A T-shirt worn by LeBron James has attracted some heat on the Internet, with bloggers suggesting it was the work of Nike.
No, no, no, says Willie Harper, a 24-year University of Akron senior who created the T-shirt with friend and fellow UA student Thomas McFarland.
“I’m the culprit,” Harper said.
The shirt simply says Akron — LeBron’s hometown. The printing type font is the issue.
The word “Akron” is shown in the same font used by the Miami Heat – the team LeBron left the Cavaliers for a year ago.
Last week, Harper’s T-shirt got some big-time attention when LeBron, using his Twitter feed, posted a photo of himself wearing the T-shirt and posing with two grinning, young fans.
LeBron notes in his post that the little boy and girl donated proceeds from their lemonade stand to his foundation. He doesn’t mention the T-shirt.
Harper, who had asked a friend to give LeBron the shirt, was nonetheless thrilled.
LeBron has more than 2 million followers on social networking site Twitter. By Wednesday afternoon, the T-shirt picture had been viewed nearly 40,000 times.
One of those viewers, Emma Carmichael, wrote last week on Deadspin, a sports website, that Nike likely was behind the shirt.
She wrote that depending on one’s level of “LeBron outrage,” it was either a “perfectly harmless tribute” to Akron, or a “terribly heartless affront to the city.”
LeBron has an endorsement contract with Nike.
The Deadspin post got picked up by other websites. Other bloggers – and online readers reacting to posts – commented on the shirt, with some also mentioning Nike as the culprit.
It was Harper’s viral marketing moment – sort of.
Nike was getting the credit for his shirt that has a flame emerging from the “n” in Akron.
Harper, a social networking fan, had earlier used his own Twitter feed to promote the shirts. (He’s @WilliePFA on Twitter.) Now, he’s going online to try to dispel the notion of a Nike connection.
Harper stressed that he and McFarland were not out to offend anyone.
They were thinking, he said, that “A lot of people love LeBron still. It could be like a support shirt.”
Also, Harper said, the shirt allows wearers to display their Akron pride.
Since this spring, he’s sold dozens of the shirts, screen printed at a local shop.
Many of the buyers have gotten in touch with him via Twitter.
Harper, from Copley Township, also directs people to the Y.R.&G. (Young, Rich and Gorgeous) kiosk at Summit Mall in Fairlawn, which is offering the T-shirts, along with an eclectic group of items, including men’s and women’s accessories and rosary beads. Harper’s website, still being worked on, is http://notperfectworld.com.
Y.R.&G. owner Summer Dae Grant said: “We knew of each other. He wanted to reach a wider audience. I told him I was willing to try it.”
Harper said he’s being cautious, only having new shirts printed after he’s starting to run out. That’s the strategy used by other creators of graphic tees who note that a T-shirt might be a hot seller one day and not the next.
Harper envisions a line of T-shirts sold under the company name “Not Perfect.”
Meanwhile, he’s working as a nursing assistant and has plans to get his master’s degree in social work.
The shirt and the “Not Perfect” name grew out of his and McFarland’s regular brainstorming about possible business ventures.
“Not Perfect,” he said, “That’s the story of our lives.”
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard @thebeaconjournal.com