Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant’s basketball career has been full of happenstance moments. From being a no star recruit coming out of high school, to a Murray State recruiter stumbling into Morant in a back gym at a Chandler Parsons basketball camp. Now, landing on a small market team that had a 6.3 percent chance at landing the number two overall pick in the 2019-20 NBA draft.
One thing that isn’t happenstance is the hard work, and heart Morant put into getting to this moment. A budding star in a small market that has constantly been counted out, and labeled the underdogs. Morant earned all of this, and December 23rd he earned his first mural in his new “home.”
Panini America, the exclusive trading card partner of the NBA, and Ja Morant celebrated their second deal together with a mural last week. The deal was finalized in August, but Jason Howarth, Vice President of Marketing told me that they were looking for a way to celebrate the exclusive deal.
The first Memphis Grizzly to sign an exclusive deal with Panini America since Panini entered the pro sports scene in 2009, Morant continues to break down barriers as a Grizzly. In a small market like Memphis, it says a lot about Ja’s skillset and his fanbase from a global standpoint.
“He is a guy that we partnered with before he was drafted,” Howarth talked about how Panini saw something in Morant even before knowing his destination. “There are a lot of guys that can play on the court, but Ja (Morant) checks every single box when it came down to someone that we wanted to partner ourselves with,” Howarth continued.
Panini wanted to celebrate the extension of their partnership in a “unique and compelling way” Howarth discussed the mural idea given being in the middle of a global pandemic. One of the popular products last year was Panini’s “Color Blast insert,” recalls Howarth when talking about the design behind the mural. As Howarth recalls “it is like the new life - new way of trading cards” when describing Panini’s color blast designs.
When it came down to finding an artist to paint the mural, Howarth went to social media to find Memphian Jamond Bullock to not only help with painting the mural, but find a location for the mural in downtown Memphis. “The value that Jamond (Bullock) brought not just the creativity and execution, but that he was Memphis based and knew the market and what Ja (Morant) means to a city like Memphis,” Howarth talking about why Panini chose Jamond.
Bullock, a popular local artist of numerous paintings throughout downtown Memphis, along with being an artist known for his usage of color in those pieces of art, really caught the eye of Panini.
From there, the team of Panini and Bullock went to work on the side of Slim and Husky’s in downtown Memphis. Trying to keep this gigantic mural isn’t exactly easy per say, but it worked out for all sides involved.
This is the first mural Panini has down for one of its athlete’s as Morant joins elite company with the Panini brand. The late great Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving are all partners of Panini to name a few NBA Superstars.
Memphis You Embraced Me From Day 1. So blessed to be a part of this City #GrindCity & to announce my exclusive partnership with @PaniniAmerica who would celebrate me like this. Go check it out! #GRZNXTGEN #whodoyoucollect pic.twitter.com/JtY3PIogYb— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) December 23, 2020
Morant even mentioned to Bullock when he arrived to view the mural that it was early last season based on how short his hair was at the time. Attention to detail, something that Bullock did not miss on when working on this project.
“I literally had to make sure that the tattoos, and his hair cut were perfect when getting it ready,” Bullock recalled how much thought and care went into the mural. “A lot of his tattoos have deep meaning to him, so I had to make sure that everything was right for him,” Bullock continued.
“It was fun to do this for him (Morant), whom has this larger than life ability,” Bullock recalled when discussing meeting Morant. Ja mentioned when seeing his mural for the first time “something you dream about,” and small markets can relate to that because they dream about drafting a guy of his caliber.
When I stood at the foot of the mural and looked up, it felt like a dream because it showed how far this organization had progressed in such little time. Morant, beginning year two, the front office beginning their second year, this team looking to build on missing the playoffs by two games, all of it - so fast.
Such a cliché quote, but one that I think about when discussing how Memphis fell so far in the draft, and Ja’s big impact in such a little time - “Everything happens for a reason. Good or bad.” The underdog kid, landed in a small market, and has set out to change the landscape of the Grizzlies reputation, not just on a national stage but a global stage.