CHICAGO — When Bulls broadcaster Stacey King shouts, "Give me the hot sauce!" it will have a new meaning this year.
The United Center soon will feature the spicy condiment made by The Hot Sauce Boss, aka Malik Jamal, 31, of South Chicago.
Jamal's line of hot sauces — which includes eight varieties — is the first ever to be licensed by the NBA.
The United Center will offer the sauce as a condiment, as well as for sale in bottles, and Jamal is hoping it will take off at other NBA stadiums. The Atlanta Hawks plan to sell it, and he is currently in talks with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Target Center.
The bottled sauces also soon will be available at local grocers and, eventually, on some restaurant tables. Norman Distribution, of Elk Grove Village, will offer the line wholesale in the Chicago area.
“I have the hottest product in the food business right now,” Jamal said. “I knew I had a billion- dollar product. I knew I was sitting on a gold mine. I just had to figure out how to bring it to the world.”
Jamal’s leap to the NBA began from the sidewalks of the Loop, specifically around the Daley Center and the Financial District. For the last three years the smooth-talking, fedora-wearing, self-described “food hustler” spent weekdays hawking his original trio of Hot Sauce Boss blends, selling a bottle or two at a time from a shoulder bag.
His sales goals then were modest: 70 bottles a day at $5 each.
Before he got his NBA license, Jamal admits he did not have a city vendor permit.
“I’m not going to talk about it because they let me get away with it,” he confided.
Jamal said his Loop clientele included cops, judges, city and county workers, commodity traders, even TV news anchors. Some routinely placed their orders in advance via cellphone and email. Jamal said he even gave a bottle to Mayor Rahm Emanuel a week after his election.
Jamal also sold his sauces outside the United Center. There, too, he garnered a devoted following.
“People would see me and say, ‘Man, gimme that hot sauce!’” Jamal recalled.
Jamal said he's never met Stacey King, and the team said there was no connection between King's catchphrase and the condiment.
By 2011, the phrase had become so popular among Bulls fans that Jamal said he trademarked a variation — "Gimme that hot sauce, baby!” — for his label.
Instead of unleashing lawyers on him for trademark infringement, an executive who works for Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf sought to work with Jamal.
The official, who ran into Jamal at a local minority business conference, directed him to the licensing offices for both leagues. Jamal went to the NBA, where the application and business plan he subsequently presented was approved in July.
“We always look into business trends, and hot sauce is a growing category,” said Anne Hart, the NBA's senior director of licensing. “It was an opportunity to take our brand to a new channel of distribution and a new product line that we thought would have a lot of interest for fans.”
Jamal’s business plan, she said, was “very solid and well thought-out.”
Jamal said he was introduced to the unique Olmec pepper base he uses by his Colombian-born uncle, who owns a liquid vitamin factory in Miami where the sauces are brewed and bottled.
He also makes several flavors, including strawberry, watermelon, pineapple-coconut and the Bulls' variety, honey.
Bottle retail prices range from $3.99 to $5. Six-packs are $25 to $30. Soon, a fan will be able to order hot sauce with a logo from any team of his choosing from Jamal's website, he said.
Jeff Lozinski, vice president of business development for Norman Distribution, said he's excited to be selling the sauce.
“He is an intriguing character,” Lozinski said of Jamal. “To go from selling hot sauce on the streets to getting an NBA license, it shows that hard work and perseverance can pay off.”
While Jamal’s NBA “ticket” has yet to pay him a dime, he already has dreams of being able to give something back to the South Side communities where he grew up. From the age of 2, after his parents split up, he was raised in the homes of various extended family members up and down the “Cottage-to-King” corridor, he said.
“Basically, I’m going to be a philanthropist, that’s my thing,” Jamal said. “More resources in places where the resources are less, things that will make people a lot smarter, healthier and happier.
“You can’t just come up out of an area where you lived your whole life, get some money and just go away and act like those people never existed,” Jamal said.
But until business picks up, he will at times return to the streets of the Loop with a shoulder bag full of sauce.
“Hey,” Jamal said. “Rent’s gotta be paid, man’s gotta eat.”