Anyone can be a basketball influencer, right? Well, it’s not that simple — learn how companies like Long Haul Management support content creators including the AND1 alum, TJass, and Pika.
If you ask Grayson Boucher — more commonly known by most as The Professor from his AND1 Mixtape days — how business is going in 2023, versus back then, he’ll be quick with an answer.
“My business nowadays is way bigger than it was with AND1. It’s six figures, now multi-sevens. I don’t mind saying that on the regular. It’s game-changing,” Boucher said.
“And a lot of that does have to do with management.”
The Professor isn’t new to making money, as he said in an appearance on Sole Collector’s “Full Size Run” show a few years ago that he brought in a few million dollars for his time on the AND1 Tour. Also an aspiring actor, Boucher has performed or made cameos off the court in several movies.
But it wasn’t until The Professor dove into the digital basketball influencer world head-first that he realized how much effort and time goes into doing this sort of thing full-time.
It was the same feeling that Tristan Jass and Dipika Dutt — better known as TJass and Pika — both experienced when they began to find their own success in the space.
Enter Long Haul Management.
Founded in 2013, Long Haul is a talent management company that represents a wide range of content creators, including a particular focus on the gaming and sports communities. In addition to Grayson, Tristan, and Dipika, Long Haul represents some of the most well-known creators in the business, including D’Vontay Friga, CashNasty, and Jamad Fiin, despite boasting a staff of just 12 employees.
The company existed well before the COVID-19 pandemic, but CEO and Founder Dan Levitt said that 2020 marked when things really started to pick up for the business. Even without raising investor capital, the company says it has been profitable from Day 1 and that, with the surge of demand for digital content during the height of pandemic lockdowns, Long Haul has seen double-digit revenue growth over the last few years.
“It starts with just having a great team and, 10 years in, we’ve built a great reputation for ourselves,” Levitt said, “Thankfully, because of the work that we’ve done both with our talent and brands, brands have had a good experience. So, they’re coming back to us for more.”
Boucher, Jass, and Dutt have all taken decidedly different paths to get to where they’re at today, but they are all connected through the hoop influencer community. They’re each under the Long Haul umbrella as well, and it’s paying off.
“It’s definitely the best,” says The Professor. “It’s probably the best management situation I’ve ever had, for sure.”
July 9, 2013 — that’s the day everything changed for Grayson Boucher.
As the AND1 Mixtape heyday was coming to a close, the hooper known far and wide as The Professor was looking for the next move after walking away from the tour in 2011. He took his talents to the Ball Up tour, another streetball circuit that featured familiar figures from AND1 like Bone Collector or Air Up There (and how could we forget Mr. 720?). However, despite an international tour that stopped in 10 different countries, the Ball Up experience didn’t last very long, leading Boucher back on the search for what could be next.
Not long before, he had landed on YouTube, creating a channel called “Professor Live” in 2009. He posted his highlights from in-game action and developed additional segments like “Move Monday” in hopes of garnering more views. The channel was only slowly developing an audience, however, and Boucher was getting desperate.
“I went broke,” he told Boardroom. “I started my YouTube channel because I was actually trying to flood YouTube to get booking opportunities ever since then.”
Boucher continued his posting until that fateful mid-summer day in 2013, when he decided to have some fun by dressing up as Spider-Man from head to toe, hitting up a local park, and giving some random hoopers the business with a few of those signature moves.
Of course, he had to record it, so he’d have something especially distinctive for his channel. He was not expecting it to blow up as much as it did — the viral video has now amassed over 43 million views since being posted a decade ago. His channel, which he had been operating since 2009, racked up over 100 million views overall thanks to the Spidey moment.
From there, The Professor never looked back. He capitalized on the popularity of the Spider-Man shtick by making it a series of crossing fools up and getting buckets. In turn, his channel’s audience kept getting bigger.
While Boucher has since hung up his Spidey suit, his popularity continued to grow over the last decade to the point that Professor Live now boasts over 7.6 million subscribers, the highest mark in the hoops influencer community. While that’s his largest following on any social media platform, let’s not dismiss Grayson’s 6.4 million followers on TikTok or 4.7 million on Instagram.
Boucher was no stranger to being recognized, but the sudden surge was still new for him and, quite frankly, too much all at once. As he now readily admits, The Professor still had a thing or two to learn about this new industry that he entered into without fully realizing what it entailed, but has grown to love.
“I never thought it would be like this, so I kind of fell into it, but it’s also crazy because the reason I even took a liking to YouTube is — what I actually said, I was like, ‘Man, this is like TV,'” he said. “I remember I did verbalize this. I said, ‘One day, it might be like TV. I mean, here we are, the No. 1 streaming platform. It’s crazy.”
