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Elevating the Game With Avery Johnson Jr.

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
The entrepreneur and athlete representative speaks with Boardroom about building a winning business, working with Devin Booker and Kyler Murray, and much more.

Avery Johnson Jr. went everywhere with his father, a former NBA player and head coach with the Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn Nets, and the University of Alabama. For Johnson, basketball was always his No. 1 love — but even at a young age, he felt he had a knack for business as he worked in various roles with his father’s teams, networked with all sorts of players/personnel, and later found his calling as an athlete manager. 

Johnson played D-I ball at Texas A&M before finishing with the Crimson Tide, but as he told Boardroom, he didn’t have his sights set on playing or coaching in the NBA — he wanted to run his own business. Plain and simple.

Based in Arizona, he struck up relationships with two of the biggest pro athletes in the state in Suns star Devin Booker and Cardinals QB Kyler Murray and was able to leverage that momentum into his first business venture.

When he graduated from Alabama with a master’s degree in sports business management, Book hired him to be his day-to-day manager while Murray put him on to spearhead his management and brand activations. That fueled him to launch his own business Elevate Global which focuses on negotiating, marketing and brand representation, and business development, among several other hats he wears in building his self-funded company.

Booker, a three-time NBA All-Star, went as far to say that “[Avery] was always a step ahead of everybody his age. He’s on the route to do big things. He already has. He’s somebody that his ear is always to the street. He’s always on the road. He knows what’s going on.”

Not a bad vote of confidence.

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Work ethic and hustle are are irreplaceable, but it’s ultimately relationships and results that got him here. Boardroom sat down with the 27-year-old entrepreneur to discuss his business, vision, innovation, relationships with Book and Murray, and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ANTHONY PUCCIO: Walk me through Elevate Global and how it came to be.

AVERY JOHNSON JR.: I played at Alabama and graduated there for my master’s and then after, you know, the NBA or overseas wasn’t the route I wanted to take. So I moved to Phoenix and started working with Devin Booker day to day in management, which helped me learn a lot of things in business — moving around, behind the scenes, working with a player. Obviously, I have a basketball background in my family, so I knew some things already. Then, I linked up with Kyler Murray, who I knew back in the day. He got drafted to the Cardinals, and then he hired me to run his brand and be his manager. 

Once I was with those two guys, I learned a ton and decided I wanted to expand my network. Last year I thought, ‘I wanna make my own entertainment company and I still wanna work with the guys I work with.’ Currently, I’m working with Book on different ventures, including the 40 Love restaurant that just opened in Phoenix, and I still do full-time work with Kyler Murray. But with all my connections, I wanna go work with other players and sign guys — whether they’re on-the-court or off-court talent.

From there, I launched Elevate Global. We have NFL agents, signed four guys this year for on and off-court and off-field representation [Chris Murray, Troy Brown, KD Davis, Andre Harris], so it was a good first class for us and now we’re expanding out, figuring out what we wanna do on the NBA side with NBA agents. In my role as a president and CEO, having a staff, I just wanted to expand. You know, things people don’t see — being in rooms with different families and showing them what I’m building. I didn’t want to always just work for players directly, sure I’m still doing that, but having my own entertainment company that I can house all my connections, brand, and ventures into one and build from there.

AP: How’d you originally link up with Book and Kyler?

AJ: When I moved to Phoenix, Book hired me as his day-to-day guy, so I did that for a couple years, and then it turned into business development, where we’re doing different investments together. As for Kyler, I’m still running his brand and doing all his endorsement deals in marketing. I met him back in the day in Dallas. We got close, stayed in touch, and once he moved to Phoenix — I was already out here doing my thing with Book, so I think it just made sense to go work with Kyler too. We’re talking about two of the biggest athletes in Arizona, obviously KD’s here now among others, but at the time, it was two up-and-coming athletes around my age who helped me get my foot in the door in different capacities and helped set me up for a big future.

I had talked to Book about [Elevate] during college, actually. I was in my senior year when I wanted to jump into the sports business realm, so just talking to him, moving to Phoenix — he put me on. He let people know I was moving around with him, doing business behind the scenes. It just made sense for us to collaborate. Now, with Book, my main focus becomes investments like our 40 Love Restaurant venture.

With Kyler, my main focus is expanding his brand, showcasing what he’s doing, finding more endorsements, and handling all that for him. I like to have my own niche created with them, and now, I’m expanding that out and empowering an NFL agent underneath me to go out and get these four guys we got. It was great seeing what we did in our first year and how we’re going to expand in the next couple years with NBA and NFL guys.

AP: What’s a day in the life of Avery Johnson Jr. look like?

AJ: I’m on Zooms and calls all day. But sometimes it’s a travel day and I have to go recruit, meet with a family, link with them, pitch the plan. It all really depends but it’s a lot of Zoom calls, in-person meetings, trips to LA, and really just doing a bunch of different things in entertainment. I got involved in a couple new ventures, one called Flourish Hydration that’s gonna drop later this year. We’ve got a couple of big-name influencers that’ll be announced at a later date, so it changes every day.

