March Madness is here, and the basketball action heats up in Milwaukee this week as the Bradley Center hosts the Midwest and West regional rounds of the "big dance." With fans flocking from near and far, the editorial staff at OnMilwaukee.com thought we'd help greet our new visitors with a week's worth of features and guides to everything that makes our city a great place to visit. It's "Welcome to Milwaukee Week" at OnMilwaukee.com!
The Road to the Final Four actually runs through Jason Thomas Flooring.
Wait, when did we take a detour?
Go ahead, fill out your NCAA Tournament brackets and hunker down for hours, days and weeks of postseason college hoops. But tuck away this nugget within your bracket-clogged brain: The floor those sneakers are squeaking on may be the work of the Milwaukee-based company.
"It's kind of overwhelming," said Jason Heiman, owner and president of Jason Thomas Flooring, a company he helped create less than a decade ago. "You start a business and you never think you're going to be at (this) point."
Marquette University will once again host a first- and second-round Regional with six games March 19 and March 21.
The NCAA-themed hardwood on the Bradley Center concrete is one of five playing surfaces created by Heiman and his crew this season.
But the coup de grace was being tabbed to splash color and stain on the floor placed down at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Final Four.
All eyes may be on the surviving teams, but they will automatically view the work created in Walker's Point.
"The fact that we didn't bid on it, and we were chosen, is even more honorable," said Heiman.
The 33-year-old Marshall native doesn't beat his chest, strut around and announce to an audience "THAT'S OUR FLOOR!" He could, but he doesn't.
Instead, he is humbled and proud of the man-hours invested, precise attention to detail and on-task effort to produce what is, essentially, a basketball work of art.
"If you don't take your time or (if you) jump through the sanding process, the next step doesn't come out the way you expect it," said Heiman. "Really, every step is a huge deal."
Tucked away in an unassuming warehouse on 255 S. Water St., Heiman and his crew take a naked 60-by-120-foot basketball court, snap it together and attack. Using computer-generated designs mocked up by the NCAA, they'll blow up letters and logos to use as vinyl templates.
It's too bad the building doesn't have towering atrium windows, because drive-bys would be fun while the process plays out. The task is systematic, one floor at a time.
- assemble floor (one day)
- sand and apply sealer (one and a half days)
- sealer, second coat (one day)
- floor paint (two days)
- logo paint (four days)
Logos with some depth and dimension, where you see paint on paint like the giant NCAA center court emblem, are more tedious and time consuming according to Heiman. But nine to 11 days later, the project is complete. The court dries for eight more days and then gets stacked to make room for the next set of lumber panels.
"It's pretty much two guys working on a floor at a time," said Heiman. "But the Final Four (floor), since we started painting, has been five to six guys for four full days. Because there's so much paint on paint on paint on paint ..."
Heiman and company were handpicked by the NCAA to give the floors pizzazz for regionals in Syracuse, Buffalo and Milwaukee.
They began the process back in mid-December, and just last week, put the finishing touches on their fifth and final floor, the one March Madness fans will witness in Indianapolis.
It's big business for this local business. Before they even sand, buff, varnish or paint, a bare hardwood floor carries a six-figure price tag.
And because a portable court comes apart like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the Jason Thomas Flooring reputation garners a global presence.
"Last year, we did a floor for Croatia," said Heiman. "It was loaded onto a container and sent overseas. We did a floor for Lithuania. Because these floors are portable, it puts us into the International market."
The demand for these eye-catching courts has never been higher. Facilities want to market their school, team or venue, and what better way than a giant billboard beneath the feet of the players? And with only a handful of contractors in the country skilled and set up to do a sports flooring job (six according to Heiman), these Wisconsin-based Rembrandts have become pretty big players.
"We were able to bid generically on small projects for quite some time," said Heiman. "(Then) we got to the point where we could bid on everything, based on them trusting we could do it right and also the fact that we excel."
"When we started the company, we didn't have the intention to do what we're doing. The original intention was to do more maintenance work like re-coats and refinishing ... real basic. And then we were solicited by these other companies to do the floors. You don't learn if you don't try. And there are enough people that have enough experience that can teach you. If you have a fear of failure, it's not the right business to be in."
Heiman and his business partner figured out floors on the fly. Four years into the business model, they learned through failure how to be successful.
"Most of the people have been here since we started and have been through the growing pains," said Heiman. "They partially do management, but they also do the physical labor. But it's at such a high level that we're able to attain these contracts and feel like we're going to do what people expect. It's not just 'it looks good on camera.' We try to strive for 'it looks good up close.'"
And that Final Four floor becomes an instant business card ... a resume for the planet to see.
"Of course, now I can say I did the Final Four, and that'll go a long way for us," said Heiman. "Most people can't say that -- even the ones who have been around for 50 years."
By the way, Heiman played a little college hoops back in the day, at Edgewood College in Madison. He's one of us: watching the scoreboard with keen interest, but with one eye sneaking a peek at his Milwaukee-based masterpieces.
"It's really unbelievable," said Heiman. "I would have never thought seven years ago we'd be sitting here doing it, but we are."
Bob currently does play-by-play at Time Warner Cable Sports 32, calling Wisconsin Timber Rattlers games in Appleton as well as the area high school football and basketball scene. During an earlier association with FS Wisconsin, his list of teams and duties have included the Packers, Bucks, Brewers and the WIAA State Championships.
During his life before cable, Bob spent seven seasons as a reporter and producer of "Preps Plus: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel High School Sports Show."
And the joke is, Bob has a golf shirt from all four Milwaukee television stations. Sad, but true: Bob has had sports and news anchor/reporter/producer stints at WTMJ, WISN, WDJT and WITI.
His first duty out of college (UW-Oshkosh) was radio and TV work in Eau Claire. Bob spent nearly a decade at WEAU-TV as a sports director and reporter.
You may have heard Bob's pipes around town as well. He has done play-by-play for the Milwaukee Mustangs, Milwaukee Iron, and UW-Milwaukee men's and women's basketball. Bob was the public address announcer for five seasons for both the Marquette men and women's basketball squads. This season, you can catch the starting lineups of the UW-Milwaukee Panther men's games with Bob behind the mic.
A Brookfield Central graduate, Bob's love and passion for sports began at an early age, when paper football leagues, and Wiffle Ball All Star Games were all the rage in the neighborhood.