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Building a successful brand can be just like the game of basketball. It’s all about putting in the work behind the scenes when no one is watching.

Courtney Smith, an Oakland, Calif., native believes he has put in the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to be successful in the basketball industry. It’s this kind of grind that not only applies to his region, but is universally respected around the country. His brand is not just for Cali, it’s for the culture.

He founded his basketball apparel company CourtSmith in 2014 with one simple goal; be the best.

“I want CourtSmith Basketball to be the best basketball-only brand in the industry,” Smith told FlyPaper Magazine.

His vision for CourtSmith was based on the idea of pushing youth basketball culture forward from the perspective of those who know the culture best.

“Basketball is 85 percent African-American in the NBA, so it’s a black sport…” Smith said.

“Us people of color, we know the culture. This is our culture. I know, just like you know, what the trends are in basketball and what the kids are starting to wear and what they are and aren’t wearing anymore.”

Smith spent the better part of 18 years in sports marketing and working for major sneaker and apparel companies. But, as the years passed, he grew tired of using his talents as a designer and promoter to push other peoples’ dreams.

“I’m just cutting out the middle man and being that brand that says, ‘I already know what’s next.’ We are the culture like Jay-Z says. It’s just a matter of having confidence in that and executing,” Smith said.

CourtSmith’s designs merge trends in popular culture with sleek layouts and powerful messages.

CourtSmith’s “For The Win” series has taken over in the winter time with stylish hoodies that have the saying “Carpe Praeda” along the sleeves of the products.

The saying translates to “seize the prey,” which signifies CourtSmith’s go-getter attitude about the game of basketball.

“It’s a reflection of our work ethic, and our hustle… and all the years we put into designing,” Smith said. “It’s just like hoops. You’ve gotta put in that 10,000 hours of work and designing. And having outside people not mess with it… It’s on that side of the game, that we keep getting better.”

CourtSmith’s breakout moment came this past summer when the AAU basketball circuit was on fire.

Smith’s company was on display at the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament, which showcased 48 of the country’s hottest AAU travel teams.

Fab 48 gave CourtSmith the ability to hand out merchandise and connect directly with young elite talent.

They were able to put up hologram basketball-player displays at their booth in Las Vegas and they connected so well with the talent, that they sold out before the tournament’s final day.

“I wanted to expose the brand to high quality hoopers,” Smith said. “We thought about how we could come out there and make a splash and do something dope, and we did.”

Smith’s latest venture into pushing the limits of CourtSmith as a basketball brand is a collaboration with former NBA superstar Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, whose previous work as an activist has come back into the limelight after Colin Kaepernick famously began kneeling for the national anthem in 2016.

The NBA suspended Abdul-Rauf in 1996 for refusing to participate in the national anthem due to the oppression he felt like minorities were under in America.

When his contract expired in 1998, Abdul-Rauf couldn’t even find a tryout in the league. The story sounds eerily similar to that of Kaepernick in 2017.

Smith said he wanted to partner with the former NBA legend, who once dropped 32 points on Michael Jordan’s head, because of his integrity.

Abdul-Rauf said despite losing millions of dollars, he would do it all again because of his core principles.

In a five-part interview series, Abdul-Rauf kicks lots of “free game” to young basketball players interested in bettering themselves as athletes and as people.

“If you’re training and you’re not contemplating quitting, you’re not working hard enough,” Abdul-Rauf said. “I’m not saying you’re not working, but you’re not working hard enough.”

Smith said it was inspirational speaking with and collaborating with such a powerful athlete who still gets buckets at the ripe age of 48.

“We gravitate toward people who appreciate (realness),” Smith said about CourtSmith’s identity. “It’s a breath of fresh air to be around people who are real and that’s gonna be real to you and loyal to you.”

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