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"THANK YOU, LARRY"

By Kevin Foley  |   President, Position Sports, Inc.

 

When I was growing up, most kids wanted to be the next Jordan, Bird or Magic.

Me?  I wanted to make their TV commercials and design their sneakers.

It was a quiet Sunday outside of Boston when I snuck past a sprawling limousine parked behind my old high school gymnasium and up the back stairs into the dusty balcony to watch the making of the next Larry Bird Converse commercial.  There I sat quietly for hours hiding behind a curtain watching the director shout instructions, stagehands race to prep the next scene and my idol, Larry The Legend, calmly reciting his lines on cue, joking around between takes with the nervous onlookers around the set.  The bright Hollywood lights.  The fog machine.  Forget hitting the game-winning shot at the Garden, this was the shit.  He was already selling me the shoes.

Fast-forward 20 years later during the McDonald’s All-American team practices at a small college in Indiana.  Players running late from a high school state championship, others nursing injuries – and a young event coordinator gets the call to step onto the court with the likes of The Legend and Danny Ainge, now successful team executives, watching from the stands.  

Pass-Pick-Roll-Alley-Oop-DUNK … not a great start for me as the outcast on the defensive end.  Now our team has the ball.  Pass-Pass-Pass-Cut-Catch … and without hesitation, my jump shot.

I like to think that the ball went in - at least that’s how I remember it - but the loud whistle after the release took away my focus.

“Foley!” yelled Coach. “Do you see all of these All-Americans around you on the court?”

“Um, yes coach.” I quietly responded with Greg Paulus staring me down.

“Do you see all of these NBA scouts in the stands?  … And the hundreds of media standing around the court watching these drills?” [and all listening to him yell at me, my mind added]

I nodded as his voice continued to raise.

“Then if you ever fuckin’ shoot the ball again on this court, I will find another body to stand in.”

As the gym cleared out 90 minutes later, I felt a hand pat my back as someone brushed past me.  “You guys ran a great practice today,” said The Legend. “Extremely organized.”

And so, my basketball career ended that day, but my sports marketing career took flight.  The next year, I left the company and launched Position Sports, a sports marketing firm designed to tell the athlete story through events.  And started things with my first client … NIKE.

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"TURN YOUR WEAKNESS INTO STRENGTH" - Michael Jordan

The scouting report on Position Sports is not very traditional.  We don’t have a thousand people working here, we don’t have a Madison Avenue address.

There are 14 employees - all passionate go-getters who make up the team like a well-cast Netflix series.  Our staff diversity, eagerness to stay ahead of the trends and unapologetic hunger sets us apart.  We’ve never lost anyone on the staff since this thing started 12 years ago - no one has left or been let go.  Rip up your resume I tell them, we are building this company together. 

Never heard of us?  Well, we hope not.  We put our clients first so we purposely fly under the radar despite representing such large brands like the Swoosh, Jordan Brand, Red Bull, USA Basketball and others.  Since starting the company with NIKE as our first client, we have worked hard to compete against the top agencies in the world.  We have ... but we haven't.  We don't want to be them.  

Position Sports is that corner hardware store that always has the right part that you are looking for.  C'mon Home Depot, c'mon Lowes, where's it at?  We go right to the strategy, we use our network and we deliver.  Essentially, we make the most of our opportunities - it might be why every new business relationship has come to us through word of mouth.  Or how in nearly 15 years, we have never lost a client.

They come to us because our team connects with athletes.  We are their storytellers.

   Drake performing at the Jordan Brand Classic post-game show.

Drake performing at the Jordan Brand Classic post-game show.

THE PAST

When a skinny local kid named Anthony Davis was added as a last-minute replacement to Nike’s Amar’e Stoudemire Skills Academy in Chicago, no one had ever seen him play at the elite level.  He was a talented guard on the Mean Streets travel team but he didn't have the qualities that make an underclassman stand out.  He once talked about the excitement of receiving his first scholarship offer from Cleveland State.  Growing nearly five inches in two years, he attended a half dozen of our events becoming more confident both on and off the court before crowning his high school career with the Most Valuable Player award at our Jordan Brand Classic.  14 months later, he was selected as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

And soon he had his own Nike Skills Academy.  Full circle.

