"This is not something I planned on," says former college hoops star Lanny Smith. "I was always an athlete." But injuries crushed his dreams just before his rookie NBA season began. His Christian faith kept him going, and an idea to marry it with athletic wear--dreamed up while he was recuperating in a hospital--gave him a thriving Houston-based company. Oh, and his investors? They include some guy named Steph Curry. --As told to Tom Foster
Since I was 7, I had dreamed of playing in the NBA. After my junior year at the University of Houston, I was projected to go as high as the first or second round of the NBA draft. Then I decided to stay in school. During one of the last practices before the season began, I was finishing a layup when a teammate ran underneath me. I landed awkwardly and a bone in my foot snapped in half. There were complications, and an infection. Doctors saved my foot, but they said I'd never play in college again--or the pros. But my mom always said, "If God has something planned for you, regardless of the obstacles you encounter, it will happen." I did everything to get back in shape, and got signed by the Sacramento Kings.
To walk into an NBA locker room and see a jersey with my name on it was my lifelong dream come true. Then, right before the season, one of the big men fell onto my knee during practice. I tore my articular cartilage. My career was over. I was angry at God. I prayed and begged him, "Your will be done, not mine. What would you have me do?" Maybe a day later, while I was still laid up from surgery, this idea came to me: Create another Nike, but have it be faith-based. Have messages on the products that glorify God. Use athletic apparel as a platform to share the faith. People laughed at me. They didn't see the vision. But Steph Curry put in seed money. So did Anthony Tolliver.
Mainstream sporting-goods stores said they couldn't carry us, because it was faith-based. Big Christian retailers wouldn't--they said it was too expensive. That became a blessing: We've focused on e-commerce and social media, where the world is going. Last year, a Christian retailer that had turned us down came back. In three and a half months, we did $2.4 million with that retailer--then it went out of business. But we're on pace to be where we were last year. Sometimes, you don't understand the storms you're going through until you come out the other side. I understand now why my journey has led me to this.