“Every basketball player wants to be a rapper” - Kevin Durant
The purpose of the collaboration is to have some of hip-hop’s most influential stars show love for their hometown by putting their own spin on the NBA throwback jersey. I worked with our E-Commerce team to help initially brainstorm and concept the series based on our rappers in NBA jerseys social media jersey swap series and then worked with the hip-hop artists to reimagine their hometown team’s logo on products such as jerseys, t-shirts, hoodies, shorts & hats. I was a part of the brain trust that helped ensure brand resonance in terms of talent procurement and partnerships with the right rappers and artists and then on the back end in social packaging to convert sales through our various platforms. Collaborating with Jake Cohen and Justin Dreyfuss I helped select the talent and provided feedback and art direction throughout the process based on the social voice we had developed and how we could integrate that through these e-commerce partnerships to amplify the Bleacher Report brand. It was amazing to see this project go live and for communities to rally around the merchandise in a meaningful way.
Bleacher Report is the top sports media company for the hyper-connected millennial and Gen Z sports fan, fueling unparalleled experiences that blend sports with culture. This collaboration is a direct reflection of our mission to live beyond the game and connect fans with the sports they love in compelling ways. Mitchell & Ness have such an authentic connection to the NBA and the nostalgia for those classics jerseys from everyone's childhood that we felt we could amplify it with our design language.
Mitchell and Ness throwback jerseys are a staple in both sports and hip-hop culture, which is a crossroads that the Bleacher Report brand also sits firmly within, so partnering with them to bring this to life was a perfect fit. Bleacher Report brought the intersection to life by taking the nostalgia and giving it a modern hip hop makeover. Bleacher Report licensed the NBA team logos through a partnership with clothing retailer Mitchell and Ness, which has an extended relationship with the NBA. Then, the publisher approached each musical artist with the opportunity to reinterpret the logos from the NBA team of their home city, incorporating elements from their album cover designs or branding. Just look at the people who sit courtside at the games. It’s Hollywood and the hip-hop industry, so it’s a natural extension for the consumer and our audience.
The genesis of this entire project really came from the wealth of NBA and Hip Hop related content our social team was doing and the overwhelming success we saw from these crossovers, we felt like a partnership that would allow us to tap into NBA logo rights to turn this into a capsule could take that work that our team was doing on BR Kicks and on our Social Moments posts that were consistently going viral and getting reposted by the artists themselves, to the next level. Whether it was our Hip Hop inspired illustrations, or pilot show concepts like our Lonzo Ball and 21 Savage "Finish The Lyric" episode, it all came from the same cultural touchpoints in sports and music.
The NBA Remix capsule has been a great way to connect the rich history of the league with a current, influential artists and I helped conceptualize and execute this as a consulting art director and social media integrated marketing strategy standpoint. Bleacher Report lives at the intersection of sports and culture, and the NBA Remix Collection is probably the best physical representation of this mission. Jake Cohen, who was brought in to build out our e-commerce team worked closely with myself Lance Fresh and Ryan Hurst and our social team to help build out the initial strategy and consult throughout the process on design, social packaging and more. Our mission was to take the DNA from these projects and figure out how we could infuse it into a clothing collection.
The project was a pilot for us to take some of the investment that Turner had infused into Bleacher Report to create new revenue streams to help diversify our ability to create content and reach our consumers in a very competitive sports media marketplace. We new we had traction with the success of BR Kicks and the social posts that we had done on this topic, and this project felt like the right thing to kick off by bringing that brain trust together and asking how we could take it to the next level, thankfully Mitchell and Ness helped us to do exactly that and taking the concepts pitched in those brainstorm sessions to reality.
As can be seen with projects like the sports inspired NBA artwork I created in collaboration with Will Lievernberg to fill a conference room in our New York offices, Bleacher Report has always sat at the intersection of sports and culture, we truly lived and breathed it and so the jersey concept felt like a great evolution of this. The NBA Remix collection and future drops all fuse hip-hop music and basketball at the local level, with innovative designs that will drive conversation amongst a community of fans who are the new vanguard of style. These tastemakers and cultural influencers were the target audience for drops like these.
The initial pilot capsule featured Travis Scott with a Houston Rockets jersey before expanding to include more artists in the subsequent drops. The idea was to take the classic jerseys and heritage of the team and all of their old brand elements, and some of the rapper and label imagery and visual assets and look and feel to combine together and tell a compelling story about the team, the music and the city as a way to really authentically connect with the fans.
Mitchell and Ness handled production and fulfillment while we worked to develop the visual language, the social promotional assets, the e-commerce shop on our end along with an original shoot with Travis Scott and other rappers over time as well as can be seen above. The products found a solid amount of success online and we even eventually expanded to pop up and retail installations with Mitchell and Ness down the line.
As we expanded the collection to include more artists and more cities, I stayed on to help provide creative development and feedback, but my primary contributions were really in setting the backbone for this project and proving viability through our NBA x Hip Hop content on social and paving the path and coming up with the concept for this type of a collaboration between a media company like Bleacher Report and a clothing company like Mitchell and Ness.I was glad I had a chance in being able to shape and art direct the concept while finding unique ways to activate around it, like AR filters.
