In a conversation with Boardroom, the basketball iconoclast formerly known as Ron Artest and Metta World Peace discusses taking his trademark tenacity into the world of big tech.
On the 17th anniversary of the infamous Malice at The Palace, Metta Sandiford-Artest couldn’t be further away from that moment both physically and mentally.
The 42-year-old All-Star and NBA champion was in Abu Dhabi as part of Access Abu Dhabi, a program offering US companies and women and minority entrepreneurs the ability to fast-track their businesses’ growth in the Middle East. He joined the FinTech Abu Dhabi conference, engaging with business and government leaders and participating in a panel with former Manchester United star Patrice Evra about making the leap from entertainer to entrepreneur. Other attendees include Shark Tank‘s Kevin O’Leary, actor Hill Harper, and National Urban League President Marc Morial.
“It’s my first time in the Middle East, so this trip with Access Abu Dhabi’s inaugural envoy is really exciting,” Sandiford-Artest told Boardroom. “The program, founded by Sarah the Maven, who is a friend of mine, aligns with my business philosophy that everyone deserves a seat at the table. Learning about the city’s pro-business philosophy and meeting with the investors putting their capital to action has been an incredible opportunity and with my growing portfolio of tech investments, also a very productive one.”
Metta plans to promote his XvsX app, a tech platform for setting up pickup games and leagues for pro and former pro players who can then meet and network with pro players, agents, coaches, and scouts. As part of his effort to build a global community, notable participants have included Franklin Sessions, Nick Young, Chris Copeland, Ryan Hollins, Lou Amundson, Trinidad James, Bone Collector, and Brittany Elena.
“I want to be an elite tech company,” Metta said. “I’m not doing this to be a small tech company. I stopped coaching, I stopped everything for this. And I’m learning so much from so many different people.”
The Queensbridge native had plenty of ups and downs over a 17-year NBA career with the Bulls, Pacers, Kings, Rockets, Lakers, and Knicks, winning Defensive Player of the Year and the 2010 title with Los Angeles but also incurring suspensions and fines that negatively impacted his reputation, not to mention his widely discussed, heavily analyzed name-change from Ron Artest.
“When I was playing, basketball was not enough of an outlet, on top of not being ready when I first came into the league,” Sandiford-Artest said. “That’s kind of a recipe for an explosion, sort of. And that’s why you saw me not only getting in some issues, but also saw me being very creative with music.”
Artest tried to launch his own sneakers during his rookie season out of St. John’s when he was 19, not wanting to sign a traditional shoe deal at the time. He said he was frustrated by not having people around him who wanted to be entrepreneurial. But now, the 16th overall pick from the 1999 draft isn’t focused on what anyone thinks of him. Rather, he’s just trying to move forward with his life and where he’s at right now.
“Moving forward is really key,” Sandiford-Artest said. “When you talk about what I do now, I feel like I’m so creative.”
Now, he’s trying to continue to learn and empower people with his Artest Management Group, his Artest University 501 (C) 3, as well as different holdings and investments. But he’s still an avid follower of the NBA, still referring to the Lakers as “our” team.
“I love the Lakers. I feel like the Lakers helped me turn around my career,” he said. “I’m always rooting for the Lakers. They’re starting off slow. Our team is older, we’ve got a lot of legends. But I think the Lakers will be okay, but we’ve just gotta give it some time. You can’t expect this team to start off fast, but you can expect them to finish off strong.”
But his Purple and Gold affinity doesn’t mean he’s got no love for LA’s other team.
Though he’s currently rehabbing a torn ACL, Metta wishes he could have played like Clippers superstar Kawhi Leonard during his own career.
“Kawhi’s one of those guys that I feel that I kind of idolize his game,” he said.
Facebook obviously idolized Sandiford-Artest’s game in a sense as well when it changed its corporate name to Meta. He added the second T to his name, he said, to pay homage to Hinduism and Buddhism; when he saw what Facebook did, he said it brought a really big smile to his face.
“I thought wow, this is really cool because it shows that somebody’s really trying to take it to the next level,” Sandiford-Artest said. “So I’m really happy for Facebook.”
Now nearly five years after his final NBA game, Sandiford-Artest has big aspirations in building his businesses, trying to get more minority funding and involvement in his companies as he tries to show them his vision of innovation and partnerships in sports with XvsX.
Metta may not be able to rewrite the past, but he’s currently traveling the world to ensure a positive and lasting future and legacy as a CEO and entrepreneur.