A CONVERSATION WITH...

How Baron Davis Made the NBA His Business School

From All-Star point guard to standout investor, learn how Baron Davis ascended the business world by taking notes and making moves during his basketball career.

As the nickname “B Diddy” alludes, Baron Davis has been around the world.

Born in South Central, Los Angeles and attending Crossroads High School in Santa Monica, the point guard prodigy leveraged his hoop skills early on to enrich his academic career and expand his social circle.

By his senior season, Davis had led his private school to national prominence, winning Gatorade and Parade Magazine Player of the Year awards and earning a McDonald’s All-American selection.

And his big splash in basketball instantly energized his marketing mind.

“I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was in high school,” Davis told Boardroom. “Once people saw I was good, I was trying to sign an apparel deal just to say I own a company. You start taking on this entrepreneurial spirit when there’s no one to guide you. A lot of being an entrepreneur is being a survivalist.”

Davis had come from nothing, and now everyone was now coming for him.

With Coach K and Roy Williams calling, Davis was in the midst of making his first major business decision. The California native stuck to his roots and enrolled at UCLA in 1997. Taking the reins on a loaded roster as a freshman, Davis quickly became the leader of the prolific program as it looked to regain the excellence established years ago by John Wooden.

Named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year in his debut and an All-American the next year, the world was quickly learning just who Baron Davis was. By his sophomore season, another entrepreneur, Jay-Z, was wearing Davis’s college jersey as he performed in front of a packed Thomas & Mack Arena on The Hard Knock Life Tour.

At only 20, Baron Davis had conquered the hoops scene in LA and made his name known nationwide.

What would Volume 2 of his career have in store?

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Making the NBA his MBA

In the spring of 1999, Davis declared for the NBA Draft and was selected third overall by the Charlotte Hornets. While that may have registered just as a jackpot for the average athlete, Davis looked at it differently.

Playing in Charlotte would be business school.

Quickly, the rookie point guard connected with former North Carolina State Senator Marshall Rauch, a man who’d serve as mentor and professor to Davis in his early days as a Hornet.

“He taught me finance, estate planning, stocks, bonds, and building a business,” Davis said. “It was like going to business school my first two years in Charlotte because I was hanging out with this old man who became one of my mentors, best friends, and my greatest business inspiration.”

Even as a 20-something superstar who had already achieved the dream of going pro, Davis’s mind was always on more than just basketball.

“Business was always something I thought about,” Davis said. “I was my own agent. I paid attention to everything from the superstars to the 10-day players to the veterans. I studied everything: players, systems, agents, and teams. I wanted to make a way for myself, I wanted to do it my way.”

When the Hornets moved from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002, Davis continued to build relationships that he could learn from and leverage outside of sports. He became close to Lil Wayne during the start of his Carter come-up and magical mixtape run while balling in The Big Easy.

By 2005, Davis took his talents to The Bay, leading the “We Believe Warriors” with Silicon Valley in his backyard all the while.

It was there that the artist formally known by B Diddy would soon take on a new nickname from his new teammates: Walt Disney.

The Imaginative Investor

Over the course of his career, the Walt Disney of the Warriors was big on off-kilter ideas, led by his entrepreneurial spirit. He was also cognizant of a sadder reality: that many athletes go broke.

Because of this, Davis was active early and often when it came to investing and having conversations with his NBA peers about making moves that would secure their cash flow in the future.

This ideology proves particularly true today for athletes approaching the end of their playing days.

Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

“I want to be their go-to guy,” Davis said on mentoring the next generation. “You’re retiring and want to figure it out? Come kick it for a few days and let’s get this thing right. It’s something I’m willing to share because I was active about doing the work while I was playing.”

Active may be an understatement.

“I went completely independent and built my whole operation from the ground up,” Davis said. “I’m always early on a lot of things, but I wish I would’ve known what I know now when I was in the NBA. I should’ve got into investing earlier. I should’ve built SLiC earlier. I believe we’re early adopters in crypto and it’s still early, but I wish I would’ve gotten into the gaming space a lot earlier.”

