It was the grand opening of the Protect The Family clothing store, and already the Greenmount Avenue storefront in Waverly was packed, filled with the friends and family of homegrown NBA star Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets.
Barton, a product of Lake Clifton, and co-owner Xavier Harper were receiving certificates from the Office of the Register of the Wills recognizing the store's opening and the establishment of the clothing line that puts forth a positive message.
"It stands for anybody out there in the world who is a leader in the family, trying to protect and trying to take care of their people," said Barton, who was wearing a chain with a jewel-studded emblem that had the initials PTF and "Head Protector" on it.
Harper said he defines it "as loving and caring for anybody you consider family, not just blood."
Fittingly, they were surrounded by friends they've known since middle school, many already wearing clothes with the store's logo, two chains in the shape of an X held together by a lock, or initials. J.J. Hickson, Barton's teammate on the Nuggets, was on hand too.
A portion of the proceeds from the clothes will go to a foundation Barton is setting up that will mentor city youth, develop after-school programs, and work with single-parent homes.
The store itself will also "give the kids somewhere they can come hang out a little bit, come get some gear, and just talk basketball or life—anything," Barton said.
"Anything positive is going to help," he continued. "I just try to do anything I can to be a vessel, and a good vessel for the city."
And that means Barton himself could be manning the shop when the NBA season is over.
"Oh yeah, I'm definitely gonna be here in the offseason, talk a little trash with my homeboys and my friends, and get out some gear to the people," he said. "Just do some little events here and there, and just let the city know I'm here."
In the midst of the uprising, Barton was one of the highest-profile homegrown celebrities to return home and get involved, holding a block party at Cloverdale Courts in late April.
Barton and Harper are going to continue working with activist Stokey Cannady, who helped organize the block party, on similar events.
"The community shows him a lot of respect. So we teamed up with him to get things done in the community," Harper said.
It just so happens that all of this is happening as Barton is having his best season as a pro, averaging career highs in points per game, rebounds, and assists—momentum he carried over from strong performances in the playoffs as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, including a series against the eventual champions, the San Antonio Spurs.
"I've always been a confident guy, but to be able to do it against them on that stage, it was like, 'You're here now, so you just gotta keep working. And nobody can stop you if you just keep your head right,'" he said.
As one journalist put it, Barton is one of the "new ambassadors for Baltimore basketball." So how does he want to present that to the rest of the world?
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard said his game is a lot like the city itself.
"It's tough, it's small, and it's a grind," he said. "So that's just how I want to be looked at. I don't really care about a lot of awards or accolades. I'm just out here for respect."
After posting for pictures outside the store, Barton hopped in an SUV to head down to Washington, D.C. for a game at the Verizon Center against the Washington Wizards.
Not long after, he tweeted: "Bmore we did it again! Thanks for all y'all support. I love the city 4ever. #PTF let's keep making history. The reign has just begun!"
Brandon Weigel | citypaper.com | January 28, 2016