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Not enough is said about Ja Morant

Why brands like Nike have decided to invest in him

Not enough is said about Ja Morant Why brands like Nike have decided to invest in him

Brands' new face

When Panini America managers signed a contract with Ja Morant last May to have an exclusive on his autographed card, they knew they would have a future top-guard in their hands with a stunning athleticism whose style of play would enhance all fans NBA. And they also knew that the South Carolina native could break the rules of the market in any other sector, all the more so in that of sport merch.

The only thing they didn't know is that all these confirmations would come so quickly.

In all this, the peculiarity is that Panini's ''Prizm Card'' version has always been reserved for a small circle of players, including Kobe, KD, Dame Lillard and Kyrie Irving, but none of them had ever signed a contract before the start of their rookie season.

The Panini management had seen it far away. As well as his sport brand, Nike, with which Ja signed on May 27, 2019. It happened only once a rookie had a signature line, and it happened with LeBron James, who, unlike Morant, at 16 it was already on the Sport Illustrated cover.

A substantial difference. Yes, because Ja, despite having already earned the nickname ''once-in-a-lifetime player'', at 14 years of age, had to struggle, and be lucky, to be able to gain credibility from college coaches.


At 16 Morant was not even the best prospect for the team of the AUU circuit, the South Carolina Hornets. The scouts came to the gym to see what would soon be called the "new LBJ", we are talking about Zion Williamson, a global phenomenon, made viral by the internet and the social world because of his physical overpower. Ja, on the other hand, did not enjoy the same fame: during the previous summer very few university scouts had taken an interest in him and his talent seemed confined to small Dalzell, his hometown, forgotten between the fields and the abandoned petrol stations. Destiny, however, had something special in store for him: in his final year of high school, the one that anticipates the transition to college, James Kane, assistant coach of Murray State, visiting South Carolina to view talented Tevin Brown from Alabama, decided to stretch his legs before entering the gym after 7 hours of travel. Outside the main court there is a field, where a boy slightly over 180 cm tall at one point detaches himself from the ground and places a windmill that almost detaches the board. Kane picks up his cell phone and calls his head coach saying to reach him immediately, because things like that are seen few times in life.

As fate would have it, Brown and the boy who made Kane jump, Ja Morant, challenge each other in the main gym the following day. The two coaches will stay all week to watch this phenomenon that places 40.5 points per game throughout the tournament and shortly thereafter Morant will accept the proposal of coach McMahon at Murray State and will start invading social media to the sound of aerial floats and great assists, becoming the first player in NCAA history to record 20 points and 10 assists per game throughout the season. The NBA was no longer so far away.

But let's go back to the present day: even Nike had realized what he could have in his hands, but unlike Panini, he didn't want to risk everything by dedicating a sneaker of his own, but he is taking advantage of the talent of the new Memphis guard Grizzlies making it the main testimonial of the new Nike Adapt 2.0, for now available only in the USA, top of the range among the non-signatures.

Morant made his debut with the new Adapt during MLK Day against the New Orleans Pelicans, although the official release would have been on February 16, the day the swoosh revealed the official campaign on its social channels where, in fact, the image man is the native of Dalzell. A few days ago the same Nike Adapt 2.0 arrived at the feet of Jim Fallon, delivered directly from the #12 of the Grizzlies.

Half Russ/Half AI

Going back in the 2019 pre-draft scouting reports, it is impossible not to notice how many players Ja has been associated with and how many evaluations have changed (for the better) over time: we pass from anonymous comparisons to Jeff Teague, to Rajon Rondo, for merit of basketball IQ above the norm, to Mike Conley Jr and De'Aron Fox for their speed changes, the readings of the game rhythm and for the quality of solving-problem with respect to the defense choices.

As we said, the closer the draft approached, the more the perception that Morant could summarize more skills of different NBA players in his technical background grew, and this is where a new name appears: Allen Iverson. Same cheekiness, same ability to penetrate the defenses, a physique capable of doing things that his own body would not allow him and above all no fear of facing tall and heavy people twice the size of him.

Another point of contact between AI and Ja Morant are the tattoos. The 35 tattoos that The Answer has on his skin range from the family to his production house, up to religious motifs and panthers. One of the smallest but most representative at the same time is "Fear no one" - which requires no particular explanation, considering Iverson's career. Ja, on the other hand, has only one tattoo, but the meaning is emblematic: "Beneath no one", that is to say, "Under nobody", one of the most important tips from Ja' mom. Coincidence?

The only doubt was that we could find ourselves in front of another example of a boy full of talent but with a poor consideration of application and commitment, a doubt immediately dispelled by rummaging in the workaholic background, inherited from his father, Morant.

''We're talking about practice?''. In this case yes, Ja is well aware that if he wants to go far, and above all if he wants to win, there is and there will be a need for training and sacrifices.

From a mental point of view, in fact, Morant is much more similar to another boy who has been literally slapping  defences in the last 3 years: Russell Westbrook. Here too we find several common characteristics, above all an overflowing self-esteem and a physicality of which even he is not well aware, the substance is that in the current NBA there are only two of them to have such a high weight/ferocity ratio.

(Maybe) Next ROTY

Morant is leading his Grizzlies to the playoff fight with nearly 18 points and 8 assists per game, which legitimately make him the number one candidate for the Rookie of the year award (given the prolonged absence in the first part of the season of the other phenomenon, and ex teammate, Williamson). The race for ROY is certainly not the main goal of the Memphis point guard.


"I'm very confident in myself, I know I'm good enough to play at this level, but also humble enough to know that I have room for improvement. I don't care about the Rookie of the year, they can give it to whoever they want."


Even Tracy McGrady, one who has talent to sell, is sure that Zion Williamson is far behind in the race for the best NBA freshman, given the long forced absence at the beginning of the year: "He can shoot even 80%, but Zion has no chance of winning the prize against Morant".

Tee Morant, father of Temetrius Jamel - for all Ja - was teammate of Walter Ray Allen at the time of Hillcrest High School. Just the former Celtics and Heat, during an interview made by Bleacher Report before the 2019 NCAA Final Four, I had chosen Murray State as the tournament's Cinderella. Among the expressions that the best shooter ever uses is "Hold my own guy", that is, a boy who has built himself and who is ready to take on the most important responsibilities of the team, and for the series "the coincidences they don't exist", hold my own is also one of Allen Iverson's 35 tattoos.

The mentality is the right one, we continue to wake up in the morning with the hope of seeing highlights of his electrifying athleticism, wondering which other players he will try to climb over from here to the end of the season.