NBA meets MBA: Players prep for post-playing careers in seminar
EVANSTON, Ill. -- For most NBA players, summer is a time to kick back and relax.
But for Quentin Richardson and a small group of his peers, the past four days haven't been about trips to the beach, video games or hanging out with friends.
Richardson and six fellow players have spent the better part of eight hours a day in a classroom at Northwestern University outside Chicago, listening to lectures on topics such as Negotiations, Building Your Brand, Franchising and Value Creation.
"It sounds kind of boring, but it's really not," the Knicks' swingman said of the High Growth Entrepreneurship Program (HGEP), an MBA-like seminar for players who want to expand their business acumen for life after basketball. "There's a lot of interaction and discussion.
"As pro athletes, we're approached all the time with people saying, 'You can do this or that, just give me the money.' Now maybe we'll be a little better equipped to handle the situation, to know whether the person is serious or not, or whether they have really thought it through to see if it really makes sense."
Developed by the NBA Players' Association (NBPA), the HGEP brings together players and reps from the NBPA for a crash course on business taught by professors from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. This year's program, which ran Sunday through Wednesday, included Maceo Baston (Pacers), Jeff Foster (Pacers), Adrian Griffin (Oklahoma City), Desmond Mason (Bucks), Zaza Pachulia (Hawks) and Austin Croshere (free agent), in addition to Richardson.
Held the previous two years at Stanford University, another top business school, the HGEP is no Basket Weaving 101.
It involves four days of intense classes, with two of the days running from 8:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. The university provides meals and a room for those who need them. There is also access to a fitness center and basketball court for workouts in between class sessions.
But fair warning to those ESPN-obsessed athletes who choose to stay on campus: The rooms don't have TVs.
"It's a little like being on a cruise ship," joked Foster, who drove up to Chicago from Indianapolis along with former Pacers teammate Croshere. "You spend the whole time in one place, but the food's pretty good."
Foster signed up for this year's event after learning about it from NBPA officials during a preseason meeting with the Pacers last year. At age 31, the 6-foot-10 forward-center is beginning to see the end of his NBA road. By learning some of the finer points now, Foster feels he will be better equipped to find a fulfilling life after basketball.
"I've been approached in the past about [business deals]," he said. "But I never really had the time to look into them in depth. This gives you at least a little background to help you understand, and maybe know what you might be getting into in the future."
During Tuesday's lecture on Franchising, a discussion about the various pros and cons of franchise ownership -- including the rise of McDonald's and the fall of Krispy Kreme -- had players engaged throughout the entire hour-and-a-half class. Mason talked about how he had been approached about potentially owning a fast-food franchise. The players, dressed in long pants and collared shirts that would make David Stern proud, took it all in with the same seriousness they might a film sessions with a Pat Riley or a Phil Jackson.
"I understand that it's a big sacrifice for an NBA player to give up three or four days of your summer," said former player Antonio Davis, who helps run the program through the NBPA. "But I try to tell the guys, 'Look, the stuff you will learn here could save you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, down the road.'
"You can have your agent, or your accountant, or your financial adviser. But ultimately, you want to be the one making the decisions."
Toward that end, the HGEP goes well beyond the basics that might be offered in, say, a rookie orientation session. Modeled after a similar program run the past four years by the NFL, it is not about balancing checkbooks. It is a serious review of the fundamentals of business.
"We don't dumb down anything," said Kellogg professor Steve Rogers, who developed the program for the NFL and now oversees the NBA version as well. "There is a template for pro athletes that might vary a bit from one you would use for corporate America, but it's basically the same. These are smart young men, same as other students, and they learn the material the same way."
Of course, "learning the same way" as a typical MBA student means spending lots of hours in a classroom. For players like Richardson, who admits to a tendency to "doze off" in such situations, it's not easy. Still, he says he has no regrets about spending the better part of a week cooped up indoors.
"Coming into the class, I didn't know what to expect. But I'm having a good time," he said. "It's been kind of eye-opening to think about all the ways this stuff might be helpful in the future.
"But I'll also be glad when it's over. I need to get back in the gym."