(Photo: Reuters/Mike Cassese)
Two NBA players started a company making sports apparel with Christian messages, and it quickly blew up with New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin wearing their wristbands. They hope New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow will follow suit.
Lin, who rose to fame in recent months after he led the Knicks to stunning NBA wins and identified himself as a Christian, wears wristbands adorned with "IJNIP" (In Jesus' Name I Play) during games. Active Faith, a company owned exclusively by athletes and started by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver and former NBA D-Leaguer Lanny Smith, makes these wristbands.
Among the investors are Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry and San Diego Padres pitcher Micah Owings.
"It kind of blew up on us overnight and it turned from something that me and Anthony were working on growing step by step to something that turned global," Smith said, according to The Associated Press.
Smith thought of starting the company after he received a career-ending knee injury during the 2009-2010 season. In need of an investor, Smith approached Tolliver, his teammate on the Idaho Stampede D-League team. And Tolliver was willing to help his friend, and nothing more.
"I never, ever, in a million years thought I would be involved in a clothing company," Tolliver was quoted as saying. "I was like nah, I would never do that. This is something that's way more meaningful than just making money."
After launching the company, Smith saw Lin thanking Jesus during a postgame interview. He promptly met with Lin, who was not yet very famous at the time, through a common friend. Lin began to wear Active Faith wristbands.
Lin soon rose to fame, and Active Faith also reaped benefits. "All these pictures across the world with him rocking our bands," Tolliver recalled. "Basically at that time, our website launched. It just was crazy after that." The website, MyActiveFaith.com, crashed three times before Smith and Tolliver got a dedicated server to bear the traffic. About 10,000 wristbands were sold in the first two weeks.
Active Faith now also makes t-shirts and workout tops, shorts, hoodies and polo shirts as well as a women's line. The two received many offers of investments, but with a demand to tone down the religious messages. "We're not willing to compromise the message," Smith said. "We're staying true to it and that's going to separate us."
Smith and Tolliver now want to rope in Tebow. Lin, they hope, can make a pitch for them.
"We're looking at becoming one of the first companies owned solely by athletes," Tolliver said. "It's a very, very unique thing. We feel like we have a niche that nobody has even touched before and it has unlimited potential."