“When you look good, you play good.”
From his days as an amateur and professional basketball player to founding and operating his own sportswear company, it’s a phrase Desmond Ferguson ’00 knows quite well.
The former Detroit Mercy student-athlete remembers how similar basketball uniforms looked growing up around sports in the late 1990s. Differences were minimal and generally limited to the team’s name and colors.
It’s something Ferguson strived to change and it led to him starting Moneyball Sportswear 20 years ago. What started out simply as an idea of making custom basketball uniforms has grown into a large business operation: Moneyball Sportswear produces athletic uniforms for a variety of sports, as well as clothing and accessories.
“These kids and coaches, they want to look good while they’re playing, and they want to be different,” Ferguson said. “Everybody doesn’t want to look the same.
“They love the designs that we’re able to create for them. We work to create something that’s unique and just for them, so no one else in the country looks like them.”
Growth in basketball
Ferguson achieved a number of accolades in basketball, headlined by a stint in the NBA. But it wasn’t always his top sport. Before he started playing organized basketball at the Boys and Girls Club in fifth or sixth grade, Ferguson participated in football, soccer and track.
“Football was really my love,” Ferguson said. “I had a big growth spurt from my freshman year to sophomore year of high school, grew from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-3 over a summer. That kind of eliminated football; I got a little slower, but taller, and really just focused on basketball.”
Ferguson flourished on the hardwood as he fell in love with the sport, starting with Lansing Everett High School and Team Michigan, a star-studded AAU club, in the mid-1990s before signing with Missouri.
The opportunity to play at the NCAA’s highest level appealed to Ferguson, he said, but his first collegiate stop ultimately wasn’t the best basketball fit. After his freshman season, he returned to Michigan to play alongside former AAU teammate Jermaine Jackson ’99 at Detroit Mercy.
“Probably one of the best moves in my life was when I left Missouri and went to University of Detroit Mercy,” Ferguson said. “Not only the success that we had, but just what it did from a relationship standpoint, and fast-forward to my business standpoint as well.”
Ferguson’s basketball career at Detroit Mercy was loaded with individual and team success.
The Titans won 70 games during his three seasons and made the NCAA Tournament twice. Of those 70 wins, three stand out the most to Ferguson: first-round upsets of St. John’s and UCLA in the Tournament, and defeating Michigan State in East Lansing, a homecoming of sorts for him. He scored more than 1,000 career points at Detroit Mercy and is tied with Antoine Davis for the team’s single-game 3-point record with 10.
After leaving the McNichols Campus with a degree in Accounting, Ferguson played professionally for more than a decade. His dream of playing in the NBA came true in 2004, when signed a contract with the Portland Trailblazers and appeared in seven games.
“It was amazing. I was 26 at the time, so I kind of took the scenic route,” Ferguson said. “For me to have an opportunity to live a lifelong dream playing in the NBA and to have some meaningful minutes was definitely a great highlight of my professional basketball career.”
Getting into business
From a young age, Ferguson knew he wanted to own his own business. A pair of hair clippers sparked this entrepreneurial goal.
During middle and high school, Ferguson would cut his friends’ and teammates’ hair in his mom’s basement. The $4 haircuts helped him buy his first car.
“That was kind of my little hustle to make a couple of dollars coming up,” Ferguson said. “I practiced on a couple of my friends’ heads, messing their hair up for a couple of weeks. I finally got a little better. It was just a hobby that turned into me being able to buy my own car at 16.
“I always knew I wanted to own a business one day, not knowing it would be Moneyball Sportswear.”
Like cutting hair, Moneyball Sportswear started out as a hobby for Ferguson early in his professional basketball career. Over the years, the company – named for Ferguson’s nickname ‘Moneyball,’ given to him as a teenager by Basketball Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett and his AAU teammates – has evolved into a full-fledged life-after-basketball venture.
Ferguson and his team create uniforms for youth, club and prep teams throughout Michigan and across the globe. The process of getting custom uniforms varies, but starts with the basics, like team name, color and logos. Then, Moneyball Sportswear’s designer creates mockups for clients to review before getting final details, such as numbers and sizes.
“You may like everything on the first go-around or you may want a couple of revisions,” Ferguson said. “One of our things that we are great at is turnaround time, and how we’ve been able to grow because we have our own manufacturer. We’re not a middle man. We’re not selling another brand, we sell our own brand, Moneyball Sportswear. From a uniform standpoint, we pretty much get everything within five weeks, where our competitors — it may take them 3-4 months.”
Relationships have been key in Moneyball Sportswear’s growth. EJ Haralson ’98 was one of the first coaches to seek Ferguson for uniforms when he was coaching Detroit Finney High School in the early 2000s. From there, other schools in Detroit and the state followed suit.
He’s even been able to supply his alma mater with uniforms, outfitting the Titans men’s basketball team with throwback uniforms for Dick Vitale’s court dedication game in 2011.
“Those strong relationships that I was really able to establish while being at University of Detroit Mercy and not only that, having a good product and people knowing who I am,” Ferguson said. “Those relationships with people who can attest to your character has been huge.”
Ferguson hopes to see “continued growth” in Moneyball Sportswear’s future. The company has two Lansing-area stores and a store in Southfield.
“We’re really looking to build and grow with more athletic directors, where we can be a one-stop shop for all the schools and universities that we deal with,” Ferguson said. “We have two sides of the business and we want to grow them both.”
Despite his success in basketball and business, Ferguson hasn’t forgotten his roots.
During the holiday season, Moneyball Sportswear helps those in need with its Socks for the Homeless program. Working with nonprofit Footprints of Michigan, Moneyball Sportswear donates a pair of socks to the homeless for every pair purchased in the store and online during November and December.
“We kind of take things in life for granted,” Ferguson said. “Socks are one of the most needed things for homeless people. We try to help them in our own way. It’s just a fabric of who we are.”
Ferguson has invested in his Lansing community by purchasing a 5,000-square foot warehouse to rehabilitate and serve as Moneyball Sportswear’s new headquarters. Since the company’s early days, it has hosted the Moneyball Pro-Am, an event in Lansing that features college and professional basketball players, as well as free basketball clinics for children in mid-Michigan and Detroit.
“I’m just a firm believer of anybody who has any type of success, you should give back to where you come from,” Ferguson said. “That’s one of the pillars that we stand on as a business, and obviously as an individual, is community.”
To learn more about Moneyball Sportswear or its Socks for the Homeless program, please visit https://moneyballsportswear.com/.