By Laura Onyeneho
The box office hit “Black Panther” is back with a second film installment, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and Marvel has teamed up with Houston’s own Lanny Smith, a former NBA player and owner of the global sportswear brand Actively Black, for an exclusive merchandise collection.
On Nov. 3, the fashion forward athleisure brand released a unisex collection paying homage to the essence of Black empowerment and strength the film represents.
Smith said Wakanda wasn’t a location; it’s a “mindset, a lifestyle,” and that is what he hopes customers feel when they wear his merchandise.
Smith spoke to the Defender about his journey as a Houston native and athlete who is now working with one of the biggest names in entertainment.
Defender: You’re from Houston. How did your upbringing here align with your purpose today?
Lanny Smith: I was born in Houston and raised in Missouri City. I went to Hightower High School and basketball was a huge thing for me growing up. I stayed home and played college basketball at the University of Houston and had an incredible career there. Houston is what made me.
Defender: Sports has had a huge influence on your life. What drew you to basketball? And was playing in the big leagues the ultimate goal for you at the time?
Smith: My mother was a basketball player. Basketball is a family thing. It was a part of my household. I loved Michael Jordan and that’s who I wanted to be. I wore number 23 throughout my entire career. We have so much talent in Houston. So I was just playing against the best of the best in Houston which opened doors for me. I was in middle school playing for the Houston Hoops and we traveled across the country playing against the best players. Even around the city, if you could hoop, it gave you a pass no matter where you were from…Now, I get a chance to go back into the community and tell students that they could be way more than just athletes and entertainers. We can be doctors, lawyers and scientists and engineers like what we see in “Black Panther.”
Defender: In 2009, you signed with the Sacramento Kings and a month later endured a career-ending injury. How did you pick yourself back up emotionally?
Smith: It was a process. I went through depression and identity crisis. My whole life all I knew was basketball. I was trying to find what else I offer in this world. I was heavily prayerful in this process and hoping to see where he would lead me. I went to YouTube University, I taught myself how to use Photoshop and Illustrator to figure out how to design things…I tell kids that there is life outside of basketball. Everything could end tomorrow and it happened to me. Try to figure things out while you have certain social capital. You can get certain people to answer your phone calls while you’re an athlete. When it’s over, those phone calls don’t get answered the same anymore. Basketball, football, baseball, all of these sports are a young man’s game…
Defender: You describe yourself as a child of God, and often times faith is all you have in hard times. Where were you when you were coming up with the concept of Actively Black?
Smith: So that is a completely separate brad. I have Active Faith and I have Actively Black. When I started Active Faith, there were plenty of doubters, but for both brands they’re very purpose-driven. I wanted to create something that was bigger than just hoodies or shirts, but something that positively impacts their lives. There are always going to be people who doesn’t understand the vision, but once you start building it, they will come around.
Defender: Now your brand is collaborating with Marvel ahead of the new “Black Panther” Sequel. How did this happen?
Smith: I created the mockups of what the collaboration would look like over a year and a half ago. I wrote this down before I launched Actively Black…Fast forward five months ago. My friend reached out and said Daymond John [of “Shark Tank”] wanted to meet with me. He wanted some Actively Black gear and wanted to talk about a possible FUBU collab. It was crazy to me because FUBU was everything to me growing up. I walked into the meeting and Daymond John is wearing an Actively Black hoodie. He asked what else I was working on and I showed him my deck of a potential Black Panther and Actively Black collab. He picked up the phone, and called the head of licensing for Marvel and Disney. The rest was history…