From Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Steph Curry – many NBA basketball elites are making the switch from top player to tech backer.
Collectively, we at Silicon Republic are far from experts on the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the US. We are, however, intrigued by the numbers from this field spilling into one we closely cover: tech investment and entrepreneurship.
Fresh from following Carmelo Anthony and his Olympic teammates’ gold medal success, we were met with news of Kobe Bryant’s new tech VC venture. Even among that dynamic duo you can see that both retired and active NBA stars are getting their heads in the tech game.
This convergence flows both ways, and the impact of tech on the basketball court has been well documented. But who needs the tech leaders buying up squads and disruptive start-ups trying to change it up when all of that can come from within the sport itself?
After all, a cohort of motivated, dedicated, driven and co-operative team players certainly sounds like promising business leaders.
Even though we would need only 12 for a full roster, we struck it lucky with 13 brilliant ballers scoring off the court.
38-year-old Kobe Bryant enjoys legendary status within the NBA following a 20-year career playing for the Los Angeles Lakers that led to an entire day in the city being named after him.
Now, the star of the court is trading it all in for a life as a venture capitalist having recently decided to form a new $100m VC fund for data, media and tech companies with tech entrepreneur Jeff Stibel.
This isn’t the first time that Bryant and Stibel have worked together to fund start-ups as, since 2013, they have invested in 15 businesses including The Players’ Tribune, a sports news site curated by sports stars themselves.
New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony describes himself as a ‘digital athlete’, adding investment firm Melo7 Tech Partners in 2013 to his three Olympic Gold Medals and nine NBA All-Star Awards.
Co-founding Melo7 with Stuart Goldfarb, the duo have so far invested in around 20 start-ups across the tech sphere, with six of those subsequently acquired by other companies. One such acquisition earlier this year saw Mars PetCare buying up Whistle, a pet GPS company backed by Melo7 in 2013. The deal was valued at more than $100m.
Melo7 also has a stake in DraftKings, a fantasy football service making waves in the US, while its most recent investment came last November, providing seed funding for interactive storybook app, Hullabalu.
Magic Johnson is one of the biggest legends of the NBA and the LA Lakers, with five titles and three MVP awards stretching from 1980 to 1990, and a dozen All-Star titles to boot. For the past two decades, though, his investment game has grown significantly.
Investments in the likes of EquiTrust in 2015 through his Magic Johns Enterprises firm, a board seat at Square until this summer, and interest in The Marvel Experience in the past mean his fingerprints cover huge swathes of the tech world. Insurance, entertainment and payments are just three of the fields Johnson is involved in.
Two-time NBA champion and 10-time NBA All-Star with San Antonio Spurs, David Robinson’s glittering playing career ended in 2003, before the now 51-year-old got into investments.
With interests in the Carver Academy, an operation to get more children into sports, Robinson’s activities with Admiral Capital Group have kept him tipping over outside the world of sport or technology.
That all changed in 2014, though, when he got in on the ground floor with Thrive15, an online video consulting platform. With a 2pc stake in the company, Robinson’s popularity in the US helped drive up the value of that share, with the company still going strong today.
Andre Iguodala spearheaded the inaugural National Basketball Players’ Association’s Tech Summit, which took place in San Francisco in July and aimed to help basketball players learn more about the opportunities within tech and media, featuring Andreessen Horowitz, Jawbone and more.
Iguodala was a natural leader in the launching of this summit, given he has spoken in the past about his interest in tech companies and close relationship with Andreessen Horowitz. Playing with California’s Golden State Warriors since 2013, Iguodala has taken advantage of his proximity to Silicon Valley to indulge his interest in tech.
In 2015, he invested in and was named menswear director of online second-hand clothing store Twice, and was reported to have made a tidy profit when the company was acquired by eBay towards the end of 2015. That same year, he appeared onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt.
One of the biggest names in basketball today, LeBron James was ranked third in Forbes’ list of the highest-paid athletes of 2016.
James has always been a shrewd businessman, it seems, having inked a $90m deal with Nike at the very start of his professional career. Since then, he has made many more millions through endorsement deals, as well as savvy business decisions.
The Cleveland Cavaliers player made a reported $30m thanks to his stake in Dr Dre’s Beats headphones when the line was sold to Apple. His digital video company, Uninterrupted, which aims to allow professional athletes to connect directly with fans, raised $15.8m in funding from Warner Bros and Turner Sports at the end of 2015.
James also has a production company, SpringHill Entertainment, whose latest production is an Apprentice-like TV show called Cleveland Hustles.
Former Houston Rockets centre Yao Ming was a first-round draft pick in 2002, after five years with the Shanghai Sharks in his native China.
Yao hung up his high-tops in 2011, and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier this year, but his success on the court won’t be his only legacy. Though, unfortunately, some players have a little more luck with legacies than others.
