As countless millennials were busy finding love through the likes of Tinder and Snapchat, an even more unlikely relationship was forming between the NBA and the WWE.
From LeBron James’ Undertaker and Ultimate Warrior T-shirts, Kevin Love’s WWE Championship belt and a visit to the Cavaliers’ locker room area from the Undertaker himself, the NBA-WWE mix is all the rage.
The latest example stems from the world of fashion and once again involves a Cavaliers’ superstar. Two weeks prior to the start of the season, Kyrie Irving used social media to debut a shirt from Mentor, Ohio-based Kingdom Apparel that features a cartoon version of K.I. in similar clothing to what the Undertaker has worn for decades inside the ring.
Below the image of K.I. is the nickname “AnkleTaker.” The “AnkleTaker” clearly plays on Irving’s jaw-dropping ability to leave helpless defenders with “broken ankles.”
Despite being slammed with custom orders and the usual holiday rush, Kingdom Apparel founder Billy Jelenic found time to explain where the idea derived from, how he got his product in the hands of one of the NBA’s most popular players, and what’s next for Kingdom Apparel.
(Disclaimer: No ankles were taken or harmed during the interview.)
Where and when did the idea of the “AnkleTaker” T-shirt come from?
Jelenic: We actually connected with a graphic designer in Italy via social media right after the Cavs won the title. He created the concept but needed someone to bring the idea to fruition.
Was the original idea to create a shirt around Uncle Drew, or did the nickname “AnkleTaker” come first, allowing you to start the process of creating something around the likeness of Uncle Drew?
Jelenic: We never really thought of creating a shirt around the concept of Uncle Drew. The chips kind of fell perfectly to us with the AnkleTaker, a nickname never used until the summer. So we decided to try and roll with that, and it has been a success.
Jelenic: We actually never really had plans to sell the shirt. Kyrie saw the design and wanted it printed. When we talked to Kyrie we wanted to make sure he was OK with the shirt and he had no issues.
How do you go about reaching someone of his popularity? I imagine there are quite a few hoops to jump through?
Jelenic: Yeah, there are definitely hoops to jump through. We try to stay up-to-date with social media and make as many connections as we can. That gave us the opportunity.
Did Kyrie have any input in the design/material/etc.?
Jelenic: Kyrie saw the design on social media first and said he needed that. We didn’t really change much from the original design.
I notice you never mention Kyrie by name and simply as “Uncle Drew.” I assume there are trademark issues that prevent you from using his name?
Jelenic: Correct. We’re not allowed to use player names or likeness in advertising and wanted to avoid any trademark issues.
How long did the process take and can you walk me through the process (idea, approval, printing, shipping, etc.)?
Jelenic: For us, the process didn’t take long at all because we try to keep all aspects in house. When we think of an idea we go straight to the computer and start designing. After that, we can start printing. Screen printing is a process in of itself. And then we have a shipping program via our website that lets us ship as soon as orders are placed. So the entire process of getting a shirt to someone can be as quick as a couple hours.
How did you get the shirt to Kyrie?
Jelenic: We sent a box of shirts, which included (other popular Kingdom Apparel designs) “23>73,” “73 Don’t Mean A Thing Unless You Beat the King” and the AnkleTaker to a Cavaliers coach we connected with. He gave Kyrie and other players our shirts.
After Kyrie posted a picture of himself wearing the shirt, did you see a spike in sales?
Jelenic: The shirt went viral overnight. We were actually selling downtown for the Indians and Red Sox playoff game so we didn’t see it until later that night. It became one of our best sellers.
Does Kyrie receive any compensation, whether that be monetary or in product?
Jelenic: Yes, in product.
Since the AnkleTaker shirt debuted, have any other Cavs players or athletes contacted Kingdom Apparel about having their own shirt design?
Jelenic: We’ve actually talked to a few athletes and agents about future design work, which we’re really excited about. But we’re open to anything we think can be successful.
What is something that would surprise fans of Kingdom Apparel about the process of this particular shirt?
Jelenic: We were pretty surprised that the shirt blew up and went viral almost three months after we printed it for Kyrie. He was busy over the summer (at the Rio Olympics) so we didn’t expect the shirt to get this big right before the season started.
What can we expect to see from Kingdom Apparel in the near future?
Jelenic: We are brainstorming some new Cavs designs and hopefully will have something special for the holiday season.
The AnkleTaker tee ($25), along with a number of other unique designs are available at kingdomapparelinc.com.