Ricky Rubio strolled into Target Center on Wednesday night sporting a black “J-Mac” hoodie that featured a caricature of his teammate and fellow point guard, Jordan McLaughlin.
The Timberwolves snapped a photo of Rubio’s fit and posted it to their social media accounts, and Russell Slayton started to see the orders fly in.
“It was a big thing,” Slayton said.
Not only does Rubio own “J-Mac” gear, but Anthony Edwards does now, too.
“I got a sweatshirt,” Edwards said. “It’s pretty funny.”
It’s also quite smart. With each new order, McLaughlin’s personal brand grows.
For years, McLaughlin knew he wanted to have his own apparel line. So when his agent, Mitch Butler, presented him with a new business opportunity, he was all in.
Butler is friends with Slayton, who started Boosted back in October. Boosted is a technology platform meant to allow anyone to monetize digitally. If a restaurant is knocked out by COVID-19, it can get a free website on Boosted, and Slayton and Co. will only monetize the merchandise.
But that hasn’t officially launched yet; the launch is expected to come in a couple months. Currently, Boosted is running e-commerce stores for athletes.
In October, Slayton asked Butler if he had any clients who might like to collaborate with him. McLaughlin instantly came to mind.
“Wherever he goes, he just leaves a strong, strong, strong impression on people,” Butler said. “The people that do know him and engage with him, love him, so even if they just meet him, and they knew he had a merch line, people would probably go and buy his stuff.”
So McLaughlin went to work with Slayton and artist Cameron Davis. The first batch of apparel featured an animated McLaughlin driving with the ball in hand. His merchandise shop — jmacmerch.club — launched in late October. Butler said about 100 pieces moved on the first day.
“It was just an opportunity for me, I felt, to establish my brand and myself,” McLaughlin said. “And to get some of my followers, people that have followed me my whole career, get them some merchandise to support me and everything that I’m about.”
Boosted handles almost everything for McLaughlin on the back end, from the orders to the apparel, which is printed on demand.
McLaughlin has heard nothing but positive reviews about the quality of the merchandise, which Slayton noted is the key to earning repeat customers.
When McLaughlin wishes to drop a new release — as he did on Dec. 22, the start of the 2020-21 NBA season — he collaborated with Slayton and Davis about what he wanted — a caricature of himself — and one was quickly produced.
McLaughlin collaborates on design and color choices, and from there his job is to promote. That’s where McLaughlin shines. The 24-year-old point guard said he’s had “good purchases” through both seasons of his merchandise, including a few sales he was surprised about.
“His apparel is very popular,” Slayton said. “He’s a great seller.”
Slayton has worked with a lot of athletes, and said McLaughlin is “definitely in the top percentile of people” who keeps his word and wants the best for people.
He’s in communication with McLaughlin often about his sales and marketing. While much of his apparel is bought up by University of Southern California fans who still follow the former Trojans guard, and Timberwolves fans, of course, earlier this week, Slayton informed McLaughlin someone in Australia bought merchandise.
McLaughlin asked for the customer’s email and sent him a thank you. McLaughlin’s Twitter account is littered with quote tweets thanking people for purchases.
“He cares about his brand, and even more so than even making money,” Slayton said. “he wants to get his merchandise to, and be in touch with, his supporters.”
When McLaughlin’s on-court production is up, sales are up. He’s noticed as much, and isn’t surprised by it. Much like your Instagram and Twitter followers may spike after a strong game, so too will his orders.
“They look you up, and then you see the link in my bio, they click it and see, ‘Oh, he has merchandise, I’m going to buy some,’ ” McLaughlin said. “There’s definitely a correlation to that.”
But playing time opportunities haven’t been as plentiful this season, with McLaughlin third on the point guard depth chart behind D’Angelo Russell and Rubio.
McLaughlin was in a tough spot in restricted free agency, something NBA teams didn’t meddle with much this year with the abbreviated offseason.
So while he had plenty of interest from other teams after his phenomenal finish to the 2019-20 campaign, he bet on himself and wound up signing his offer sheet to return to Minnesota on a two-way contract so he could return to free agency next offseason.
But even while playing time this year is sporadic, this apparel line is a way to continue to galvanize his fan base and show some of who he is.
“Doing stuff like this really does bring back that human element for Jordan, and shows that here’s a guy that can be light-hearted and funny about himself with his merch lines,” Butler said, “and hopefully people buy into it and like it.”
So far, so good.
McLaughlin wouldn’t be surprised to see more athletes go the route of marketing themselves and taking advantage of their likeness. He believes players should build their brands and maximize their opportunities while they’re in the spotlight. Too often, it’s something only the elite NBA players do.
“Do everything you can to earn as much income as you can, and also connect with the fans, your supporters and everybody that’s connected with you and kept up with you,” McLaughlin said.
Currently, you can buy J-Mac shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants and masks. McLaughlin continues to talk to Slayton about potential new apparel, such as beanies for Timberwolves fans to sport in the winter. He’s hoping to come out with his own logo sometime in the next couple years.
“I’m a business guy, at heart,” McLaughlin said. “Any way you can make money, especially public figures using their platforms and the imprint that we put on all the people that look up to us, it’s a way for us to value ourselves and for us to also get in touch with our fans and connect with them on a different basis.”
Slayton said it’s nice to see somebody “who gets it.” He said McLaughlin has been “a pleasure to work with.” He can pick up the phone anytime to talk business with McLaughlin, and knows the guard will answer. McLaughlin even refers people to Slayton’s business.
“He’s been a good guy across the board,” Slayton said. “Not only did his business take off, but my business took off,” Slayton said, “and a lot of it is due to Jordan McLaughlin.”
Butler described McLaughlin as “a dream client” for a couple of reasons. There is the business standpoint, as McLaughlin understands money and finance and takes a smart approach to it. And, more importantly, there’s the type of human being he is.
“You don’t find them any better than him, and I’ve been in this game for 15 years,” Butler said. “He’s such a phenomenal person, and that’s what it boils down to for me. He’s trying to find ways to keep his value strong and good, because of the quality of person we’re talking about is really off the charts. He’s different in that respect, and I have so much respect for him and so much love for him in that respect, that I want to see him do well, I want to see him get everything that he’s supposed to get.”