This company wants to turn NBA millionaires into tech investors

Posted at 10:14 AM, Jun 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-30 12:59:13-04

From the outside it looks like an ornate, manicured church. But inside, uniformed attendants appear from behind the doors and usher visitors toward a coat check. Propped on small ledges high above the main room, six lifelike collared bears create an almost unsettling atmosphere as they lean toward the people below, pulling against the chains that tether them to the wall. It’s clear this is no longer a religious house of worship.

It’s here in the St. Joseph’s Art Society that Andre Iguodala, a 15-year NBA veteran and burgeoning tech investor, was celebrated in an after-party for the third annual Players Technology Summit on Thursday night. (The summit is presented by Bloomberg and Iguodala is a co-host.)

The event for Iguodala, a member of the Golden State Warriors, had brought together a mix of CEOs, professional athletes and select members of the Bay Area tech scene, including entrepreneurs Hosain Rahman and Jeff Fowler. The music was loud, alcohol was passed around by the trayful, and people from different industries mingled freelyt.

It’s all part of Iguodala’s work to use technology investments to bridge the gap between the world inhabited by his fellow athletes and that of the business elite. There are many well documented cases of superstar athletes winding up broke due tobad financial decisionsor being taken advantage of by their advisers.

He gives investment advice to NBA players, most of whom are very young and unsure of what to do with their millions of dollars. That includes introducing them to VCs and startup founders.

The evening’s host and Iguodala’s business partner, Rudy Cline-Thomas, is also the founder of Mastry, a venture capital firm founded in 2014 that invests in a range of tech start-ups, including shoe maker Allbirds, mattress company Casper and software company PagerDuty. Its website is sparse with just an email address and a phone number, giving the company a need-to-know feel.

Boston Celtics player Jaylen Brown, 22, is in the know and eager to learn more. The first time he attended the conference he sat in the back row with a pen and notepad.

“Technology is the future,” he told CNN Business. “It’s always been the forefront of change in America.”

His current NBA contract is worth over $21 million, but he realizes the importance of starting to make investments early on.

“A lot of the owners that are in the NBA, they got their money through things we’re talking about today at the tech conference,” he told CNN Business. “We split the basketball related income 50-50 right now. [The NBA] makes about $8 billion roughly a year, so you have 40 owners splitting $4 billion and 450 players splitting the other.”

Not long ago, Iguodala was on the other side of the conversation, according to Thomas, who used to be his financial adviser.

“He was the guy that listened,” Cline-Thomas told CNN Business. “I had a bunch of clients and he’s the one that listened the most and had these types of interests.”

Thomas, whose parents immigrated to the US from West Africa, said his time advising pro athletes helped him realize what they were missing.

“They don’t have the education to maximize the position that they are in in society,” Thomas said. “I think it’s up to me, given my background and what I’ve learned, to let them see the world differently and maximize their potential. … Tech is just the first segment in doing that.”

Iguodala isn’t the only Warrior taking advantage of the close proximity to Silicon Valley. Kevin Durant has also made a name for himself by investing heavily in the tech space.

Among the businesspeople and pro athletes at the event was a surprise special guest: Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five. The men, who as boys were convicted and later exonerated of raping and beating a white female jogger the park, have gained renewed attention with the premiere of Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series, “When They See Us.”

Salaam — who posed for photos with Iguodala — serves as a reminder of something else the NBA star is trying to do: remove obstacles for people of color.

“My intentions are always, for my people, to spread that knowledge and put us in a better place,” he said. “If you could just leave a trail behind — what that could do for the next generation.”