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National Basketball Retired Players Association Expands Horizons With NASA Partnership

In collaboration with NASA, NBRPA members can now work with engineers to pursue the commercialization of patented technologies.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo credit: NBRPA

In its most recent innovative initiative, the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) has teamed up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center to create an entrepreneurship program for former players.

“You think about these former players — they’ve made it to the top of what they’ve done,” said Eric McGill, senior technology manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “They’re dedicated and hardworking. These folks are very smart people. They have that drive and the ability to work on teams, and the entrepreneurial industry is built on teams, with people from a variety of backgrounds.”

The partnership will pave the path for former NBA, WNBA, ABA, and Harlem Globetrotters players to work with NASA engineers and delve into the commercialization of patented NASA technologies.

“Professional athletes already leverage their likeness and celebrity and use that in their business dealings, so this is a good opportunity for them to learn about the technology first and foremost, and utilize it,” said Scott Rochelle, president & CEO of the NBRPA.

LISTEN: Rob Perez’s Journey from Ticketing Entrepreneur to NBA Personality

The connection between NASA and the NBRPA was established well before the implementation of this program; NASA has been involved in the NBRPA’s tech summits for years.

Additionally, former Globetrotter David Naves, who is also on the NBRPA board, has worked at NASA for more than a decade, so it was an organic partnership for the two organizations.

“We decided we needed to do more and formalize a program,” said Rochelle. “NASA had just done a program with the NFLPA, so we took something similar and applied it to our former players. Through the summer conference, we’ve connected players with the NASA reps through that informally, but now we’ll have an onboarding system.”

“We had a natural connection because of our relationship with NASA,” he added. “They have a keen interest of using their technology and getting it into the hands of entrepreneurs.”

On top of that preexisting relationship, McGill explained that the partnership takes advantage of the drive and resources of former players.

“We thought there would be way for our organization to work with the NBRPA and figure out a way that makes sense for us to engage them,” McGill said. “What we came up with is, in our field of technology commercialization, with the transfer of technology from federal labs, many people who want to license our inventions have problems raising capital, and it’s hard to find those first investors because it’s high risk… These guys [with the NBRPA] have resources that an average person wanting to start company might not have.”

The program itself will feature informational sessions and meetings with NASA engineers to pinpoint specific opportunities tailored to each former player’s interests.

“We’ll have workshops we’ll put on where they come in and get exposure to our portfolio and folks who’ve gone through the process and successfully licensed our technology,” McGill said. “We’ll plug them into the entrepreneurial ecosystem to show them how to be successful.”

The informative style of the program is ideal for the NBRPA’s diverse membership, according to Rochelle.

“The educational component will come with site visits to Goddard, seeing how NASA applies technology, and then it comes down to customizing business opportunities around existing technology that’s there,” Rochelle said. “It’s a better way to engage young people, and the older generation that’s learning how to operate it. Our membership goes from age 28 to 98, and technology is that one constant that almost everyone uses.”

Former players have already started to dip their toes into the program and utilize NASA’s technology.

“One of their members was interested in educational licensing for specific technology, so he’s building a curriculum for student-athletes, aimed at high school students, to stay plugged into more than just athletics, but their academics too,” McGill said. “So, he licensed technology from us to integrate into his curriculum.”

The program is open to former players who are experienced in the startup realm, as well as those looking to break in for the first time.

READ MORE: WNBA Teams Find Success Through Creative Partnerships 

“It’s for those thinking of getting in the business and those who have existing ventures,” Rochelle said. “They can all work within this new program.”

With that sense of inclusion in mind, the NBRPA has created a unique opportunity for former players, which is on par with the organization’s broader mission to continuously innovate.

“It’s very important because we’ve been operating for 26 years, and we have to maintain our relevance and stay up to speed,” Rochelle said. “The landscape for retired players has changed. We used to talk about financial literacy as the main thing. Now, we’re looking forward, putting them in positions for success as leaders in the entrepreneurial world. Now, we need to lead.”

“We expect to be in this space for a long time, no pun intended,” he added with a laugh.

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at bailey@frntofficesport.com.

Athletes In Business

McGregor Keeps Branching Out With Proper No. Twelve

Conor McGregor’s latest foray outside the octagon is his most ambitious — and perhaps authentic — idea yet: Irish whiskey.