One of the really cool ways that I was brought in to socially package and promote the jersey launch on social was to create an augmented reality filter under our BR Kicks banner for Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok that was released to the public through our social media channels and drove over 25+ Million engagements and counting to this day. This allowed me to tap into our innovation team and bring in our kicks vertical to promote while finding fresh ways to engage our fans. We initially put out a teaser asking if fans wanted us to drop the filter, and after an overwhelming amount of comments we released the filter. The snapchat lens is still available to test out right here.
Packaging and developing and originating this type of a concept NBA Remix partnership with Mitchell and Ness was something that would set the stage for a lot of growth for new revenue streams. We were able to take what we were really good at in the social and pop culture world, and expand it to include e-commerce and merchendise in a meaningful way. A great example is the James Harden x Travis Scott "Yosemite" mix tape that Ryan Hurst helped put together for this launch as seen here.
What was great about his NBA remix project was that it really helped us build inroads at places like Interscope and Universal and paved the way to further partnerships with these labels to vertically integrate our social channels for album releases and other collaborations, as perfectly reference by the subsequent Cactus Jack collaboration to promote Highest in the Room with a mixtape that we worked on with Luis Domingo and Ryan Hurst on for the start of the season.
Over time, we began to really expand the collection with the likes of ScHoolboy Q for the Los Angeles Lakers, Future for the Atlanta Hawks, Big Sean for the Detroit Pistons, Wale for the Washington Wizards, The Diplomats for the New York Knicks, E-40 for the Golden State Warriors, No Limit for the New Orleans Pelicans, and DJ Khaled for the Miami Heat. These collections gave us more room to experiment with the type of designs, the pattern usage and how far we could dive into the individual personality of each rapper. You can see us really try out cool things like the metallic text, the tie dye, the graffiti typography and even the 3D extrusions.
Some of the key ways I helped amplify this launch was with social vehicles and coverage along with experimental ways to get the word out. This meant everything from mixtapes to augmented reality filters and working with our marketing team on how we could seed these jersey at key moments like NBA All Star.. Check out the photos of the first capsule collection we dropped after that initial Travis Scott pilot collection below:
In addition to the limited-edition jerseys, an array of t-shirts, hoodies, long sleeves, hats, shorts, and other apparel were available for purchase as well to ensure there were a myriad of price points for different consumers and we didn't price anyone out. Prices on the unique garments range from $40 to $175 and are all available on the Bleacher Report shop in limited quantities still, although the hottest items sold out quickly.
From the Dipset emblem on the front of the New York Knicks jersey to a flaming key courtesy of DJ Khaled on a Miami Heat swingman joint, the remix collection really is a must-have for Hip-Hoppers across the board. Giving their own personal take on their favorite teams jerseys, the remixed sports garments with said artist’s emblems and/or personal flavors speak to both the sights and sounds of the basketball culture. A closer look and breakdown of the project for the Detroit collaboration with Big Sean can be seen in the Channel 7 News clip from WXYZ ABC local affiliate segment below:
We often didn't have a ton of time with the artists, and had to work with them closely along with their record labels to develop the jerseys over time, and then get them to do some photoshoots with the actual jerseys ahead of the release. We had to coordinate with multiple talent booking agencies and record labels and December 32nd's Justin Dreyfus led the charge with artist management and labels procure all of these heavy hitters.
On our Kicks vertical and at events like BR Drop Up, we are always talking about how the NBA pregame tunnel has become it's own fashion runway of sorts with the images regularly appearing on our instagram timelines where we break down their sneakers and their fits. On the Friday February 28th game against the Brooklyn Nets, our very own Atlanta Hawks All-Star Trae Young actually rocked our NBA remix jersey en route to a dub. The idea was to take the merchandise on a tour and help it feel true to the NBA.
We were finally able to use the NBA Remix project to seed Trae, who we had collaborated with for a piece with Intel around their new 360 camera technology, before the Brooklyn match and got him to even talk about it postgame! He said that the jersey was the type of thing you wear once and then get it framed.
Over on the West coast, we had SchoolboyQ rock his TDE x Lakers jersey courtside to witness LeBron drop a 40 piece while Lakers sharpshooter Danny Green took to the pregame tunnel to rock his collar jersey with Top Dawg Entertainment and the Lakers with a california dreaming blue hue. We were making sure to show up where the action was to embed ourselves into the culture in an authentic way and it doesn't get any bigger than celebrity row at Staples.
Another tangible seeding opportunity and chance to interact with fans came with Mitchell and Ness having a presence at the 5th avenue flagship NBA store where we were able to do a Jersey signing event and fan meet and greet. It's really great to see fans react to the merchandise and hold the actual product, and the success of this would bolster our confidence in future pop up shops with the NBA remix brand at things like Art Basel and Fashion Week.
