Startups

The Startups NBA Stars Are Investing In

It appears that more and more National Basketball Association players are getting into the venture funding game with the goal of taking startups to the next level. And it’s not an entirely new phenomenon.

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NBA Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson reportedly owns a major share of the Los Angeles Dodgers and several Burger King, Starbucks, T.G.I. Friday’s, and 24 Hour Fitness franchises. In 2011, Johnson was named a general partner of the Detroit Venture Partners fund. He also serves as CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, which dabbles in a variety of sectors, according to the company’s Crunchbase profile.

And he’s not the only one.

Retired NBA player Shaquille O’ Neall was early to invest in some major tech companies. His track record includes having been an early investor in Google and scooping up pre-IPO stock in Uber and Lyft.

In 2016, he told Yahoo Finance a little about his investment philosophy:

“First of all, I listen to everybody’s pitch. I like to look in your eyes. I like to listen to the passion in your voice. I try to understand what it is. You have to demonstrate that it works. I know I’m getting all the credit, and it’s cool. But you can never win championships without your team. And the greatest of leaders are the ones smart enough to hire people smarter than them.”

Kiva Dickinson, a partner at CircleUp Growth Partners, has co-invested with some athletes (although not necessarily NBA players) on funding rounds and is bullish on the practice.

“Overall, we believe that athletes can certainly add a lot of value and validity to any company they get behind. They can be highly credible influencers when it comes to which functional products work or which products are generally good for you,” Dickinson told Crunchbase News via email. “Furthermore, they have strong communities and can introduce a product to their fans in a unique and genuine way. Adam Eaton, outfielder for the Washington Nationals, did a great job of this when he recently invested in Liquid I.V., a portfolio company.”

Earlier this year, tech giant Intel teamed up with the NBA to create the NBA + Intel Capital Emerging Technology Investment Initiative. The brands pledged to jointly evaluate global technology startups for potential investment and commercial collaboration in a multiyear program.

For this piece, we’ll take a quick look at some current NBA player investors and what companies they’re putting their money into:

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony (who recently signed to play with the Houston Rockets) is a co-founder and partner of Melo7 Tech Partners LLC, which invests in early-stage digital media, consumer internet, and technology ventures. In 2016, he partnered with former media exec Stuart Goldfarb to form Melo7.

At the time, he told TechCrunch: “The money is enticing, but it’s also the thrill of being involved with businesses and companies that’s changing the world today.”

Over the years, Melo7 has made more than two dozen investments, including funding startups such as mattress e-tailer Casper, Hullabalu, a children’s media company, and Lyft.

Andre Iguodala

Golden State Warriors swingman Andre Iguodala is making a name for himself beyond just being on a playoff-winning team. From the time he joined the Warriors in 2013 through August 2017, the NBA player and his business partner Rudy Cline-Thomas amassed stakes ranging from $25,000 to $150,000 in about 25 startups, including Casper, NerdWallet, and Taft, a direct to consumer footwear company.

The pair has reportedly invested alongside venture heavyweight Andreessen Horowitz, who declined to comment for this piece citing not enough time before my deadline.

Iguodala also serves as an advisor to Twice, an online clothing retail store.

According to Bloomberg, it took a little while for Iguodala to be taken seriously in the venture world.

Reportedly, Andreessen General Partner Jeff Jordan was initially skeptical when he got a request from Cline-Thomas to meet with Iguodala. But the trio ended up getting together to discuss how Iguodala could go from investing in stocks to investing in startups.

“He wanted to understand the early stage,” Jordan told Bloomberg. “The first thing an athlete arriving in Silicon Valley needs to know is that startups are a great way to lose money….It’s got to be money you are willing to lose. Even in the best-performing venture funds, over half of the companies don’t return capital.”

Stephen Curry

Some may be surprised to know that another well-known Warriors player, Stephen Curry, is also an investor and an entrepreneur.

While he isn’t affiliated with a particular firm, Curry is slowly making a name for himself in the venture world.

He reportedly has a small stake in Pinterest, and he co-founded a marketing startup called Slyce. According to his Crunchbase profile, he has also invested in e-commerce startup Brandless and a gaming organization called TeamSoloMid that recently raised $37 million.

Last year, Curry and Iguodala decided to go beyond just investing. The pair announced the launch of The Players Technology Summit, which seeks to intersect professional sports with venture capital.

iStockPhoto / jamieroach

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