If Kyler has an appearance like a shoot, then obviously I’m handling that. Book always tells me, ‘Damn, you’re on your phone a lot,’ and that’s just because it’s what I gotta do. But just being with those guys really gave me experience handling new things, sourcing different investments, marketing, maintaining, and expanding out the Elevate Global Brand because we’re moving fast. 

AP: Would you consider Book and Kyler mentors?

AJ: Yeah. At the end of the day, it’s amazing to see where they are and where they’re going. I’ve known these guys since middle school, known ‘em both for a long time, so it’s been nice following their past over the years from middle school through college, keeping in touch with them, and having a friendship.

Even seeing how they’ve explored — Book’s already had multiple contracts and Kyler just got the max. It takes a lot of trust from them to have me around this long and working with them on different ventures, allowing me to invest their money into different deals. And that trust, you know, it helped me expand my entire business because I can say that I’ve worked with Kyler Murray over the past couple years. I can say I’ve worked with D-Book the last couple years. I think that’s a pretty good start at 27 and I’m blessed to be with these guys for the long run.

AP: What was it first like dealing with those guys and seeing how they trusted you with investments?

AJ: I’m very thankful to my dad because thanks to him, I’ve been around this stuff for a long time. I’ve been in NBA locker rooms since I was a little kid. I used to travel with the Mavericks and I used to work with them at a paid intern level. I also worked with the Brooklyn Nets [in a similar capacity].

All of it was really about gaining and gathering that experience, not to mention me playing at a high level with NIKE, EYBL, and college ball. I had a lot of different experiences in the industry. But with [Book and Kyler], I’ve been with these guys before they were popping, so it wasn’t really a thing where I just jumped in. I’ve known them and the business. I’m just trying to figure out what new ventures I can create, how I can use my network and my niche and what they want me to do and expand it. 

Book called this a long time ago. He said, ‘I don’t even think you’re gonna be an agent. I think you’re gonna work with different guys to put different deals together — do endorsements, do marketing on the sports business side.’ He always said this back in the day, so it’s cool that it’s happening now and I’m just getting started.

AP: You mention your dad. What advice has he given you along the way?

AJ: He always said to keep your network tight, keep your relationship tight, because you never know what you’re gonna need when you stop playing basketball. So, it wasn’t necessarily a thing where he said, ‘Hey, figure something out just in case [basketball] doesn’t work out.’ He always wanted me to keep playing and obviously, it was fun at Alabama and Texas A&M my first year, learning from guys like Alex Caruso and Danuel House.

AP: Why start a business? Why not coaching or broadcasting in hoops?

AJ: Everyone thought I was going into coaching. At the end of the day, I feel like I could be an agent, I could be a coach, I could be at the gym — there aren’t many people that have been around the NBA for 27 years — but really, it’s just my personality and networking skills.

I’m good with people, I’m good with parents, and I know how to handle meetings. I just always thought the coaching stuff is fine, eventually maybe going into a GM role, but I don’t really want to do that. I don’t want to be a sports agent, either; I want to work with agents and be on the business strategy side, help facilitate deals together and things like that, and I’m happy with that. I get to manage different companies, ventures, investments, handle endorsements, launch my own company that I can put major equity into like Flourish Hydration. 

AP: How has the game helped your entrepreneurial skills?

AJ: It gives you a team perspective. If you look at any of the top artists and players around the world, there’s always multiple people chipping in. So, working as a team and not trying to do everything yourself; learning how to relate to others, work together, and be a leader. 

AP: How big is your team at Elevate?

AJ: I have five people on my internal team, and then we’ll work with other people on a case-by-case basis between operations, NFL agents, and creative marketing. So, with 40 Love, we had to get operators, GM, nightclub GM, assistant GM, business development. Then, there’s chefs and cooks, floor managers, and so many more. It’s really about building the different teams around and overseeing each project, which I have major equity stakes into as well. 

AP: What are you most optimistic about?

AJ: I’m really excited to get these new ventures off the ground. Finding new deal flow, new deals for my guys, and continuing to expand.

I’m 24/7. I keep going. I’m always trying to get into the next deal and make a connection so I can help my guys and bring them new opportunities. And with that, I can excel and elevate in my own position with more work that I execute.

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About The Author
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio
Anthony Puccio is a former Staff Writer at Boardroom. Puccio has 10 years of experience in journalism and content creation, previously working for SB Nation, The Associated Press, New York Daily News, SNY, and Front Office Sports. In 2016, he received New York University's CCTOP scholarship and earned a bachelor's degree in Communications from St. John's University. He can be spotted a mile away thanks to his plaid suits and thick New York accent. Don't believe us? Check his Twitter @APooch.