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Project Grow

How Young Entrepreneurs Can Win, According to Knicks Legend John Starks

The NBA All-Star is helping kids gain the winning edge in business.
How Young Entrepreneurs Can Win, According to Knicks Legend John Starks
Image credit: Rana Faure/MSG Photos
Entrepreneur Staff
Editorial Director
5 min read

“I was a very emotional player on the court, but in business, you need to take your emotions out of the equation," says legendary New York Knick John Starks. "If you make a decision with your emotions, nine times out of 10 it is the wrong decision.”

Starks told me this as we spoke in a tucked away corner of Madison Square Garden, where in just minutes, the glorious Knicks would take the court and shut down the hated L.A. Clippers. (Can you tell who I was rooting for?) I came here to discuss leadership with Starks because the All-Star knows a thing or two about the subject. In 1994, he led the Knicks to the NBA Finals. These days, he is working to teach the next generational of entrepreneurial thinkers to lead themselves.

Starks is part of a very cool project that involves the Knicks and Chase teaming up with BUILD on an entrepreneurship program for youth in under-resourced communities. These bright kids get to experience brainstorming sessions, pitch presentations, budget problem-solving workshops and ultimately have the chance to sell their product or service to top executives.

Related: 7 Lessons on Failure You Can Learn From Top Athletes

Starks told me all about this great program (the next workshop will be held at the MSG training facility on Dec. 1) and shared his beliefs on what it takes to thrive and survive in the world of entrepreneurship.

What made you want to be apart of this program?

It’s a great chance to inspire young folks in the New York area to really start thinking about entrepreneurship and get them engaged.

I don’t think I knew how to spell entrepreneur when I was a kid, and here we have kids starting their own businesses. What do you think has driven this new generation?

I think social media has been a game changer for really activating these kids' minds. They are on a whole other level. They're thinking and doing things that we never imagined at their age. And through social media, they see the success of other kids out there. I think the world will be much better because of that.

Why did you want to get involved?

Since my playing days, I was intrigued by business. I had a couple of businesses early on and some of them succeeded and some of them failed. That’s OK, as long as you learn from those failures. But that entrepreneurial spirit was always inside me from a young age. Watching my grandfather and my mother take on a laundromat, I was able to see how finances work and what doesn't work. I learned early that ownership is the best thing to have.

What did you tell people who are thinking of making that jump to being their own boss?

I think the most important thing is to learn as much as you can about it before you do it. So many people go into business not knowing enough about what it takes in order to run that business. And I was that person! Talk to people, gain as much knowledge as you can to be ready.

Whether you are on the court or in business, you face adversity. Do you have a personal mantra that keeps you motivated?

I think you have to focus on “the vision.” Your vision supersedes all of the ups and downs that you will go through. In basketball, you have the vision to win the game, and that gives you a laser focus on what you need to do it to get that win. Same thing with a business goal, that's your “win” to focus on.

Related: 10 Ways to Stay Inspired for Life

You led a pretty tough group of guys here at MSG. Does that style translate to how you operate in the business world?

Yeah. In business, you have to be tough and you have to put aside friendship. That's one thing I had to learn -- in business, friendship can kill you! So you have to be able to put that aside and really think about making decisions based on information and not emotions.

What separates great leaders from good leaders?

A great leader makes the people around them a lot better by inspiring them to think at another level -- even higher than what that leader could possibly think of themselves. Great leaders inspire and set a path to success, and then they get out of the way and let people do their job.

Related: 14 Inspirational Influencers You Should Follow on Instagram

Today's athletes seem to be more forward-thinking in terms of “what comes next” in their careers. Why do you think that is?

There are a lot of good role models. Look at LeBron -- I think he alone is spurring the charge and getting these guys thinking about business outside of the game of basketball. Let's be honest: these guys are making a ton of money -- much more than my generation of players ever did -- so they have to understand how to be able to use that money to take care of life after the game.

Athletes have a career lifespan, at what, five years at the most? It's not like a CEO of a company who has a 40-year run. And that athlete is CEO of his company, which is his personal self. I think this entrepreneurial spirit of athletes wanting to get involved in business is not just good for them but good for society. Businesses create jobs and services, which all helps a lot of people.

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