While Boucher has the kind of talent and charisma that reach far and wide, he also knows he wouldn’t be here if not for Dan Levitt and Co. at Long Haul. The Professor had it all figured out on the creative side, in terms of which content hits and doesn’t, but where he’s grown to be extremely grateful for his management team is particularly as it relates to branded campaigns.
Around the wide world of YouTube, the best of the best are those who work the hardest. For The Professor, the most-watched video on his channel tallied 83 million views. One could make a decent living off of moments like that, but if you aren’t “doing millions [of views] on the regular, that’s not gonna be an incredible living,” Boucher said.
“It’s a game-changer,” he added. “Everybody’s deal might be a little bit different, but for me, it’s really about digital campaigns, right? It’s digital campaigns and appearances. For me, it’s been amazing just to provide income. There’s a lot of times when I make more on the campaign side of things than I do on the viewership side of things. It’s really part of the grind.”
Being of who he is and with a platform that reaches millions, it’s not at all surprising to hear that brands and companies want to work with The Professor. But as Long Haul has learned, it’s about finding the right deals for each client, rather than simply maximizing short-term earnings.
“Just because of how long we’ve been doing it, we’re typically working with agencies that we’ve worked with in the past. They’ll come to us and say, ‘Hey, we’re now working with New Brand X. We think these creators that we’ve worked with for other brands are a fit,'” Levitt said. “If there’s a brand that makes a ton of sense for a specific creator, we’ll go and we’ll hunt and we’ll try to [develop a campaign.] Fortunately, the majority of the business is working with the same people for years, and that [list of people is] just growing.”
Sometimes, companies or brands will hit Boucher up directly on social media. In other cases, they’ll reach out to someone on his team who handles some of the bookings in conjunction with Long Haul. That’s the key — working together, a requirement for someone whose life is centered around a team game, even if often in an individual setting.
He may not have known it right away, but Dan and the team at Long Haul have been a perfect match for The Professor.
Setting the influencer landscape aside, Tristan Jass learned quickly that even at the amateur level, basketball is still a business.
Growing up a hooper, Jass was recruited to play college ball and had a few scholarship offers heading into his final year of high school in 2018. The NCAA, known eternally for keeping many dumb and unhelpful rules on the books, establishes specific “live” periods within which college coaches can have formal contact with recruits and “dead” periods in which they cannot.
In July of that year, a critical live period arrived right when Jass came down with mononucleosis.
“I was getting ready to perform. I was in the best shape of my life, getting ready to go into July and prove to a bunch of coaches who I am and how I could play,” Jass said. ” If I didn’t get mono, I might be playing college basketball somewhere right now, which is kind of crazy.”
Not only was Jass battling illness, but he also found out from this doctor’s visit that his spleen was enlarged. The doctor told Jass to stay out of action for the entirety of July 2018, therefore missing those opportunities to show out. Understanding how it works — “shit’s a business,” to hear him tell it — those potential scholarship offers went up in smoke shortly after.
Jass would still receive some interest, eventually committing to Ottawa University out of Surprise, Ariz. Being an NAIA school as opposed to an NCAA one, his thought was that perhaps he could make money as a social media personality while playing ball. So, during the summer ahead of his freshman year of college, Tristan and his friends decided to make a YouTube channel.
The YouTube star first went viral thanks to a video depicting himself making his teacher touch Earth with a nasty crossover.
From there, Jass decided to pivot full-time into the content creation game — so much so that despite operating the entire summer as if he was going to play college ball, he called up the head coach at Ottawa not long before his report date to tell him he was no longer coming at all.
As a kid who always had the dream of playing at that next level, this was a tough decision for the kid. But the business lessons “TJass” learned earlier in life helped him create his own future.
“I tell people all the time: It was the hardest decision of my life to not play college basketball, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Jass said.
As he fully immersed himself in the space, Tristan blew up. Following that viral clip, he quickly built a reputation for making ridiculous trick shots, from insane layups to off-the-wall buckets to bouncing it in from the concourses of arenas. He carved out a space early on in what has turned into a saturated market, building his brand to the point that his YouTube channel now has 4.75 million subscribers, with another 2.9 million on TikTok and 2.2 million on Instagram.
Having done everything himself in the past, it wasn’t hard for Jass to come up with ideas that would help him stick out, nor was it difficult for him and his team to handle the video production and promotional aspects of the process.
Similar to The Professor, the logistical side of things ended up being the hard part for Jass. Lucky for him, that’s Long Haul’s specialty.
“They’re bringing me brand deals. We’re now doing appearances for birthday parties, like out of the country. Like, this is getting crazy,” he said. “It’s nice too because they keep me really organized — they’re booking my flights, they’re getting car service to pick me up from my house to take me to the airport, car service is picking me up from the airport, taking me to the hotel after the flight. They keep me very organized, and they have a good, solid team of people.”