The Diplomats —Cam’ron and Jim Jones— were able to get their hands on Hardwood Classic Knicks jerseys and decided to customize them with the iconic Diplomatic bird logo on the front, and Harlem, the group’s birthplace is sprawled across the back. The Diplomats really are just balls of energy anywhere they go, and to bring that to 5th avenue you could definitely feel the hype in the air and there was a distinct murmur outside the store from the tourists to the locals.
A large part of this project was about taking advantage of existing supply chain realities and our capabilities to market and scale a collection like this. Mitchell & Ness x Bleacher Report is a partnership that allows both brands a continuous momentum into the area where sports and entertainment collide together to bring iconic lifestyle apparel and headwear capsule collections to market. Camron had just released Purple Haze 2 and this aligned with their press tour so they were down to do things like sit courtside at the Knicks game or go to the NBA store to promote the collection and get fans excited about the drops.
For a brand like Mitchell and Ness that was looking for broader mainstream appeal outside of just hoop heads, this was a great way for it to grow into more of the lifestyle space from outside of just he hardwood classics. This was in line with other partnerships they were also doing with brands like Bape at the time.
We also did a subsequent release with Amine and the Portland trailblazers, Big Boi and the Atlanta Hawks, Denzel Curry with the Miami Heat, A$AP Ferg for the New York Knicks, Joey Bada$$ and the Brooklyn Nets, and Lute from Dreamville with the Charlotte Hornets as we expanded the purview of the collection and involved more teams and bigger players on the music side as well, a steady trajectory to expand the purview of this project.
Today's Millennials may not remember, but Mitchell & Ness throwback jerseys were insanely prominent in the Hip-Hop game. There wasn't a single music video in which a rapper wasn't wearing an original basketball, football, or baseball jersey from the Philadelphia apparel brand. There is a rich heritage of these jerseys in the videos and within the culture, and that is why this collaboration felt so natural, we tapped into an existing overlap within the zeitgeist.
This was an awesome full circle moment to collaborate once again with A$AP Ferg after he had been the headlining act for our BR99 Pop Up shop with Kith back when we were first really dipping our toes into the lifestyle and fashion space, and to see that we were now collaborating with a brand in the sports and apparel space like Mitchell and Ness to put out actual merchandise for our fans to buy was a pretty impressive evolution and growth trajectory. His jersey is one of the most out there, leveraging the old school Knickerbocker logo and some classic AGWE style psychedelic organic thermal and scan and torn up effects and distortions to add personality to the gear.
On our internal E-Commerce team, our social and design teams worked closely with art director Cade Beaulieu to develop the visual language and collaborated with various members from the marketing teams of the label to the rappers themselves and even members of their entourage or family who had easter eggs to include or share, there were a lot of stories told through this collection. This level of customization made the project stand out in the Mitchell & Ness catalog.
We had a great location in Chinatown to shoot the Knicks jersey key photography and for the Brooklyn Nets one we were able to finesse the actual Barclay's Center Practice courts thanks to an assist from BSE and their front office teams. Bada$$’s version of the NBA remix jersey includes inspiration from the Nets 1970s jerseys when the team was based on Long Island and has a real retro vibe to it in contrast to some of the others.
Dropping these jerseys was a great project to collaborate on with the team and it was a large scale team effort to get these out to so many consumers. Over time we really were able to gain momentum and put more resources behind it to blow out the launches, this meant things like having enough runway to plan how to integrate the merchandise into music video shoots or include at national television broadcast TNT games for their playoff roadshow.
The jerseys felt endemic to the culture, as can be seen with Kid Cudi rocking the Cleveland Cavaliers Moon Man jerseys we worked on with one of the designers we had tapped in for our BR Kicks Drop up Floral installation event, Christopher Chan in the Moon Man video below with Strick and Young Thug and directed by Zachary Bailey. This jersey was a part of a broader capsule that featured Outkast for the Hawks, WuTang Clan and the Knicks, Three 6 Mafia with the old school Grizzlies jerseys, Lil Baby and the Hawks, Polo G with the Chicago Bulls and TDE and Jay Rock for the Lakers.
I was glad I had a chance to work with our E-Commerce team to bring these NBA Remix installations and activations to life, the concept really grew and developed from he initial brainstorming sessions and then finding creative ways to amplify it to drive sales and revenue growth really helped give a peak behind a new side of the business as we looked to scale against new objectives for both Mitchell & Ness but also for Bleacher Report.
Key Collaborators: Jake Cohen, Justin Dreyfuss, Ryan Hurst, Will Lievenberg, Julienne Guffain, Tom Gould, Sophia Rothbart, Jeremy Hartman, Frank Mobilio, Joe Kell, Jamie O'Bradovich, Copra Recordings, Manny Munoz, Benjamin Skipworth, Vico Sharabani, Liron Ashkenazi-Eldar, Jesse Johanning, Kyle Teachen, Kat Mantziakis
Tools: Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Snapchat Lens Studio
Deliverables: Apparel Collection, Video Features, Social Packaging
Category: Creative Direction, Augmented Reality