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Flau’jae Johnson & Deja Kelly: Turning NIL into Generational Wealth

The college basketball stars and budding entrepreneurs discuss their equity investments in Bazooka Candy Brands and using NIL for lasting, sustainable wealth.

While candy was a major topic of conversation, college basketball stars Flau’Jae Johnson of LSU and Deja Kelly of UNC are successfully pursuing an extremely healthy financial future while still in school.

Johnson and Kelly are among a bunch of Patricof Co clients who recently acquired equity stakes in Bazooka Candy Brands, the iconic company behind Bazooka bubble gum, Ring Pops, and Push Pops. It’s Johnson’s first equity investment, proof that NIL can drive lasting, generational wealth and not just fleeting endorsement deals. Or as Kelly put it, adding value to the boardroom, not just billboards.

“It’s a really beautiful thing how we’re able to really profit right off our name, image, and likeness, but being an entrepreneur takes it another step further,” Johnson, a 20-year-old rising junior, told Boardroom. “It’s not just making money and profit but actually making the money make money for you, you know what I’m saying? And I believe that should be the next step in NIL after the money, after the deals; setting yourself for the next years of your life. I always tell people, you only really get four years, and NIL is a really small window. So to be able to make investments and be smart with your money, now you don’t have to wait until after NIL.”

Kelly, a 22-year-old who is Oregon-bound after a successful run at UNC, has a portfolio of venture capital, private equity, and real estate thanks to NIL. She’s now looking to take her entrepreneurial growth to the next level.

“I already have some equity in a few companies, so we’re ahead of the game now,” Kelly told Boardroom, “so just continuing to build off of that will definitely put me on the right track to just continue to be a big part of the business world.”

For student athletes still in their teens and early twenties, having the right advisors and financially savvy support system around them is crucial, helping them balance schoolwork, basketball, and their flourishing business pursuits. For Kelly and Johnson, their teams include their respective moms and the team at Patricof Co. Johnson, whose portfolio includes land and real estate, likes to invest at her own pace and loves being hands on with the companies and products she puts her name behind. Kelly likes how her team helps research investments and helps her learn throughout the process rather than just take care of everything for her, helping her make more informed future decisions.

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Johnson and Kelly are now part of a generation leading historic, seismic growth in women’s sports and women’s basketball. Both feel obligated to leave the sport better for the next generation than it was when they entered school.

“I remember being that young girl, looking up to the college players and W players, watching them thrive and wanting to be them one day,” Kelly said. “And now that I am, being able to see that perspective in a different lens definitely helps me serve in the way that in helping grow and give back to the younger generations is a big focus of mine.”

And while Johnson and Kelly are playing in college, the WNBA appears to be making effort to improve the league for when they join the W. As of next week, all 12 teams will have charter flights for every game. The Golden State Valkyries will enter the league in 2025, a team in Toronto is likely to arrive in 2026, and the league expects to expand to 16 teams by 2028. This will provide desperately needed roster spots for a huge talent pool seriously lacking in a place to call home.

“I’m really sick of watching the draft and some of my favorite players from college are going to the W and they’re getting cut. And you’re not able to watch that growth and development off the rip,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of lame because you see in the NBA, they actually give these players a chance to be developed. But I believe that before we know it, we’re going to see a lot more opportunities for women to get more time in the W. And that’s why these expansion teams are so important.”

The more roster spots there are, Johnson said, the more financial, promotional, and marketing opportunities there will be for the young women of the W. Kelly is bullish on expansion as well as investment in the game for corporations as well as big name athletes like Dwyane Wade.

Both of Bazooka Candy Brand’s newest owners are proud of the progress the sport has made in recent years, allowing the ladies to be multi-faceted, multi-hyphenate entrepreneurs. And while this investment focuses on sugary snacks, it certainly hasn’t spoiled their appetites for a lasting, lucrative financial future.

Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.

About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.