Summer of 1992 in Barcelona, a collection of US basketball players touched down and set off an international firestorm. The Dream Team, perhaps the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled, rolled over their opponents as though they were playing against middle school students. But their victory wasn’t the important part so much as what followed.
The Dream Team in 1992 is widely recognized as the first domino to fall in pushing basketball towards being the international phenomenon it is today. With that international exposure came the rise of the basketball player as an international icon. Not just a domestic star, but also an international superstar, a brand. Of course, it was pioneered by none other than His Heirness, Michael Jordan himself.
As the game’s popularity has grown, so has the presence of its best players. Remember Apple’s acquisition of Beats? LeBron James made reportedly upwards of $30 million off of that. It’s not simply limited to having your own shoe line anymore; that’s basics. Sponsorships are far and wide for some of the most popular brands in the country. Beats, Gatorade, Samsung, Sprint, and Degree all are on the books of popular players like LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. More so than their NFL counterparts, NBA players are giants of the corporate world, global personalities.
And New York? Up there with Los Angeles, New York is among the biggest markets in the NBA. The Knicks came in last year at a valuation over $1 billion dollars (Note that these are all about to get thrown off scale by Steve Ballmer’s ludicrous $2 billion bid on the Clippers plus the upcoming TV deals). Carmelo Anthony is fresh off signing a $122 million contract as the best player on those same Knicks.
So what did Melo do with that new cash? He started a venture capital firm. That’s right, he recently created M7 Tech Partners with his friend Stuart Goldfarb (of NBC and Bertelsmann). And his inaugural investment was in Hullabalu, a children’s media company already with seed investments from such famed moguls as Alexis Ohanian and Gary Vaynerchuk.
But Melo is just the biggest name now that we’re hearing about. Steve Nash already has a successful VC firm, Consigliere Capital, which counts Series A and B level companies like Kiwi Crate and Birchbox among its portfolio. Sure, it’s easy to fixate on the questions of how successful athletes can be at the venture game, but the mere potential that they can is a testament to how far the power of their already considerable brands can carry them.
NBA players now entering the VC world should not be a surprising phenomenon in the least. As their status as global icons grew, they were always at the forefront of branding and business opportunities. It only makes sense then that they would emerge again at the front of the hottest, most recent business sphere- startups and venture capital. As the allure of startups and investing in startups grew to unprecedented heights, NBA superstars turned great businessmen were quick to recognize the potential ROI of the next great strategic endeavor.
The entrepreneurial world is just another step in the growth of NBA stars’ brands as they lead the way among athletes in the United States in that regard. Anthony and Nash are just the beginning; undoubtedly we will see some more NBA players try their hands at VC investing. Whether they ultimately flounder or not isn’t the point. They’ve already taken off on another full court fast break. That they are pushing the envelope once again is the best part, and the part that not just sports fans, but also business observers should appreciate.