There’s a photo Miles Thomas keeps on his phone. A reminder to never forget the child who inspired him to dream.
It’s a picture of Thomas at 4 years old smiling with his father, Joel, at a Memphis Grizzlies playoff game in 2005. For years when Miles Thomas pitched streetwear designs to the team, he used that photo to stay encouraged even when pitches went unheard.
“He would think this is so cool right now that I’m doing this,” Thomas said.
On Saturday, Thomas, who also goes by hippy, will feature his “Sec. 118” streetwear collection at FedExForum when the Grizzlies host the Denver Nuggets. It’s one of three collaborations the Grizzlies have done this month to spotlight local artists and designers as part of their 191 Collabs pilot program.
The collections will be featured exclusively in a pop-up shop in the Grand Lobby.
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For Thomas, 22, it’s a dream come true as a lifelong Grizzlies fan. His father Joel got season tickets after the team moved from Vancouver ahead of the 2001-02 season. Some of Thomas’ earliest sports memories were watching Grizzlies games in Section 118, the inspiration for his collection’s name.
“Back then I thought was going to hoop ’cause I was playing basketball,” Thomas said. “I could tell you the exact stats. I was a walking encyclopedia with points per game and all that.”
Eventually, he added a new passion with art and design. He’s collaborated with R&B singers like Masego and Bryson Tiller and served as rapper Wale’s creative director during his merchandising campaign for his 2021 album “Folarin II.”
But Thomas also saw how other NBA teams partnered with streetwear companies. He dreamed of the Grizzlies having that chance so he emailed design proposals, sometimes three to four months apart, hoping for a response.
If he got discouraged, he thought about the photo of him and his father on his phone. It gave him more confidence that someday the Grizzlies might take notice.
“Whatever I sent them, it was going to put me in their face. They were going to see and it was going to come a day where they were not going to be able to deny what I did,” Thomas said.
That moment came this season. John Pugliese, executive producer of Grind City Media and vice president of broadcast and production, said when the Grizzlies decided to start their 191 Collabs program, Thomas came to mind because of his passion and persistence.
Add in his story of following the Grizzlies since they arrived in Memphis, and it made sense to partner with him.
“We wanted to work with people we knew could deliver a product and we could be comfortable with,” Pugliese said. “We had a relationship with (Miles), we knew he had some great ideas and a great story. So it made an easy fit to do this test pilot program with him and some of the other groups.”
The Grizzlies won’t profit from any of the collaborations, Pugliese added. The program’s aim is to spotlight and give a platform for local creatives to showcase and sell their products.
Thomas said the feeling started to sink in when the team shot a trailer for his collection. It featured him and his dad shooting baskets at FedExForum, a full circle moment from them watching games together.
It’s not how he envisioned being on an NBA court, but it’ll feel just as special when fans look at his collection Saturday. He’ll also know his younger self from that photo would be proud.
“When I look back, I know everything was in due time,” Thomas said. “I had to maybe gain some more skills, understand how manufacturing works, little things I didn’t understand … so I just feel like happens in due time.”
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Meet the Grizzlies fan whose clothing line gets FedExForum pop-up shop
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