Before LeBron James and Steph Curry seemingly took over the world of basketball, there were star players — some of the finest NBA players the league has ever seen — they grew up watching, hearing about and emulating.
Among those are Rick Barry and Nate “Tiny” Archibald, who were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987 and 1991, respectively. Both also were named to the exclusive 50 Greatest Players in NBA History club. Oh, and both are former NBA champions, have made 14 combined All-Star teams, were named to eight combined All-NBA First Teams and two All-NBA Second Teams.
What Barry and Archibald discovered, as most star athletes do, is that a lot of people want their autographs, but some want more: stats, career achievements and more.
That’s how the two NBA legends, along with business partner Michael Dachs, came up with the idea for Inkredible, a company that produces novelty basketballs displaying famous players’ pictures, signatures stats and achievements.
“We were going to a show once, and [Barry and Archibald] were being asked to personalize every ball [they signed] with their career statistics, their MVP, All-Star [honors] or whatever they accomplished,” says Dachs, co-owner of Inkredible. “On the way home, we said we should come up with a ball that has everything printed on it already so they don’t have to spend the time or have to remember all their stats.”
With that, the idea for Inkredible was conceived and now the company makes “stat balls” of many former NBA players who were inducted into the Hall of Fame. The cutom-printed, full-size basketballs feature printed panels displaying pictures of the former players, along with their career achievements and signatures.
Custom basketballs aren’t the company’s only product.
“We’ve done footballs for some charity events [and] we’ve done soccer balls, but our main focus is on basketball because of our relationships with the players through Tiny and Rick,” Dachs says. “But if people contact us about other events that other athletes are going to be at, we definitely offer footballs and soccer balls.”
An Exclusive Club
Inkredible’s owners decided to only include elite players on the balls, and initially wanted to sign players who were included on the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History list. However, the company has found ways of expanding its brand while maintaining exclusivity.
“To tell you the truth, several players actually contacted us after they saw what other players had signed,” Dachs says. “It’s a Hall-of-Fame community. It’s a close-knit group. Some players approached us and we approached some. And some players we do a trade-off with. They’ll order balls for themselves and instead of paying for them, we’ll do a trade-off where they’ll sign a certain amount of balls for us.”
Since Inkredible began selling the basketballs, it has signed 24 NBA Hall of Famers, not including Archibald and Barry, to its roster. Among them are Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, Dolph Schayes, George Gervin, Nate Thurmond and Robert Parish. Cousy, Cowens and Parish are former members of the Boston Celtics and, while Dachs says the company targets all sorts of clientele, it’s no coincidence that the company does a sizable amount of its business with Celtics fans.
“We hit a lot of targets,” Dachs says. “Basketball collectors, obviously, autograph collectors — we hit Hall-of-Fame collectors. The majority of our collectors are probably Boston Celtics fans. We have nine Celtics that we deal with so far and we have more on the way.”
Manufacturing & Selling Stat Balls
The panels for Inkredible’s stat balls are designed domestically and printed overseas. They are returned to the United States to be attached to the balls, completing assembly.
Manufacturing such a unique product can be difficult enough. Further complicating matters is that the stat balls are not licensed, so competitors — even those that provide the base basketballs — could potentially create similar products and flood the market.
“We have a deal with Spalding, who’s in the process of trying to copy the ball we have now, to try and make it look nice,” Dachs says. “But as of now, they have not been able to find the factory [overseas] that is able to perfect the process.”
Selling the stat balls to consumers is more straightforward than producing them, and Inkredible primarily uses its online site, inkredible.biz, to take orders. But when big basketball names such as Barry and Archibald are associated with a brand, the NBA has been known to take notice.
“I like selling to the consumers because it gives us an avenue to get more players, but I like selling to [private events] too,” Dachs says. “The NBA wives had their annual dinner in New York City during All-Star week and they ordered 100 basketballs to use on their tables as centerpieces.”
‘Inkredible’ Future Ahead?
While Inkredible is still mainly an online business, Dachs says the company is on the cusp of taking a monumental step forward.
“In the next two to three months we’re going to be wholesale with two of the largest sports memorabilia dealers in the country,” Dachs says. “I can’t say who, but everyone knows their names.”
With the impending deal, the product’s availability will be widespread, and the company is sure to add even more Hall of Famers who want a piece of the stat ball pie.