Lanny Smith: How Former Basketball Player Built a $30M Company to Challenge Nike and Adidas

Lanny Smith is the founder of Actively Black, a sportswear brand that sells fitness and accessories for men, women, and children. The brand’s origins may be traced back to 2009, when he suffered a knee injury that ended his NBA aspirations. The injury happened just one month after he signed with the Sacramento Kings. As a result, he remade himself as an entrepreneur and decided to enter the apparel market.

In the heels of George Floyd’s death in 2020, he created Actively Black. Multinational corporations were promising to promote diversity and invest in the Black community at the time, but Smith was unconvinced. According to him, while brands like Nike and Adidas thrived as a result of Black influence and consumer spending, they were not doing enough for Black people.

He told CNBC Make It that “a lot of these sports equipment manufacturers have benefitted off of Black talent,” referring to the multiple sponsorship deals with Black sportsmen.

“[The companies] have profited off of the consumerism from the Black community. And I felt like they hadn’t adequately reinvested back into the Black community.”

Smith stated that this prompted him to launch Actively Black. He also sought a piece of the $17 billion sportswear business, which he claimed Black culture had helped to create. The former basketball player, 38, has built Actively Brand into a multi-million dollar company. The brand was worth $30 million in 2021, and it brought in $5.6 million in 2022. Furthermore, the company reinvests 10% of its profits in black communities to assist social justice, mental health, and physical health.

His company recently made donations to organizations such as the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, The Liberation Fund, Black Kids Code, Our Own, and Families United. It worked with Disney on “Black Panther”-themed clothes and also designed Nigeria’s official uniforms for the 2022 Winter Olympics. During a recent press conference, NBA star Stephen Curry was spotted sporting an Actively Black hoodie. Furthermore, as reported by CNBC Make It, former President Barack Obama wore a watch designed by the firm.

Smith hopes that by launching Actively Black, he will be able to compete with Nike and Adidas. Despite the fact that his profit is a drop in the bucket compared to the profits made by Nike and other major corporations, he is undeterred. According to him, all of the major sportswear companies began tiny.

With its goal to support Black athletes and Black creators, Actively Black recently inked a NIL deal with North Carolina women’s basketball player Deja Kelly. “At Actively Black, Black women are at the forefront of everything we do, so it was important that our first NIL athlete partnership was with a Black woman,” Smith said at the time. “Deja is an incredible talent with shared sensibilities rooted in empowering and reinvesting in Black communities.”

“As this brand grows, some of these athletes are going to grow up with the brand,” said Smith. “And then when it’s time for them to sign [endorsement deals at the pro level], we will at least have a seat at the table as an option for them.”


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