It’s not surprising that Long Haul has it together, even in an ever-changing space that requires flexibility.
Levitt proved that to Jass on Day 1.
It was 2018, and Jass was still very to this digital influencer world. He was still on the come-up, but managed to secure an invitation to that year’s NBA 3v3 event in Los Angeles. While taking in the hoops and brainstorming ideas for his next video, a seemingly random guy — Leavitt — came up to him and delivered his elevator pitch for signing with Long Haul.
“‘I’d like to manage you. I could bring you extra brand deals every year and I could put some extra money in your pocket,'” Jass recalls Levitt telling him. “But at the time, that is what everybody was saying to me. I had so many people telling me, ‘Oh, I could make you some extra money. Oh, we could work together.’ And I didn’t know who to trust. You know, I’m a kid.”
So, in an effort to stand out, Levitt decided to back up what he was offering without even a future commitment from Jass. Leavitt took Tristan to NBA All-Star Weekend that season in Charlotte, where the company had set up a slew of events and appearances for Jass to participate in.
Seeing what Long Haul was able to do for him in such a short amount of time, Jass labels that weekend as the “breakthrough moment” in his young career.
“I feel like that was the time when I was like, ‘Okay, I think Long Haul is the right people for me.”
Dipika Dutt — who goes by Pika on social platforms — was working for the state of California. Before officially wrapping up her degree from Cal State University-Sacramento, Dutt gained valuable experience as a program technician for the Secretary of State’s office.
“I was really gonna do like the state life, like the 9-to-5, and just have enough time to do my activities after, like outdoor league softball and stuff after I get off work. I was just chilling with that lifestyle,” she said.
Having a passion for hoops and the NBA 2K video game franchise, Pika was spending a good chunk of her free time on the sticks. She wasn’t shy about giving that work to her opponents online and ultimately decided to start recording some of her game clips and stream many of them on Twitch.
During the same period, COVID-19 was entering its peak stages, and similar to millions of others looking for something to do during the shutdown days, Dutt turned to TikTok. She started posting some of the viral dances — which she admittedly found “kind of weird” — but Pika quickly discovered that there was a strong appetite for 2K-specific videos on TikTok.
It was a natural marriage of passions.
As with anything, it took some time to get things off the ground, but after seeing some of her videos get picked up by bigger accounts like House of Highlights, Dutt started to wonder if she really could do this full-time.
“It was really tough, but I was so close to finishing school. I can’t just quit my job and do TikTok; that’s crazy,” she said. “I didn’t even know I could make money off of TikTok… Then, I got my first contract — it was for like $100 a day — and I was super hyped. I was like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ Then I quit my job, and I was just like, ‘Fuck it,’ you know?”
Once that decision was made, there was no turning back for Dutt. She used her 2K content to springboard into general hoops content, but things really took off for her when she decided to sign with Long Haul.
Like Grayson and Tristan, as Dipika got increasingly immersed in the content creation game, she knew there was money being left on the table and needed some assistance. Dissimilar to her counterparts since she lacked the cachet of a streetball legend or viral star, it was that much more important for Dutt to pick the right management team to help her grow.
On top of handling logistical considerations like flights and hotels, Long Haul has helped Dutt and its other clients recognize their true value in the streamer/creator marketplace.
“I really didn’t know I could be making enough to make a living until I started to actually work with Long Haul because I saw what they were offering [companies] for my rates, and I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve been low-balling so bad. Like, really bad,'” she said.
For someone like Pika, who has grown to the point that she was featured heavily in a number of events during 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City, maintaining those professional relationships while creating new ones — all of which have to make sense for Dipika — is really where having a company like Long Haul has paid dividends. Having already represented many folks in the space, Levitt and Co. have laid the groundwork to set up potential partnerships that will propel Dutt forward.
“I think that’s a really big thing is finding a management team or just a manager who knows your brand and wants to, like, find things that fit your brand because then it would translate well with your audience as well,” Pika said.
In It for the Long Haul
The Professor could have played professionally overseas. Maybe TJass, too, who, though he could have played NAIA college ball at the very least. Shoot, maybe Dipika could have become the Attorney General of California.
These are three content creators and basketball influencers who have experienced three very different paths to getting where they are today, but here they are all the same. None of them could have known the full gravity of what they were doing upon entering this influencing industry that sometimes seems like the Wild Wild West, but all of them have found a home in Long Haul.
“Nobody’s ever brought me in campaign deals like Long Haul,” The Professor said. “Dan and his team are awesome. I think part of it is because it’s internal; it’s like a family. But also, just the way they navigate business — they’re top-flight, man.”
And there’s nowhere to fly but higher.
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