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Evolving with the Times at the NBA’s Retired Players Association

Last Updated: January 31, 2022
The NBRPA has used the last few years to find new ways to grow, elevating its players and helping them reach fans.

As the NBA celebrates its 75th anniversary, the National Basketball Retired Players Association continues to evolve in parallel with the league as it marks its own 30th year.

What started as an advocacy group in 1992 led to a great benefits package from the league. Now, the organization is focused on what it needs to do for an extremely broad group of retired athletes, ranging from NBA players in their 20s to their 90s, former WNBA-ers, ABA alumni, and even the Harlem Globetrotters.

Led by CEO and president Scott Rochelle, an attorney and former agent, theNBRPA expanded into media in 2018 with Legends Media and Entertainment in the form of podcasts, quick-hitting social series, and YouTube videos — and it’s only grown since then. The organization has econtributed to annual tentpole events at All-Star Weekend and NBA Summer League where players of all stripes traditionally gather.

“We see ourselves as keepers of the game, keepers of history and in many ways originators of everything you see today,” Rochelle told Boardroom. “And so Legends Media Entertainment was developed as a way to centralize our storytelling, our impact on the game, and continue to tell it in a way that’s very easily digested by different types of basketball fans.”

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Initially, the NBRPA collected data and plenty of great stories on its athletes, but wasn’t putting them into accessible formats for fans, limiting reach and monetization. When the pandemic hit and everyone was at home, Rochelle saw a rare opportunity to change gears and really go full bore into podcasting and storytelling that the NBRPA owns and controls. That finally set the stage for pushing storytelling that was both relevant and resonant.

Tyler “Trill Withers” Johnson reaches a younger audience with his Legends Lounge podcast and Legends Live web series, and Hall of Fame NBA writer and TV analyst Peter Vecsey has a Hoop du Jour blog — named after the groundbreaking insider column he wrote at The New York Post — as well as a Hoop du Jour podcast.

“We wanna hear some of the things that’s not on your Wikipedia page,” Johnson said, “maybe a story or wild teammate, or something that happened overseas.”

Caron Butler, a two-time All-Star and NBA champion who’s now an assistant coach with the Miami Heat, sits on the NBRPA’s board of directors and appreciates Legends Media for being colorful, fun, and a faithful representation of what they’re all about.

“When you get those stories and those visuals out the former players’ mouths about the historic moments and their chapters in this game’s history, which you cannot tell the story about without mentioning them, I just think it’s legendary,” Butler said. “So we’re trying to build off that and grow that.”

Another way the NBRPA is trying to build and grow is through NFTs. While NBA Top Shot was putting up crazy numbers during the heavier days of the pandemic, many of Rochelle’s conversations with digital advertisers were about non-fungible tokens, so he started talking to crypto marketplace ARIA Exchange about how to take advantage of the growing trend, and signed a long-term deal to make NFTs for the retired athletes he serves.

This platform granted 1,500 members the access and support to monetize their accomplishments and boost their digital footprints and marketing values.

“We’re really happy about the work that’s being done there, because we know that it’s not just gonna help the top 50 guys,” Rochelle said.

Through their individual program, Rochelle said that right now, revenue generation is in the seven figures and growing. A group licensing deal with the NBA allows the organization to maximize its value globally through video games and licensed apparel, so Top Shot was always a natural fit to get more involved with over time.

“It was nice for our players to feel as if they were really a part of it to know that this is a deal that could involve them,” Rochelle said. “And with whatever marketing value they have, could come to the table and find a way to really benefit from the deal that’s being brokered.”

Retired NBA All-Star and Miami Heat assistant coach Caron Butler sits on the NBRPA’s board. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

TheNBRPA has also benefitted from the growth of WNBA players in its membership group, adding value across the board. Now, when the organization pitches different partnerships and programs, it’s with 50/50 representation between man and woman athletes.

“And more times than not,” Rochelle said, “we spend a lot of time talking about the [WNBA] players and how we can get them involved. How they can bring real value to a partnership.”

Johnson sees a ton of potential in where Legends Media can grow over time, with their regular series supplemented by periodic tentpole events. Butler believes it’s a welcome site and location for players who still want to be part of the NBA family even after their playing days are over.

“We’re getting younger,” Butler said. “We’re seeing guys still actively involved in the Association, still have a foot in the game and one foot in the door of our membership. And that brings a tremendous amount of value to everything that we’re doing.”

“We want everyone to see the success that retired players are having across business, their coaching success, through educational and career development,” Rochelle said. “All those different things really paint a full picture of what a retired player looks like.”

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.