This type of insight is invaluable for players looking to build a successful bridge into business after their playing careers.

When it comes to this knowledge, Davis isn’t just talking the talk to Boardroom, he’s sharing this intel all the time.

“Any conversation I’m having with an athlete sharing deal-flow is a joy,” Davis said. “To see these young dudes taking equity in companies now, understanding their worth and understanding their dollar? I think this whole new culture of athletes is starting to understand their value and their worth, doing these sophisticated deals to give themselves an opportunity for upside.”

The opportunity for upside is incredibly lucrative for those that are currently playing in the NBA.

For consideration, the average NBA salary is right around $8 million. With this in mind, Davis has an easy suggestion on how pro players can get their feet wet in investing.

“Take $25,000 and try to invest or start a company,” Davis suggested. “Use that as a case study to find out what you want to do and if you’re good at it. Take the risk because you can’t learn unless you dive in. Invest in yourself and take the risk by thinking of every investment as betting on yourself.”

Still Striving

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Environmental Media Association

These days, the imaginative hoop prodigy from South Central is leaning into the same creativity he once used to confuse defenses to build businesses that will uplift his portfolio and community.

“We wanted to build a portfolio of what the world looked like,” Davis said, speaking on investing in businesses that elevate people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. “A non-negotiable for me is if you’re not inclusive. I’ll look at your whole team, your board, your investors, and if you don’t have diversity? We’re out. But if you’re willing, we can help you.”

While Davis learned from senators and artists during his early days in the NBA, he currently cites Steve Luczo of Seagate fame and Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis as active mentors.

“They saw something in me young,” Davis said. “They invested in my mind and challenged me to think outside the box. You want people around you like that. You’ve got to respond to the people that respond to you.”

When it comes to investing, Davis takes the lessons learned from Luczo and Kartsotis as his own approach and the strategy he shares with others.

“The best advice I got was invest in the people,” Davis said. “If you believe in that CEO or founder? Invest in them because it’s the relationships with the people as much as it making money or being opportunistic.”

In 2022, Davis’s investment playbook comes down to a mix between curiosity and calendar.

Always on the hunt for new ventures, the man behind Slic and History of the Game is always looking to diversify and expand.

“I put myself on a schedule and a budget,” Davis said. “The way I operate is moving around through the calendar knowing that at the end of this quarter, here are the 25 to 30 companies we like and we can invest in five. If it’s an app I’m addicted to? I’m probably going to invest in it. I’m an addicted user when it’s something I really love.”

As of late, Davis is doing his part to dive into the emerging world of Web3.

Recently, he joined forces with Dusty Baker’s Turn2 Equity Partners to form Playrs Holdings, a venture that will fund content creation, share resources, and maximize operational efficiencies.

This new world of ownership and content creation has already been good for the man who just celebrated Christmas with a successful NFT launch.

“We dropped Black Santa’s NFTs over the holidays and it was the first time a person of color sold out in that short of time, I believe it was 14 minutes,” Davis said. “We decided that throughout the year we’re going to service this audience and build all the tools that you need. We’re thinking about Web3 and crypto as an industry and how [to] bring in athletes, people of color, and women into this space so we can close some of these gaps.”

From Top Shot highlights in Oracle Arena to imagining his own Fantasia, Davis believes Web3 has the chance to empower those often left out of big business deals while allowing creative minds like himself to vacation instantly to wherever the metaverse allows.

“Web3 is going to give you the opportunity to be where you want, whenever you want to,” Davis said. “Web3 and blockchain is going to be this opportunity to take ownership of the value they’ve created.”

From South Central to the metaverse, there’s no telling where Baron Davis is going.

One thing is for certain: When it comes to business, he knows where it all started.

“Basketball was my entrepreneurial startup.”

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