Global Hoops Star Pooh Jeter is Using NBA, Nike Ties to Lift Up LA Basketball

LAWNDALE, Calif. -- Los Angeles is having another moment in the NBA.

James Harden, who hails from South Central, is mounting a historic defense of his MVP trophy on the Houston Rockets’ behalf. Russell Westbrook, who grew up near James, is on his way to averaging a triple-double for the third consecutive season. Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan, whose roots trace back to that same neighborhood, are leading their respective teams to success after being traded for one another in the biggest blockbuster of 2018.

And that’s to say nothing of the Los Angeles Lakers, who are relevant again because of LeBron James’ star power, or the Clippers, who are relevant despite a lack of star power.

Pooh Jeter is doing his part to represent LA, as well—just not anywhere near the NBA. The 35-year-old Gardena native, who’s officially listed at 5’11”, is averaging close to 23 points and six assists almost 7,000 miles from home, for the Fujian Sturgeons of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Despite having neither the height nor the hype of LA’s biggest basketball stars, the man born Eugene Jeter III has nonetheless managed to make a sizeable impact back home.

Pooh not only made it to the NBA in 2010-11, but parlayed his 62 games for the Sacramento Kings that season into a decorated professional career overseas and a business opportunity back home. Near his old neighborhood, he’s established what is currently the only African-American-owned shoe and clothing boutique in the greater LA area with an official Nike account—and a mission that extends far beyond outfitting locals in the latest LeBrons, KDs and Kyries.

“You never know what you're getting yourself into,” Pooh tells CloseUp360 at his store, Laced South Bay. “You just got to just execute whatever ideas that come to your heart and your mind, and see what that presents, and voila!”

Pooh Jeter Laced Dodgers

Pooh Jeter poses in a Los Angeles Dodgers-themed Laced shirt after playing pickup in Santa Monica. (Amir Ebrahimi)

The name Pooh has become a family heirloom for the Jeters. Pooh’s father, Eugene Jeter II, is known as “Big Pooh,” though even he is dwarfed by his son, who’s officially listed at 5’11”.

But names and nicknames aren’t all that get passed down in the Jeter family. So, too, does a foundation in faith and a belief in self reliance.

Ask Pooh about his favorite piece of scripture, and he’ll point to a passage from First Thessalonians:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

“I really apply that to my life,” Pooh says.

During his childhood next door to Compton, Pooh saw firsthand how to be piously independent. His father owned a variety businesses—a music store and an auto shop among them—just like his father before him, who had his own barbershop.

But while his parents were busy with their businesses, and his sister, Carmelita, was honing her skills as an Olympic sprinter, young Pooh spent his time playing ball with his friends from the neighborhood: Trevor Ariza, Dorell Wright, Craig Smith, Bobby Brown, Evan Burns and Donald Wilson.

“All we did was hoop,” Pooh says.

Pooh Jeter Big Pooh Laced

Pooh's father, Big Pooh (left), helps to keep Laced running year round. (Amir Ebrahimi)

They called themselves F.A.M., Forever Almighty Men. But to Baron Davis, they were the Little Rascals. When he wasn’t starring for Dart Stamps’ main AAU team en route to UCLA, Baron was busy coaching up Pooh and F.A.M. on the under-11 squad.

“If you ask any pro basketball player now, they'll tell you that Baron Davis is the godfather,” Pooh says, “because he really made sure and showed us the way it can be done.”

Baron went on to shine at Crossroads School in Santa Monica and become an All-American and top NBA draft prospect in 1999 after his sophomore year at UCLA. When F.A.M. was on campus in Westwood for an elite basketball camp during Baron’s freshman year, the phenom from South LA treated his proteges to a personal tour.

“We were supposed to be with our counselors,” Pooh recalls, “but BD was, like, ‘I want to take y'all on a tour around the school because y'all going to college.’”

