents weren’t going to allow him to turn pro. What Franklin had that most others didn’t, though, was an intense drive to find a way to keep his passion for sports alive in spite of his athletic talent. Little did he know, a bike ride he took through Chicago as a teenager would pave the way to his future career.

“The Bulls’ practice facility was in my hometown. I rode my bike to the front door and knocked on it, asking if they needed a ball boy. Someone came to the door and said it was the middle of the season and that they’d send me an application for the following season. They did and I along with 1,000 other kids applied. Five were interviewed, two got a job and one of them was me,” Franklin reminisced.

Becoming a ball boy for the Bulls in the 1990s was the equivalent of hitting the lottery for a teenager growing up in Chicago. The job not only meant later bedtimes on game nights, but unimaginable access to some of the world’s biggest sports stars in their natural environment.

“Michael Jordan came back and the Bulls won three championships. The highlight of my experience had to be being in the locker room for the celebrations of those championships. Being a high school kid and getting a chance to be around and witness that first hand is dream come true type of stuff,” Franklin said.

Spending time in the Bulls’ locker room not only allowed Franklin to rub elbows with the players, but to be mentored by them. Pippen took a liking to the young Franklin, and when Franklin came into the locker room talking about asking his first girl on a date, Pippen not only offered Franklin advice, but a ride — in his Ferrari.

Along with the rides and advice on girls, Pippen, Jordan and the Bulls offered Franklin important lessons about what it takes to win on and off of the court. “The strongest thing I took away from my experience was watching how those guys handled themselves off of the court. Watching their interaction with people during my formative years of 15-18 really helped shape how I handle myself as a professional. The way people wanted to be around them and the types of people they were off of the court allowed people to gravitate towards them. Through them, I saw the type of person you could be regardless of whether you were famous, and how the kindness you extend to people can become infectious,” Franklin explained.

With those lessons instilled in him, Franklin launched Sportiqe, a lifestyle licensed apparel brand, who lists the NBA as a partner. The brand’s stylish and comfortable t-shirts and hats are frequently worn by some of the world’s top athletes and celebrities, including Jay-Z, Beyonce and Justin Bieber. For Franklin, finding his way into the apparel industry was much like his becoming the Bulls’ ball boy: A natural fit.

“Growing up, I loved sports. I’d go to every single sporting event I could. When I realized I wasn’t going to be good enough to play professionally I realized I still wanted to be involved in sports in a way that I was passionate about. My grandma and great-grandmother were clothing designers. My earliest memories were sitting on my grandma’s lap in her knit shop and her showing me different yarns and fabrics. That got my brain working in terms of always looking for fabrics and colors and blending them,” Franklin said.

At the tender age of 10, Franklin became a third generation fashion designer when he began designing hats that would later be worn by the likes of Tupac and 50 Cent. “Apparel was something that was in my blood,” he remarked. Yet, the quick success he achieved as a child designer was only the beginning of what would become a life-long career.

“I’m a firm believer that if you find exactly what it is you’re destined to do, then you have the opportunity to do great things. I was very fortunate at a young age to be around a guy like Michael Jordan and a team that won three championships to see that they found what they were passionate about and worked as hard as they possibly could at it. At a young age, I realized I could blend two of my loves, fashion apparel and sports,” Franklin noted.

As NBA teams install Sportiqe-specific fixtures into their team stores and more celebrities and athletes turn to the brand, given Franklin’s background it is perhaps no surprise that he remains humble. For Franklin, Sportiqe’s growing success all boils down to an important lesson he learned as a teenager in an NBA locker room.

“People want to be around people with infectious personalities. Learning this in the Bulls’ locker room helped me grow Sportiqe as a brand. The more chances I get to be in front of people and meet them, the more they not only want to be around myself, but the brand. Sportiqe has grown by word of mouth, and it’s really been about one person telling another person about the brand. When people get a chance to be around Sportiqe, they gravitate towards it and that’s one of the things that I took away from hanging out with the Bulls at a very young age,” Franklin said.

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