An Ex-NBA Player Offers 3 Tips for Entrepreneurs Preparing for Their Second Act
I made my NBA debut in 2003 -- a very different era in basketball, sports and business. The internet was only starting to go mainstream. Social media activity was limited mostly to MySpace. And business was still conducted primarily by phone and in-person meetings.
My formative years had revolved around basketball, but I harbored an internal sentiment that said any success I’d have on the court (or in the boardroom) would be a result of my willingness to learn and push my boundaries, by expanding my comfort zone. This is an important lesson for any entrepreneur starting a new endeavor.
It's a lesson that may also resonate with most entrepreneurs and business leaders: The more you put yourself out there, the better the results. Similarly, the more you give, the more you get. At this point, I've moved beyond my 14-year career with professional basketball; in many ways, I've started anew. But this same sentiment and mentality has been critical as I've sought and found the right opportunities to make an impact.
And I’m not alone in this, as the business path has become quite the trend among many current and former athletes. Below are a few recommendations for entrepreneurs, including the already successful ones who are pivoting or changing their careers:
"Ball don’t lie" -- follow your inspiration.
My career in the NBA took me to play for eight teams, which meant eight new cities. For me, this meant eight opportunities to immerse myself in the communities I lived and played in, by volunteering with the Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and Make-A-Wish Foundation, among others. Other players have experienced the same phenomenon, living and working in new cities where they're always in the public eye.
Despite athletes' on-court focus, most of the pros I knew were eager to broaden their horizons and find new ways to give back. In doing so, we experienced so many important experiences, including gaining a front-row view to the sad situations involving those less fortunate than ourselves.
Seeing the voids in people’s lives is eye-opening; and, for me as well as others, those moments clarified our desire to create change. Take LeBron James, for example, whose story of rising from modest beginnings in Akron, Ohio, to become an all-time great is well-chronicled.
James may be known as an athlete first, but he’s made it clear that his true inspiration and goal is making an impact -- which is what he considers greatness. I have no doubt that he will have a tremendous Second Act in the form of continuing to help others.
As my own playing career wound down, my desire to create change fused with my lifelong passion for consumer technology, and I knew that what had inspired me in the past could now become a major part of my professional career moving forward.
“Skate to where the puck is going” -- figure out what's trending.
Yes, I’m an NBA veteran quoting NHL great Wayne Gretzky! Many athletes transitioning from sports to business are overwhelmed with business opportunities. Instead of their jumping right in, I suggest they hit the pause button and take the time to analyze business and consumer trends before making a decision.
A great example of an athlete turned entrepreneur is my own cousin Al Harrington, also an NBA veteran (16 years). Whether you support or oppose medical and recreational cannabis, there’s no doubt that it’s trending into mainstream business. Harrington recognized where the puck was going, toward businesses involving alternative health and wellness; and he "skated" towards it, successfully launching Viola, a brand of cannabis products.
My cousin's pursuit of success in this category is yet another indication that today's American consumers are rapidly changing. They care more about the corporate social responsibility of the companies they purchase products from, as well as the companies they work for. There is an increased focus on sustainability, community and wellness.
For these reasons, the next iteration of modern business will be founded on such principles as: Are you putting people and contributing to society first? Entrepreneurs would be well served to keep this in mind when planning their next endeavor.
Be prepared to overcome others’ perception of you.
When you’re successful at something, be it professional basketball or the launch and subsequent sale of your first company, expectations remain high. When I told friends and family I was getting into sustainable home-building, naturally there was some curiosity. Angel investments, real estate deals, eGaming and other intriguing opportunities presented themselves, but many of us see opportunity elsewhere.
Take Andre Iguodala, a still-active NBA player for the world champion Golden State Warriors. Iguodala became involved with Twice, an online consignment marketplace that was ultimately acquired by eBay in 2015. Do you think Iguodala knew years ago that he’d establish a platform to help people sell clothes easier? Probably not!
For him, an ecommerce platform was his chosen route for a new act. For me, it’s identifying smart home technologies that intrigue home buyers and appeal to their emotional desire to improve their community.
For the entrepreneur reading this? Opportunity is everywhere. Just don’t let others’ perception of what you should and should not be define you.