While still playing with the Rockets, Yao invested a reported $6m in Google-backed Chinese legal music download site Top100.cn, but the company shut down when Google yanked its support in 2012.
Yao also invested in the Beijing-based UniStrong, a company specialising in GPS tech. According to 2013 reports, he took a 70pc loss on that investment.
Yao has also made a move into private equity, starting the sports-focused Douglas Fir Fund at D&F Capital firms and investing in Hongyuan Equity Investment Fund.
Steve Nash teamed up with advertising executive Mike Duda in 2010 to form what was described as a hybrid marketing consultancy and venture capital firm called Consigliere Brand Capital, with clients of the company including Birchbox and Under Armour.
Nash has also co-written and produced ads for Nike – with whom he had endorsement deals as a player – as well as co-directing a documentary called Into the Wind about Canadian athlete and activist Terry Fox in 2010.
More recently, Nash, who also founded the charitable Steve Nash Foundation, spoke at the 2016 NBA All-Star Technology Summit in Toronto, Canada.
Chris ‘CP3’ Paul – point guard for the LA Clippers – takes tech involvement beyond simple investment. He is the co-creator of mobile app Chris Paul’s Game Vision.
The NBC All-Star has kept basketball as his focus for this first foray into the tech world, lending his name, his on-court experience and – if you’ll excuse the pun – his vision to his own branded app.
Game Vision seeks to improve athletes’ visual reaction time, something that can make the difference between winning and losing games.
Aimed predominantly at young athletes (although it can benefit drivers and pilots too), Game Vision uses fun, interactive games to improve image-processing speed, depth perception, vision sharpness and contrast sensitivity.
Paul – who has some coding ability – was not involved in the app’s programming, but did get hands-on for testing, trying it out with his seven-year-old son.
Golden State Warriors’ point guard Stephen ‘Steph’ Curry was the darling of the 2016 season and playoffs, both on and off the court. Now, the Baby-Faced Assassin, 2016 league-leader in scoring and first player in NBA history to be elected MVP by unanimous vote, hopes to take his winning streak beyond basketball.
Curry is the new face of Silicon Valley digital media start-up PressPlay, which aims to allow fans in China a glimpse inside the lives of their sporting heroes. But PressPlay is not Curry’s first venture in the tech world.
Curry is the co-founder – with his college teammate Bryant Barr – of social media brand management platform Slyce, aimed at pro athletes. He is also an investor in CoachUp, an online service that connects amateur athletes with coaches for one-on-one training. And, in the grand tradition of the modern celeb, Curry also has his own line of emoji.
Rumours swirl around former NBA point guard Baron Davis. Rumour has it that he’s poised to break out of the Development League (D-League) – where he landed after rehabbing for an injury sustained while playing for the Knicks in 2012 – and wind up back in the ‘real’ NBA.
If that doesn’t happen, and he ages out of the league, at least he has a solid fall-back in tech investment.
Back in 2014, the Delaware 87ers player – alongside Ashton Kutcher and former NFL player Joe Montana – was part of a $2m investment in online flower delivery service BloomThat. Davis also teamed up with Sean O’Brien (of EA Sports) to form mobile gaming company 5 Balloons Interactive, which appears to have just the one game – Getting Buckets.
In fact, Davis has a strong interest in digital media, evidenced by numerous investments in websites and YouTube channels, and his 2004 establishment of Verso Entertainment.
Standing at 7ft 1in, Shaquille O’Neal had a career in NBA spanning nearly 20 years, the majority of which was spent playing for the LA Lakers from 1996 until 2004.
A self-confessed geek, Shaq – as he is more commonly known – was one of Google’s earliest investors before it went public. In his post-retirement career, his eagerness to fund ventures reached new levels with a ‘Pitch Shaq’ pitchathon in 2013. Following the competition held at SXSW, O’Neal decided to invest in two tech companies: a video conferencing device manufacturer called Beam and a music app called Speakerfy.
One of Shaq’s latest VC funding acts was with stock market investing start-up Loyal3, where he now serves on the advisory board.
Despite being forced to retire from the game after just 11 years playing for teams including the Miami Heat, 43-year-old Jamal Mashburn has managed to establish himself as an accomplished businessperson with more than 80 franchises to his name.
However, the biggest move from ‘Monster Mash’ into VC funding and tech start-ups came with the co-founding of the firm Justice Mashburn Capital Partners in 2013. So far, its biggest investment was in software start-up LevelEleven in September of that year as part of a $2m funding round.
— Eddie Stutts (@ERStutts) July 2, 2016
Speaking with The Wall Street Journal in 2013, Mashburn told of his interest in funding bright, up-and-coming, high-tech companies. He also revealed how successful athletes are targeted as ‘dumb money’ investors for unworthy companies. Despite that, all of the above appear to be keeping their wits about them.
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Main basketball image via Shutterstock