We've seen it time and time again with the athletes that we have been lucky to work with.  There was the special quarterback Deshaun Watson who put his skills to the test against the best of the best at the Elite 11 during 'THE OPENING' on the Nike Campus on national television.  All of the recruiting experts knew he had something special - and there was not one person who didn't love the kid.  But he didn't win the top award.  He used that fuel to push him his entire career, eventually winning the CFP National Championship with one of the most incredible individual performances ever on the national stage.

We've seen the next generation in Lacrosse, in Soccer, in Baseball ... you name it.

THE PRESENT

When Chris Paul was selected for the Jordan Brand Classic, everyone on our team was excited for him.  He was the guy at events who genuinely stood out as the staff favorite.  He would hang out in the operations office, help wherever he could and just loved every minute of the experience.  And then there was that video camera ...

"I am going to record every second of this event - I might never be in an NBA arena again," he said.

I always say that I don't have favorite teams anymore, I just have favorite players.  Guys who you root for and want to succeed.  Chris is still that guy.  We first met Chris, then his brother C.J., and Charles and Robin Paul.  We trade holiday cards like family because they are rooting for us as much as we have been rooting for them.

When Chris landed his first Jordan deal, I remember him pulling me outside to his car where he grabbed a sneaker from the back of his SUV to show all of the detail in the design.  The 61 points.  His family members.

"Man, you have come a long way from the guy who's mom was late to pick you up from the Jordan Classic hotel," I joked.  After all, it was that 30 minutes sitting on a curb during his senior year when I realized that he was one of the special ones.

10 years later we are sitting in the gym lobby at the Chris Paul Kid's Camp at the YMCA in Winston-Salem, NC -- Chris behind the snack shop table.  An older guy comes up the stairs from the workout room and sees the camp banner behind us on the wall.

"Is Chris Paul going to be here this week?" he asked Chris.  

"Most likely," CP3 responded without any hint of embarrassment.

"That kid has something special - he has been amazing for this community - I just wanted to thank him."

And Chris nodded.  Whether or not he was recognizable at that time in his career, he had come so far.  Little did he know it would be near impossible for him just a few years later to even go out to a quiet dinner with his family. 

THE FUTURE

Part of our success has been connecting Athletes with Brands and Brands with Consumers.

Red Bull wanted to expand outside of Action Sports.  They came to us with a brief - use brand ambassador Anthony Davis to develop a fast-paced basketball event that would be held at an inner-city park in Chicago.  From our conference room - and after a few Red Bulls - the plan for the new Red Bull Reign 3x3 was born.  The FIBA-style game fit perfectly with the European-based brand, adding in twists to encourage high scoring games and rigorous competition.  Instead of it just being about basketball, Reign became a platform for each of its teams to tell their story.  During a summer when gun violence was making national headlines in the city, Reign was embraced by the community as a way to get away from all of the noise.  Teams traveled in for the inaugural event from around the region to compete.  In year two, Reign expanded around the country with multiple city qualifiers.  By year four, Reign was held on a global stage with teams even competing in a Kuwait City qualifier.  All from our conference room.

And when Jordan Brand worked to launch its new Michigan Basketball line to start the season, Position Sports helped produce the first Midnight Madness event for the school in over a decade.  Hosted by Fab 5 legend Jalen Rose and featuring DJ Khaled, the product launch helped shape the start of the season by jump-starting a football-heavy fan base behind a team that one year later would reach the NCAA Championship Game.   Thousands of college students, fans and national members of the media saw first-hand the new culture of basketball in Ann Arbor.

   DJ Khaled helped us launch the new Jordan Brand x Michigan Basketball line.

DJ Khaled helped us launch the new Jordan Brand x Michigan Basketball line.

IN CONCLUSION

When the 1992 Dream Team was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Position Sports was there as the media agency telling their story once again to the world.  It was a rare moment - nearly 18 years after Barcelona - to have the greatest ensemble of basketball players all in one room.  Along one never-ending table was each player sitting down with a throng of media gathered in front of them fielding questions.  It was basketball heaven.  Some of the greatest names in sports journalism reminiscing with the greatest players.  Laughing.  Tearing up.  Just respect all around. 

As things winded down, I felt a pat on my back as the Dream Team exited the Special Exhibits Hall.  “Thanks for everything,” said The Legend. “Extremely organized.”

I guess things do come full circle.

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Thank you.

We appreciate The Players' Tribune considering us as your storytelling partner.  It all started with The Players' Tribune piece on JAYSON TATUM.

www.PositionSports.com

PLEASE ENJOY THIS OVERVIEW VIDEO ABOUT POSITION SPORTS: