Home Ventures Fairfield Ex-NBA star Chris Smith advocates for face mask health safety

Ex-NBA star Chris Smith advocates for face mask health safety

Roughly two months ago, Chris Smith was in a store in Shelton when a husband and wife came in without wearing masks.

Chris Smith showing off his face mask with the “Wear Ya Mask!” message. Photo by Phil Hall.

“The store had a sign that says ‘Wear your mask,’” Smith recalled. “And the owner told them to put their masks. And an argument ensued – almost a fight ensued.”

Smith did not wish to get involved in the altercation and remained a quiet observer. But the incident still bothered him after he left the store and arrived home in Stratford.

“Sometimes people go to the store and forget to wear their mask when they go inside,” he thought. “I thought there should be more awareness. If the owner had a t-shirt that says ‘Wear Your Mask,’ you’ll go back to your car and then come back in.”

Smith is no stranger to getting people’s attention – the Bridgeport native was a star of UConn’s men’s basketball program, where he became the Huskies’ all-time leading scorer with 2,145 points, and later played for the National Basketball Association’s Minnesota Timberwolves. He created a prototype t-shirt bearing the simple message “Wear Ya Mask!” and displayed it on his Twitter feed.

Smith is now working as a probation officer, and around the time he had the inspiration for the t-shirt he received news that a member of his department passed away from Covid-19.

“Once he passed away, there was a lightbulb throughout the office,” he stated. “Now we’re very specific about coming in with mask and protecting yourself. I’m around people that have HIV and heavy drug use, and they have underlying issues. So, it’s very important for us to push the message out.”

The tweet featuring Smith’s t-shirt caught the attention of Cindy Carrasquilla, a fellow UConn alum who handles the public relations and communications for Haddad & Partners, a Fairfield-based digital agency. Carrasquilla encouraged Smith to turn his “Wear Ya Mask!” into a same-named venture and connected him with the nonprofit Foodshare, which was planning an event with the UConn Huskies to distribute groceries to households in need. Smith returned to his alma matter, bringing his “Wear Ya Mask!” t-shirt and a line of face coverings featuring that message.

“We had the whole team came down,” Smith said. “I spoke with Dan Hurley, the head coach for UConn, and all those guys were excited. They came down to Hartford at Rentschler field and we had over 2,500 people picking up food.”

Smith is also in conversations with his former Minnesota Timberwolves team about his venture and reported “they’re very excited about what I’m doing – and hopefully they’ll get involved and buy a lot of t-shirts.” Smith is now selling his t-shirts at $20 and his face masks at $15.

“Wear Ya Mask!” is Smith’s first effort into entrepreneurism and he freely admitted he was a “work in progress” on several aspects of this type of endeavor. However, his immediate focus is not about profits, but about encouraging a health safety regimen to bring down Covid-19 infection rates.

“I have young children who are eight and 10, and the main thing with me is my kids,” he said. “They say there is a pandemic every hundred years, and we’re in one now. Right now, our focus is about creating awareness, getting the website out there and getting people to realize the importance of this. Our job is just to create a way for people to get into wearing masks.”

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