THE GAME JUST STARTED
Hey <<First Name>>,
Fresh off a month in which the NBA paid free agents a record $3B+ in contracts, several events this week marked a potentially significant paradigm shift converting the accumulated wealth and influence of black athletes in sports into real power. Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Morgan retired to launch a $200M Opportunity Zone Fund, Houston Rockets James Harden bought a stake in the MLS Houston Dynamo, LeBron James’ agency merged with U.T.A., Andre Iguodala was anointed a New York Times Best Selling Author, and Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown started an MIT Fellowship.
Thirteen years ago, New York Times columnist William Rhoden wrote the provocative and controversial novel Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. In the book, he goes to great lengths to show that for all their money, fame and achievement, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industries their talent built.
Many wonder why it’s taken professional athletes this long to understand their reach and potential as businessmen. Certain cultural shifts have taken place that has helped athletes to understand the opportunities they have to exercise their influence beyond the game.
The seeds were planted by Michael Jordan and the cultural phenomenon he’s built with Nike and profited handsomely from. But it was Jay Z who has made the essence of seeking and maximizing business opportunities aspirational. He made it the blueprint for the African American culture. The aspirational context of business delivered in his music birthed a curiosity. Now the education is taking place to execute.
From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. Unfortunately, the education hasn’t been in place to teach these athletes HOW to extend that influence beyond the game. Since the beginning of time, African American athletes have never been surrounded by business professionals who understood the social impact they could achieve using their earnings and influence in business.
These crowning achievements are creating examples and templates to educate and empower more athletes than ever before. Now, the glorification of how much money Mike Tyson lost, or how “broke” athletes are after their playing days are over won’t be the overwhelming narrative in the context of athletes and business.
It’s possible we’re seeing the beginning of a cultural shift that will radically change the business landscape and withstand the test of time. Seeds have been planted and they will undoubtedly redefine what integration means for the modern black athlete.
A couple of us picked up that book Mr. Rhoden, and we heard you loud and clear...