Aside from Dorell jumping from prep school to the pros, F.A.M. did just that. Evan made it through one season at San Diego State, and Trevor spent a single year with the Bruins before jumping into the 2004 draft. Craig was a four-year standout at Boston College en route to six productive seasons in the NBA. Bobby put together stints with five different NBA teams following his four years at Cal State Fullerton.

Pooh, meanwhile, battled his way from Junipero Serra High School to the University of Portland, where he played four years next to Donald. Neither of those two got NBA looks while with the Pilots.

But, like Baron before them, they paid their experience forward to the next generation in the neighborhood: Russell and James, DeMar DeRozan and Brandon Jennings and Dorell’s brother, Delon Wright.

And Pooh, in particular, made another connection up in Oregon that would prove fruitful for his pursuits back home.

From Pooh’s blood came the ambition to be a self-sufficient business owner. And from his drive to succeed on the court came the means to achieve the former.

When the NBA passed on him in 2006, despite two all-conference selections in college, Pooh opted for a spot with the Colorado 14ers of the D-League (now the Texas Legends of the G League), which he parlayed into an All-Star selection at that level. When, in 2007, his path led him to Ukraine, Pooh turned that into a starring role for BC Kyiv and, eventually, Ukrainian citizenship that enabled him to help qualify that nation for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

And when Pooh continued to produce in Spain and Israel, the NBA finally came calling in 2010. After signing with the Sacramento Kings, he shared his joy with everyone in his circle, but few prompted as much emotion as did Baron.

“We were both on the phone crying,” Pooh recounts. “That's really my big brother and I'm his little brother, and that's just the relationship that we have.”

Though Pooh’s time in the NBA didn’t last beyond the 2010-11 season, his credentials launched his career to another level overseas. After a steady season back in Spain with Club Joventut Badalona, he made his way to China, where he became a sub-six-foot scoring star for the Shandong Lions.

In 2015, Pooh returned from stints in China and France to find a conspicuous absence from his neighborhood. Urban Legends, the lone black-owned clothing boutique in the South Bay at the time, had closed.

Pooh had always loved shoes and clothes. He also shared that familial itch to be his own boss. And between himself and his friend, James Booker, they saw an opportunity to fill the vacuum for a boutique store in their area.

So, in December 2015—despite suggestions that they stake out a spot on one of LA’s most fashionable streets, like Melrose or Fairfax—Pooh and JB opened Laced on Redondo Beach Boulevard. The name worked well as a double entendre, referring to both shoe laces and a colloquial term for being dressed up.

Still, Pooh had a sense that Laced could mean something more, that he wanted it to mean something more. He had seen how his friends Q and Will named their company T.R.A.P. House Clothing—meaning To Rise Above Poverty—and sought something like that for his own business.

“Once I saw the acronym, I was, like, ‘Dang, I have to think of something like this on that type of level,’” Pooh says, “because that's why people T.R.A.P., really, to rise above poverty, 'cause people trapping every day.”

The acronym for Laced started to take shape shortly after the store opened, when The Source magazine came in to interview Pooh.

“It’s LA in the beginning for a reason,” he told them.

With “Los Angeles” locked in, Pooh started workshopping ideas for the rest of the letters. His first idea? Reppin’ Los Angeles, California Every Day.

That ain’t gonna work, he thought. It don’t really hit home.

So Pooh kept at it while continuing his basketball career overseas with the Tianjin Gold Lions in China.

During the 2016-17 season, on one flight in particular, Pooh was trading notes on names with Jeremy Tyler, his teammate in Tianjin and a fellow Southern California native. Pooh already had Los Angeles and, suddenly, started riffing off “Creates” for the C. He turned to Jeremy for thoughts on the E.

“Bro,” Pooh said, “I need to eat.”

Jeremy tossed out some ideas before landing on “Endless.” Pooh ran with that one. But what to do about the D?

As they both mulled it over, Pooh looked up, as if into the clouds, and came up with “Dreams.”