Max Simpson

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Photo Credit: Proper No. Twelve

Conor McGregor has been a professional sports icon for years thanks to his work in a UFC octagon. But his outside ventures have played a major role in elevating him to a global star. In 2017, it was his cross-sport boxing match with Floyd Mayweather. In 2018, it was a clothing line with David August that includes hand-tailored suiting and luxury menswear. And, in 2019, it might be the most on-brand product of all for a proud Irishman — whiskey.

Proper No. Twelve, a distilled Irish whiskey brand, launched in September 17, 2018. The idea, however, was in place for years.

“Since his rise to stardom in MMA and beyond, Conor’s been approached by countless Irish whiskey brands asking him to endorse their product,” said Brian Axelrod, US Director at Proper No. Twelve and Eire Born Spirits. “Conor has nothing against endorsement deals, he participates in a few for brands he truly believes in and supports. But something about endorsing an Irish whiskey didn’t feel right to him. Conor wanted to make his own Irish whiskey.”

READ MORE: How Two Top Brands Market Products Via Partnership With NASCAR

McGregor and the Proper No. Twelve team decided to start wide, canvassing top distilleries across Ireland. They ultimately settled on one of the oldest, Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim,
which had a reputation for fresh water quality, a long record of top-notch product and a master distiller who previously worked for Guinness.

With McGregor’s vision and the distiller’s expertise, the two congregated with the rest of McGregor’s team to fine-tune the custom blend. McGregor and his team selected whiskey from hundreds of barrels, a months-long process. The end result was worth it: A complex flavor profile that but one that retained a smooth and approachable taste.

But McGregor funneled that same energy into promotion.  Shortly after launch, he also embarked on a cross-country trip of the United States, stopping in multiple cities each day to personally market the brand and product to fans. McGregor went everywhere from Conan to AT&T Stadium in Dallas for a Cowboys game.

Yet one of the less buzz-worthy meetings resonated most. During one of the final stops of the trip, McGregor and the Proper No. Twelve team visited the Boston Fire Department. McGregor shook each department member’s hand and later surprised them with World Series tickets to see their hometown team in action. According to Axelrod, the day owes itself to one person in particular.

“Visiting the Boston Fire Department was all Conor,” he said. “Everything we did was completely organic or by invite. Conor’s enthusiasm is contagious. People just want to be around him.”

READ MORE: How Professional Bull Riders Successfully Introduces Its Culture to New Audiences

While the tour may have ended, the brand’s growth is only beginning. McGregor frequently posts about the whiskey on his personal Twitter and Instagram to his near-38 million followers across both platforms. Axelrod, meanwhile, says the brand is targeting much bigger distribution and visibility. And, of course, what better time to start than this weekend?

“As for St. Paddy’s Day, you better start preparing now,” Axelrod said.

The party is just getting started if McGregor has his way.

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Athletes In Business

Former Pro Baseball Player Shows Value of Athletes In Data Tech World

Following seven years in baseball, Josh Wilkie transitioned to the tech world and now helps athletes understand data from products to prevent injuries.

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Photo credit: Athos

With ever-increasing amounts of analytics and data, it helps technology companies to have a former athlete on staff — just like Athos’ Josh Wilkie.

Wilkie, a former professional baseball player, joined the startup in June 2018 and has provided an inside look at how the company’s products integrate with an athlete. As regional director of team partnerships for Athos, Wilkie helps teams understand the benefits of the product: Compression shorts with embedded sensors.

“My mission with this company is getting players and elite athletes into these shorts and understand what movements they are doing that can put them at risk for injury and what they can do to prevent it,” said Wilkie, who spent seven seasons in the Washington Nationals’ organization from 2006 to 2013.

“This is a layer of muscular data that is different than what’s out there. When I was playing, there was zero technology and monitoring. It was just this workout and why, but there wasn’t a lot of why behind what we were doing.”

Wilkie ultimately ended his playing career because of a shoulder injury, which caused him to begin his search for another path. Always an early adopter of technology — he studied electronic music at George Washington University — from his earliest memories of Microsoft Encarta to tinkering with primitive Mp3 players, new technology was always interesting to him.

READ MORE: Former Athletes and Business: ‘The Breeze of Opportunity Is Always Blowing’

As he wrapped up his career, a friend living in San Francisco was an obvious move to get off the East Coast and into the tech mecca of the world.

He found his first technology job through Craigslist, before finding himself in an early stage startup. Eventually, he made the jump to Athos, a sports-based technology company Wilkie said couldn’t be a more perfect fit.

