ATT Me! round21’s Jasmine Maietta

Ping pong meets art meets the NBA Restart Bubble

A special edition round21 paddle selected specifically by the NBA to be used by players within the 2020 NBA Restart Bubble, by M. Brian Bowens for round21

Coronavirus, COVID-19. Police brutality, social justice. Pandemic shutdowns, business lockdowns. The world on its own has suffered a tremendous 2020, but that’s not exactly what we’re here in this space about. Through a significant portion of both providence and kindness, with a dash of serendipity, I got to know Jasmine Maietta and was made abreast of her mission to participate in sport in a fashion that I came to understand was tangential in its medium, but central in its focus. The medium? Ping pong. Yes, ping pong, specifically in the NBA locker room space, which has been popular among pro athletes for decades. The focus? In Ms. Maietta’s own words, concentrated participation to “support the heightened national consciousness around social justice”. And she’s doing it through her new venture, as founder and CEO of round21, a startup aimed at spreading the values of inclusivity through the merger of art and sport.

The rest of the heart of the mission, now, I leave it to Ms. Maietta to speak and take from here.

‘Why am I launching a brand that combines art + sport?’

I grew up hearing and believing “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” At basketball practice, summer basketball camps, 3-on-3 leagues, AAU tournaments, this saying echoed regardless of what team or league I played in. This saying tried to teach me that, to be successful, an athlete had to do the most selfless act — sacrifice their individuality for the greater good of the team.

But, today, the individual has all of our attention. And, rightfully so. Today’s athletes make fashion statements. They make social justice statements. They make statements before and after the game on their own platforms, for their own audiences. This dialogue and showmanship is individuality at its finest, and some of the most bold and outspoken still win championships. Because today, the fact that athletes are different, and have a point of view, is what all athletes have in common.

I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: Today’s athletes want to stand out, and today, they are accepted for it.

How athletes today express their individuality, in so many creative ways, is part of the experience of being in sports. And, I love it. I’ve always felt sports and creativity belong together. That’s one of the reasons I went from playing basketball in college and overseas professionally to a 20-year career leading marketing at brands like Reebok, Hasbro, Under Armour, and most recently, Peloton.

I’ve spent my career combining content, pop culture, media, sports, games, and music to unlock a feeling for consumers. In my career, it’s never been about selling a shoe or shirt or game — it’s about creating a feeling of empowerment, originality or community. And, for those who know me, it’s no surprise that I’m starting my own venture. I’ve always had a DIY mentality and vision for creating the future.

So, I’m creating a new brand that merges art and sport to unlock creativity, express individuality and to bring people together. The brand is called round21, and we are creating a new way to play, designed for today’s outspoken and inclusive generation of athletes.

This new start-up, round21, is on a mission to empower self-expression and cultivate originality in sports through art, while bringing people together through play.

The premise is simple: we will use art to bring life to sports we love.

I thought a lot about what sport to launch with. Basketball was obvious, based on my background with the game, playing and coaching, but I wanted the first round21 sport to be highly inclusive, accessible, and representative of a diaspora of athletes to reinforce our values as a diverse and inclusive brand. So, we are starting with a sport that we’ve all seen or played at least once in our lives, that many call ping pong.

We went to Japan in 2018 to work with designers and artisans to create a new paddle that had functional design and an ergonomic feel which could also function as a canvas for art. After 100 prototypes, we worked with Japanese furniture makers in the Hida-Takayama region of Japan (locals call it Hida), where woodworking is a centuries-old tradition, to handmake 500 paddles that became the benchmark for all round21 paddles today.

Each round21 product is designed with the purpose of evoking a sense of individuality and connection through play. But, beyond the craftsmanship of each round21 product is the creative. Artists who join round21, are recruited based on how they spark the imagination with their artistic expression.

For example, the Happiness collection by Adhemas Batista reminds us about the simple joy and energy we feel when we connect with others. Most recently, we partnered with six artists who, together, built a collection that reflects our changing society. The REFLEXION collection includes products that speak to social justice, mental health, empathy and equality. round21’s drops new collections 8–10 times/year with each collection being a limited edition set (100 units per drop).

Although I was taught, “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” here I am 25 years later pulling that ‘I’ out to underscore INDIVIDUALITY for all athletes in the game today.

round21 products are platforms. We help athletes express themselves in a way that’s relevant, contemporary, and fresh, and our artists reflect what’s happening in the world as it unfolds. In so many ways, artists and athletes have so much in common. There’s fluidity and artistry in sports. There’s interpretation and intensity in art. I’m inspired by the artists and athletes of today and round21’s mission to bring art and sport together to unlock creativity and bring people together through play.

ATT Me! by Sandy Dover is a series of storytelling, marked by its acronymic double entendre, meaning specifically *As Told To Me*, while joshin’ with Twitter colloquialism (as in ‘don’t @ me’ — get it?). Centering the subject in their own words, ATT Me is about changemakers being able to have a forum to speak freely about what drives them in the pursuit of the work that they do. This is that forum.

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☆ busy ginger: sandydover.tumblr.com • past: @NationalService @Turner @ESPN @WaltDisneyCo @Yahoo • very stable genius • God = GOOD