Inspiration and innovation may be the name of the game at the goalpost for sports, but who is shifting the status quo to show that there is always room to grow? I think it’s safe to say that the youth have surely led the way, and when it comes to the NBA, the name Ja Morant holds ample weight. His fun presence on the court, his smile after intense plays, his joking demeanor with the refs, along with his uplifting nature for his teammates, doesn’t get in the way of what he accomplishes when it comes to muting those who doubted him and his grit, along the way.
Hailing from the state of South Carolina, despite coming from a basketball bloodline, with both parents have played basketball, the odds were still stacked against him. Yet even then, Ja wasn’t fazed by the lack of visibility or the larger and taller opponents he was surrounded by. Even to fall on the radar of Murray State, a mid-major program, the assistant coach was there to watch another player, but caught Ja on an intense three-on-three game. Outside of his only Division I offer being from the home state of South Carolina, Ja’s father advised him to go where he was wanted, instead of where he wanted to go.
To add another dynamic to his basketball program at Murray State is one thing, but having to stamp yourself in a league full of bigs stopping you from finishing at the rim, shows that his game is different. In 2019, I remember watching him defeat my alma mater, Marquette, as he helped Murray State roll past Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That would be one of his many upset wins, and despite my squad losing, I was excited to see where his career would take him, because if you love the game, there was no way you could deny his talent, skill, and the effortless fluidity he played with.
I knew I was gravitating towards being a Ja Morant fan for a deeper reason. After reflecting, I came to realize he truly embodied the words, “beneath no one” that he tattooed on his left arm. It may have been a seed of advice that his mother planted, but what grew from that mantra he applied to life, took on a life of its’ own. It was his love for the game that you saw on his face, as he played. The same passion that exemplified the nostalgic element of where it all began. The same excitement that exuded when you first held a basketball in your hand. The same determination that was expressed in every dribble down the court. The follow through in every shot that went through the hoop. Ja owned the story of why we fell in love with the game in the first place. He just never lost sight of the goal, all while enjoying each moment, and not being counted out.
Ja has rewritten the rules by challenging the game, and a role of an underdog is far from it. He earned his way here and has left an imprint since his entrance. He wasn’t expected to succeed at this level. Says Who? His journey serves as a parallel mirror to women in these realms also breaking glass ceilings. “Women can’t have the same impact.” Says Who? Being a Co-Founder of MADE for the W, I can attest that is far from the truth. We were able to tap into a void where women in sports and sneaker culture merge and align when it comes to a shared vision, purpose, and visibility. Because of the very conception of this platform alone, many more women and fellow platforms were inspired to elevate and showcase women’s basketball, on a professional as well as a collegiate level. Yet, it didn’t stop just there.
Not only did they receive the exposure they deserve, but we were also able to create a space that made them take up space and occupy their rightful place in the realm of sports and sneakers. It’s the women behind the scenes pitching, producing, directing, creating, and curating content to share these stories. It’s the women helping design the sneakers and apparel everyone sets their alarms to purchase before it all sells out. It’s the women speaking life and coaching from the sidelines to lead these women athletes to succeed – be it on the court, field, or life. It’s the women creatives who pave a path that doesn’t exist but there is a vital need for it. It’s the women leaders who decide to take the torch that was passed off to them, in order to carry on the work. It’s the women athletes who are making history being the first woman ever to be aligned with a shoe company and/or a signature shoe.
Yet, the most exciting aspect of this all is that it is only the beginning. MADE for the W was created in 2018, and in 3+ years we have seen an increase in attendance, relevance, and investment, when it comes to women in these spaces, and the best part is that fellow women creatives operate as allies, as we all recognize the bigger picture. Just like Ja, we aren’t here to be compared – we show up to exceed the expectations that society has set for us. “Women won’t be able to create the same waves in this space.” Says Who? Because having worked in the sports realm for so long, I can tell you this: the power of women has always been infinite, now it’s just being noticed.
To help ignite and inspire so many women and corporations in sports and sneaker culture was a blessing, but it also sheds light on why it had taken so long in the first place. I suppose it’s a matter of what has been maintained as the norm, to now, if what is being made into reality. It serves as a reminder that recreating the dream and innovating the game along the way, changes every day. Whether it’s Ja journey to excel where they expected him to fail, or women in sports and sneaker culture, who are further showcasing what it looks like to create in this space and the difference dynamics we face – I believe it’s safe to say that the superpower we share is making our own rules and writing our own story. Only then, will we have the best endings to ultimately hear.