“I may be past my peak, but I’m still going to give you buckets!” This captivating phrase features atop the Instagram page of Ball Was Life, a Portland, Oregon-based boutique that regularly features meticulously curated vintage apparel, retro sports jerseys, and hard-to-find sneaker samples. It’s a cheeky motto that Troy Douglass – the store’s owner and founder – coined to express his deep appreciation for the sport of basketball, and it also serves as a metaphor for providing his consumers with a memorable shopping experience.
For Douglass, sneakers are more than just objects you put on your feet to get from point A to point B. They are treasures, filled with nostalgic stories associated with all his favorite NBA players and memorabilia. and innovations which he praises for their unique design elements. He wasn’t necessarily the kid who grew up buying Jordans every Saturday, but he was the hardcore hoops fanatic who always stayed close to the culture, and that deep-rooted affinity for the sport led him to create her own brand of clothing. , open two storefronts and build lasting relationships with people in the Greater Portland community.
HYPEBEAST caught up with Douglass to discuss what it takes to run a successful vintage shop, the rare 1-on-1 kicks he’s seen enter his shop, his love for the Air Jordan 4 and more again.
HYPEBEAST: Who or what made you love sneakers?
TD: Basketball is what made me discover sneakers. It was the love of the game, I was into all the intricacies of the game, the details, the footwork, etc., and as I started to develop that passion for the game, my sneaker obsession kind of grew with it.
As a kid, I used to nerd over basketball cards and other basketball memorabilia, and now that love has definitely translated into sneakers. I always like to tie sneakers with great basketball moments like the Air Jordan 14 “Last Shot” and how Jordan rocked them in his last game with the Bulls. This stuff is what I nerd about and allowed my love for sneakers to come through in an authentic way.
I know you were born and raised in Portland, what are some of your fondest memories growing up watching the Portland Trailblazers?
I was born in 89, so the late 90s was my shit. The Rasheed Wallace era was crazy. A lot of us little guys really looked up to Damon Stoudamire. One memory I will never forget is Game 7 of the 1999-2000 Western Conference playoffs where we lost to the Lakers with Shaq and Kobe. Blazer fans always come to the store and we always talk about it. Portland is an emotional city dweller.
How would you describe the sneaker culture growing up in Portland?
It’s definitely strong here. Growing up, all my friends here loved sneakers. It’s crazy because here we are literally next door to Nike headquarters and adidas headquarters and that’s so crucial to my business. I have a ton of crazy kicks now, some of which are adidas Kobe 1 samples that I probably wouldn’t have been able to get if I was based somewhere like the Midwest. And because we’re so close and so many people are in the culture here, we always see 1 out of 1 sample or 1 out of 3 samples being brought into the shop.
What do you think is the craziest pair someone has brought?
The one that comes to mind is this unreleased adidas Kobe 1. It was a wild red and black colourway that had an almost all-over tie-dye type pattern with block sock liners and hot pink laces. My buddy at Index Portland usually helps me authenticate these kinds of articles.
“I wanted something clean but also something that had youthful knots and spoke of a love for the game.”
Would you say Portland has some sort of ubiquitous sneaker silhouette?
I would say the Nike Air Force 1 in white or black, depending on what part of town you live in. This shoe has remained consistent within the communities here since the 2000s.
Tell me a story about how Ball Was Life was imagined and brought to life?
It’s an idea that came up at the park. I used to host what I called “Hoops in the Park”, which was basically a glorified basketball game. We used a love for basketball to get creatives, entrepreneurs and go-getters to hoop together and we, being out of shape while playing, had this running joke that we always said, “the ball was life” and we would continue to laugh about it. I’m pretty sure it was me who said it first and one week I bought the domain name because I knew it was special. I wanted something clean but also something that had youthful knots and spoke of a love for the game. In 2017 I thought it was going to be a clothing brand but it ended up turning into a store just by opportunity.
“I would say we are definitely in the prime of the vintage but I think that will continue to evolve over time. As a store, we are in the business of fond memories and nostalgia. »
How did it go from a simple clothing brand to a vintage boutique?
I actually have another store called Cultural Blends that went through its own process of evolution because it went from head office to all the clothes that I printed and sold gradually adding vintage and sports vintage. From there it really started to take off, and then I finally added sneakers into the mix, so Ball Was Life just went with that same cadence.
What are the criteria for the products that are sold in your store?
We’re just taking a good look at the vintage stuff. I would even say it could be newer basketball, it doesn’t really matter because we’re trying to bridge the gap between old and new. As long as it’s basketball related as long as it’s cool, but we’ll mostly take vintage stuff from the 90s or early 2000s, that’s our thing.
What role do you think vintage has in streetwear/sneakers right now and do you think it will ever die out?
Yes and no. I would say we are definitely in the prime of the vintage but I think that will continue to evolve over time. As a boutique, we are in the business of fond memories and nostalgia. When people walk into our stores, they’re always so impressed because it’s a basketball fan’s dream and it’s so important, especially in the last two years because of COVID. We have been taken out of this reality and into a better time. I don’t see the vintage nostalgia factor going away. You look at famous vintage destinations such as the Rose Bowl Flea Market and see how strong the culture is.
“There’s something about the overall silhouette that screams funky, screams hip-hop and screams ‘this is me.’
What about the Air Jordan 4 that speaks to you?
It’s the nostalgic feeling for me. All 4 fell out in 1989 and I was born in 1989 and I’m a huge fan of when things line up in that direction. I also really like to dive into shoe design, and I really like the aesthetic of the Air Jordan 4. I’ve never really heard anyone talk about it before, but the wings basically look like the upper part of a a 4 and I love this item. There’s something about the overall silhouette that screams funky, screams hip-hop, and screams “that’s me.” Another thing is that I have wide feet and models like the Air Jordan 1 are slightly too narrow for me, but the 4 fit me very well.
What makes the Air Jordan 4 ‘Cool Grey’ so special to you?
For a while it was the “Cool Grey” which was the only pair of Jordans I owned, so I’m really enjoying this one and as you can see I beat it. I was lucky enough to purchase these for retail at Dick’s Sporting Goods and fell in love with them once I saw them on the shelves. I wore them everywhere. I wore them to the field and to school.
On top of that, I love the color blocking of these. I’ve always been a fan of greys, and it’s the perfect mix of grey, black and white, you can’t go wrong.
Do you have any other favorite AJ 4s besides this colorway?
I would say the “Black Cat”, “Bred” and the original “Oreo” colorways.
For someone hoping to one day open a vintage shop, what’s the best advice you can give someone looking to get started?
Definitely make sure you have your inventory influx. You want to make sure, because you’re going to do it as fast as possible and you always want to have something in the case. Also, have your own inventory that you source cheaply so you have high profit margins, then fill the store with a handful of vendors you trust and have good human relations with so they can consign things to the store and that they can bring their own energy and their own people into the store.
Why are sneakers and the stories they contain important to you?
It’s the story of the game that’s most important. I’m a big basketball fan at heart and sports and sneakers go hand in hand for me. There’s so much context between the players, their stories and the shoes they wear that I’m super excited and will continue to follow.