After playing middle school basketball in Memphis in the late 1980s, Jason Buford consequently played for his father at nearby Hardin County in Savannah, Tennessee.
Basketball, as he knew it, became a way of life for him.
So much in fact that Buford, 37, has established a steady rapport with the Memphis Grizzlies organization in recent years.
A native Memphian, Buford is director of Jr. Pro Sports, an athletics-driven organization that aims to meet its clients' and partners’ needs through sports. Established in 2011, Jr. Pro Sports is widely known among Mid-Southerners for its close-knit relationship with the Grizzlies through an organization called Junior Grizzlies.
This recreational league’s primary objective is to empower players to learn the fundamentals in a fun and stimulating environment. Also, it strives to focus on developing participants’ skills in hopes of helping them to become competitive while maintaining a healthy approach to various sports.
As Buford explained, he started Jr. Pro Sports after witnessing his son struggle to adjust on his middle school team.
“I knew he was capable of playing because he played AAU against a lot of the best players in the city,” Buford told Bleacher Report. “I didn't want my son to loose his passion for the game through the disappointment of rejection. So after creating the tournaments at my church, I decided to create a sports organization for kids like him who has the passion and ability but who are not making the team.
"It's thousands of kids just like he was. It's such a reward now to see kids that start in my organization move on to other organizations and becomes stars or make their middle school, high school or college team.”
Years before Buford found his niche through his organization, he was employed by the City of Memphis as an account clerk in the Solid Waste Management Department.
Harboring a job that began weighing heavily on him for seven years, Buford admittedly began devising ways to launch Jr. Pro Sports while working for the city. In a nutshell, he steadfastly sought job security while at the same time realizing his days as a city employee was nearing an unceremonious end.
“I noticed how I love organizing the tournaments and leagues,” Buford said. “I found myself working on them while at work on breaks and lunch. So I started looking into what I had in the pension, doing business-startup research and fostering relationships to build a business and brand.
"The day the administrator called me in to fire me, he asked me if I needed boxes to get my stuff. I told him I removed my stuff a month ago. My immediate reaction was the relief of a heavy burden, fear of my future and stability, and excitement of the freedom to start pursuing my God-given talent.”
Today, as the chief executive officer of Junior Pro Sports, Buford’s organization, to his credit, is steadily being embraced by many throughout the Mid-South, considering it averages between 60 and 125 participants annually.
No doubt, the Grizzlies have bought into Buford’s vision for promoting good sportsmanship and quality fundamentals. How else to explain why the team routinely makes it a point to assist Buford and his staff with children of various ages and from different walks of life?
“When I started with (the Grizzlies), I was the only black organization in Memphis to have a Junior Grizzlies league,” Buford said. “I was proud to be there first and to introduce this program to our inner-city youth.”
Today, youngsters of various ages can be see wearing jerseys with the Grizzlies logo embroidered on the back in a number of gymnasiums throughout the basketball-crazed Memphis metropolitan area, something which Buford had planned along thanks in large part to the support of his family, his fiancee, Lolissa Griffin, and a host of local religious institutions.
Three years and counting, there's no doubt that Jr. Pro Sports will be a fixture throughout the Mid-South for quite some time—a dream that Buford sensed would ultimately come full circle, even during his lunch breaks as a city employee years ago.
“I am now getting excited about bringing more events to the city,” Buford said. “My motivation now is giving these young players, both boys and girls, the educational avenues to better themselves through commitment, character, hard-work and hustle.”
Among the reasons is that basketball, as he knew it, had become a way of life him.