Wilkie has had several surgeries as a result of his baseball career and by using the product he now sells, he can get an idea of where his potential future issues are. He said a few months ago his knee was aching, so he looked at data, which said his left hamstring was taking on 70 percent of the load.

“Those are the things you can intervene on,” he said. “You alleviate it before it’s a real issue and nip an injury in the bud; align the tires.”

He plays an important role in a startup in helping clients understand how the technology works. A lot of the tech measuring data being put on the market really doesn’t help athletes much.

“It’s been eye-opening to see what’s possible and how much bull is out there,” he said. “It’s cool there’s all these numbers, but a lot of them are arbitrary and don’t mean much of anything. They just are spit at you.”

The former relief pitcher added, “Like your pitch rotation is XYZ, what do you actually do with that?”

Athos CEO Don Faul said there are certain backgrounds he likes employees to have to keep up with demands of a growing tech business, and an athlete fits the bill.

READ MORE: USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

“With an accomplished athlete background I know that means a strong work ethic, grit, smarts, a sense of teamwork, and equal parts confidence and humility,” Faul said. “Josh brings all of that and experience in another tech company. That’s a powerful combination that has made him an outstanding addition to Athos. 

“Josh was able to [have an impact] very quickly as his background prepared him so well for this opportunity, and that alignment will enable him to continue to grow his impact at Athos.” 

Wilkie said he feels his presence is valued, as the company’s team of 45 full-time employees are constantly iterating and seeking the feedback of players and coaches. For him, he likes the aspect of providing useful data that could help a future player avoid a career-ending injury and keeping teams at full-strength.

“We’re building a platform for injury prevention. That’s where we started and now building at a scale for player availability,” Wilkie said. “From a fundamental level, if teams have more players available, they’ll win more games.”

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Athletes In Business

Could We See a ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ League?

If “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” made a comeback, the legendary skateboarder would welcome the chance to start a league around it.

Adam White

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Photo via Laureus

Video games changed Tony Hawk’s life. He’ll be the first to admit it.

The numbers prove it too.

From 1999-2015, “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” saw 19 different versions created, bringing in an estimated $1.4 billion in sales, making it one of the most successful video-game brands in history.

During that time, Hawk was able to transition from being a competitive skater to focusing on things outside of the sport that he wanted to accomplish.

“Video games changed my life,” said Hawk at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco. “They gave me the resources and the name recognition to be able to go do those things I wanted to do.”

Not only did the success of Pro Skater help propel his career forward, it also helped move the industry forward.

READ MORE: Former NFL Player Andrew Hawkins Is Building a New Career Playbook

Hawk credits the success of the video game to growing awareness around the sport as well as getting more people interested in it.

Although video games have played an important role in taking Hawk from skater to icon, he believes that if the game was just taking off today, it would do even better.

“If we would have first come out on consoles within the last five years or so, the online element would be much, much bigger and would have probably given it more longevity.”

Seeing what has happened in the world of esports in the last few years, Hawk even believes that there would be room for a Pro Skater League, similar to the leagues of other titles like “Overwatch” or even “Madden.” If the game was to ever make a comeback, he would embrace the opportunity to potentially create something that brought people together over the love of the game.

“It would be great. It would be a blast. There’s still hope.”

For now, though, Hawk is focused on “Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam,” his new mobile game he launched just under three months ago.

With an online competition coming in the next update for the app-based game, Hawk is excited about having a more robust online opportunity for the game’s users.

READ MORE: Former NFL Lineman Hopes to Change the Way We Share Music

“It would have been different on the console side. We could have been pushing updates,” he said, talking about the opportunity “Pro Skater” could have had if it was still being produced to this day. “With the app, even though it’s on your phone, we will have the competition mode, which gives it that online element. That’s pretty exciting to me.”

Now 50, Hawk has seen the peaks and valleys of skateboarding, experiencing them all through his own opportunities or his business dealings.

Regardless, he sees a sport that is in a good place thanks to it being established as a hobby, lifestyle, and a pastime.

“It’s in a good place in terms of it being more of a recreational hobby as well as the lifestyle. In the past, the only people that liked skateboarding were the ones who were into it deeply. Now, it’s something that people do just as easily as they play team sports.”

While there might not be a lot of hard evidence to prove it, one can imagine Hawk’s video-game franchise played some sort of role in that evolution. 

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