HOUSTON — Ja Morant walked into a press conference room and took a seat in front of about 30 members of the media at NBA All-Star Media Day earlier this month.
The room was dark, with most of the lights focused on the Memphis Grizzlies star, whose broad smile lit up the room. Literally, in fact. Because over that big smile, attached to his teeth, was a shimmering honeycomb diamond grid created by famed custom jeweler Johnny Dang.
There’s a lot of talk about the Grizzlies’ flashy and energetic style on the field. Alley-oops, chase blocks and highlight passes are regular trends on social media.
This same flash is also applied off the pitch.
Morant got his grill in February 2020, but he’s not alone. Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. was with Morant when he purchased this grill, and on a recent trip to Houston ahead of Sunday’s win over the Houston Rockets, Jackson and teammate Brandon Clarke added grills in similar diamond.
So, that begs the question: are the Grizzlies the most icy team in the league?
“I would say so,” said Chance Harris, VIP manager for Diamond Boys and Johnny Dang & Co. “They’re definitely stomping on them when it comes to the most frigid team in the NBA.”
Based in Houston, Dang has made custom grills for several NBA players, but he’s mostly associated with rappers. Morant sporting a grill representing Memphis on the All-Star stage was another reason he resonates so readily with the city’s culture. Some of Dang’s former clients include rappers Moneybagg Yo, NLE Choppa, Key Glock, Jay Fizzle and Young Dolph.
On any given weekend at a lounge, bar, or gathering in Memphis, a room of people might end up rapping in unison: Johnny made those teeth, all a cheese for those VVS”, a nod to the song “Tick” by Memphis rapper Big Homiie G.
Morant himself referenced the line in an Instagram post that showed his smile during the All-Star Game press conference.
Dang’s other clientele includes Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West, Kodak Black, Quavo, and other artists and celebrities. Harris has been by his side for many of those meetings, including as Morant’s driver in 2020.
The zigzag honeycomb diamond grill purchased by Morant, Clarke and Jackson has an estimated value of between $25,000 and $35,000. The grill is made of high-end diamonds with internal flaws, handpicked and implemented by Dang. The grid includes diamond all the way to the edge, leaving very little gold to show through.
“That’s why a lot of these ballplayers are spending the money they make on these grids,” Harris said. “It feels like a light show no matter where you are. You can be in the dark, you can be in the light. At the end of the day, it feels like the 4th of July day or night.
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While some people may be confused by these expensive purchases, Cuban link chains, pendant necklaces, gold jewelry and diamond grids have become big fashion statements.
“At first I didn’t think I was a grill until I put it in my mouth,” Harris said. “I started talking with it and I was like, ‘OK, maybe this is for me. So it’s not even a maybe. It’s for me.”
Since the NBA and hip-hop music culture often intersect, more and more players are getting diamond grills. Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball made news in 2020 when he purchased a custom VVS diamond grill similar to that of Morant, Clarke and Jackson. Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. was seen in a game giving Dang, who was sitting directly behind the bench, his phone number. Even Shaquille O’Neal is a regular customer to get a custom Dang piece.
JaVale McGee of Phoenix and Willie Cauley-Stein of Dallas are two NBA players who have worn mouthpiece guards because players cannot wear actual guards during a game.
In a 2020 YouTube video with Dang, Morant was asked if he would wear the grill in a game.
“They might try to fine me or something,” Morant replied.
He is right. But Morant, Jackson and Clarke showed other ways to be flashy on the court.