By Andrea Henderson
Seven years ago, the University of Houston star guard was on the path to accomplishing his dreams – playing in the National Basketball Association. With his face featured on billboards across Houston representing his fellow Cougars, there were non-stop phone calls from agents and representatives from the NBA, and of course he had a number of “friends.” But in June 2007, everything came to a halt.
Lanny Smith suffered a foot injury while playing an off-season pick-up game and doctors told him he would never play basketball again.
“This was the first time basketball had ever been taken away from me,” the Missouri City resident said.
“I was depressed and I didn’t know what to do since I had attached my identity to Lanny, the basketball player,” says Smith.
After a couple of talks with God, Smith’s prayers were answered when he received an invitation to play in the NBA Summer League with the Houston Rockets and later landed a spot on the NBA’s Developmental League roster playing for the Idaho Stampede. His hard work and dedication later earned him the opportunity to play for the Sacramento Kings in the fall of 2009. At last, he was able to suit up in a NBA jersey and this time he wasn’t a fan. He was in the pros.
But Smith’s luck ran out again when he sustained another injury, this time impacting his knee. Doctors again gave him a bleak prognosis and said he would not be able to return to the NBA.
Smith figured if he was able to recover from his foot injury, then he could definitely bounce back from his knee injury. As with his previous injury, he relied on his faith to bring him through, however, this injury was different, mentally and physically for Smith.
“I asked God to show me what else He wanted me to do with my life in regards to basketball, and within seconds I started jotting notes about the idea of a Christian sports apparel brand,” Smith said.
During his time in the hospital, the brand ‘Active Faith’ was conceived. Smith later shared the idea with Atlanta Hawks forward, Anthony Tolliver, who lent his financial support and advice and became a co-founder of the business.
At the time, Tolliver and Smith were old teammates and shared the same faith.
“We would have talks all the time, we prayed together and even attended church together. At first I hesitated about the idea, but when I expressed it with Anthony he didn’t hesitate, he was down from the beginning,” Smith said.
The brand started out with a couple of T-shirts with the Active Faith logo on the front and black wristbands imprinted with the words ‘In Jesus Name I Play.’ The phrase originated when Smith unconsciously used the word “play” instead of “pray” at the end of one of his pre-game rituals of praying before going out on the court. Smith decided to use the phrase as a motto in the process of developing his apparel brand.
In late 2011, Smith took a leap of faith and began to push the brand to several local Christian stores, including Lakewood Church. With no formal business training, Smith walked into Lakewood’s bookstore with T-shirts and wristbands in hand only to have the store manager tell him that the Christian T-shirt business was oversaturated and that he was not interested in selling Active Faith’s T-shirts and wristbands.
Undaunted, Smith seized the moment and let the manager know of his Christian sports apparel company that was in the works. In disbelief about the brand, the manager told Smith to come back with samples of his product and they would talk.
In January 2012, Smith showed up with quality performance fabrics and samples for the manager to view and the rest is history.
Currently, there are 50 sales reps moving Active Faith to 650 stores across the country, with California, Texas, and Tennessee as the top selling markets in the States. Internationally, the company’s top markets are China, Taiwan and Canada.
But none of this would be possible without the support of players in the NBA and other Christian athletes.
“Players agents call and ask how their clients can be a part of the company. However, there are no paid endorsers to wear any of the apparel or accessories, they just love what the brand stands for and it means something special to them,” Smith said.
In January 2012, Active Faith grossed over $300,000 in sales. Smith credited Houston Rockets guard, Jeremy Lin, better known as “Linsanity,” for the initial surge in his brand’s popularity.
The pair met in 2010 while playing for different NBA D-League teams. Lin went on to play with the New York Knicks and was putting up impressive numbers on the boards as well as making headlines.
Two weeks after Lin was dubbed Linsanity by Knicks fans, the Houston Rockets played the New York Knicks at home. Smith saw the game as a chance to reconnect with his friend and an opportunity to give Lin several Active Faith wristbands not knowing that Lin would be featured on the February 27, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated with his right fist clinched and his orange and white Active Faith bands in clear view. The unexpected exposure sparked an immediate demand for his products from across the country and resulted in his online products to sell out on his company’s website.
“In the months of February and March 2012 we sold thousands of wristbands all over the country because of Lin’s Sports Illustrated cover. We were not prepared for it, we worked over night to get the orders out and the website crashed three times, all because of Linsanity,” said Smith.
Bridging the gap between faith and sports has recently become the topic of discussion in headlines as more athletes have begun using their platforms to express their faith. The most recognizable athlete to recently profess his Christian beliefs, former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, talks about his faith in press conferences, sideline interviews, and even uses his under garments to give reference to God.
“There is close to 80 percent of the population who identifies with the Christian faith. Since athletes are put on a certain pedestal, our goal is to allow the athletes to spread the Gospel through their specific sport,” Smith said
This year, Active Faith is looking to expand the growingly popular athletic wear brand to more NFL players, Major League baseball players, and soccer players.
From faith events to the upcoming Active Faith Foundation, Active Faith is definitely making a positive name for itself.
“Active Faith is successful already but not because of sales and the amount of money made, it’s because the company has saved so many lives through the message,” Smith said.
You can follow Smith’s faith journey via Twitter @active_faith, Facebook.com/activefaith, and Instagram @activefaithsports. Or visit www.myactivefaith.com for the latest in Active Faith gear.