“That’s it,” Pooh said.

Los Angeles Creates Endless Dreams (L.A.C.E.D.).

“That's the acronym because it's the truth,” Pooh says now. “People move to Los Angeles to really create a dream, an endless dream. It could be an endless dream for their family or for whoever.”

Pooh Jeter Laced portrait

Pooh wears a Laced shirt inside Laced South Bay. (Amir Ebrahimi)

Pooh had a dream of his own to create—namely, a thriving clothing business close to home.

Early on, Pooh and JB partnered with small, local brands like TCG Footwear, People Footwear and Native Brand to stock the shelves at Laced. In 2016, they landed an official apparel account with Puma, well before the German apparel brand burst back onto the basketball scene. Then came high-end streetwear brands like Billionaire Boys Club (BBC), Embellish and Daniel Patrick.

Eventually, word got around the area that Laced was a place where people could put together their outfits—shoes, clothes, accessories and the like. But if the store was going to take off, Pooh would need a direct line for product with one of the titans of the industry.

So he reached out to Michael Holton, his old coach at Portland and a former NBA veteran. Michael, in turn, connected Pooh to Ron Walden, who was Nike’s senior sales director at the time.

“Man, you need to do something powerful,” Ron told him. “Laced has got to stand for something. You’ve got to be known for something. What's your ‘why’?”

The acronym tied it all together, and reflected what the store was already about.

By then, Pooh had taken Laced beyond being solely a business. He and JB had hosted turkey drives and toy drives during the holidays. They had helped underprivileged kids get suited and booted for prom night.

The store itself had become a communal space for events. Though modest in size, the four flat-screen TVs on the wall made it a fitting gathering place for locals to watch Watts Homie Quan, a social media star from South Central, make his debut on MTV’s “Wild ‘N Out.” It’s where Famous Dex, a SoundCloud rapper from the South Side of Chicago, held his meet-and-greet in LA.

All told, Laced has emerged as a place where local artists, designers and clothiers can market their products in the community, and a location for independent film productions.

Still, despite getting Ron’s approval, it took two years for Pooh and JB to prove that Laced deserved an official account with Nike, whereby they could order product directly from the manufacturer rather than buying and selling on consignment.

“Once I was able to have a Nike account, people were, like, ‘You got a Nike account? Like how the heck you do that?’” Pooh says. “Of course, it's relationships. Relationships runs the world, but you have to have the information to continue to build and the relationship to continue to run the world.”

Pooh counts landing that Nike account as one of the top five accomplishments of his life, right up there with building his spiritual foundation with God, creating a family with his wife, Chyvonne, achieving his dream of playing professional basketball and being a better person than a basketball player.

Nowadays, Pooh is working to combine those last two accomplishments in order to extend the concept of Laced beyond a brick-and-mortar store—and not just into e-commerce.

Last August, he and Bobby joined former UCLA standout and current Stockton Kings assistant coach Rico Hines to host the first Laced Skills Clinic at Aviation Park in Redondo Beach. Dozens of the top boys and girls high school basketball players from around the city came out to learn about basketball and life from seasoned pros, and to create a community that wouldn’t otherwise be fostered among players across the various summer shoe circuits.

Craig showed up to support. So did DeMar, along with three generations of Los Angeles Clippers point guards in Andre Miller, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

“These kids was afterwards, like, ‘Yo, we never had nothing like this before,’” Pooh says. “And once I figured that out, I'm, like, ‘You know what? We got to start doing these more because you've got to think: all these high school and college players are looking up to us for information.”

Just as Pooh and F.A.M. once did with Baron. Just as James, DeMar, Russ and Brandon did with them. And just as Pooh hopes to do with more Laced Skills Clinics in the future, backed by LA’s sprawling basketball family.

“The endless dream that I'm creating,” Pooh says, “is making sure that the people up next have that information to be able to be laced as well.”

 

Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.