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My Story: From The NBA To An MBA

Students studying at a Reef House in Atlanta

Students studying at a Reef House in Atlanta.

There were so many different people that I met at Marshall. I was struck by all the experiences they had and all the things I learned from them. I spent so much time involved with my fellow MBAs. Being in the NBA, you just see things through the lens of an athlete or a sports executive — but I got an opportunity to meet a lot of really smart people with different backgrounds that I learned from. You’re professionally seeing people who are doctors or have worked in Wall Street or spent time in the military and had different experiences. Two years earlier, we would not have had much in common. Marshall really expanded my perspective and pushed me to get out of my comfort zone.

Looking back, it’s hard to say just one moment that really stays with me. I remember studying really, really hard and then being disappointed that I didn’t do anywhere near as well as I thought I would. Then, I would grind from there and eventually do really well in the class. I remember getting up and presenting big projects in front of my class. I was doing things that I had never done before. When it was over, I would be like, “Wow! I really did that.” Again, the relationships that I had with professors will be the things I remember, or spending time with people who were always willing to help. Those are the things that will always stick with me.

NBA INTERNSHIP TAKES HIM FROM BASKETBALL OPERATIONS TO BUSINESS OPERATIONS

Abdur-Rahim during his 2016 "homecoming" to Vancouver.

Abdur-Rahim during his 2016 “homecoming” in Vancouver.

As a basketball player, I had been in the public eye. People at USC remembered me from playing. Once we had some classes, everyone got over it. We were all in business school and had the same goal. I just had some different experiences. And that was what was so cool about it. I had a different experience than someone who worked in finance or medicine had. At first, it was a conversation piece. Once you get over that, everyone is in the same role as students. Everyone is trying to figure out how to do their best and manage everything. My opinion about this or that would be as good as theirs. It wasn’t something that hung over the class and I didn’t want that. I was thankful that it wasn’t a big ordeal.

I had the opportunity to intern for the NBA as part of their TMBO — team marketing and business operations. Essentially, TMBO is a really smart group within the NBA. It’s like a consulting firm, like a Bain within the NBA that acts as its own department. What they do is figure out how NBA, WNBA, and Development League teams can operate and perform better. They provided ideas and solutions to teams. Everything I had done to that point in the NBA had been basketball operations — on-the-court type of work. This actually had little to do with players playing on the court. I was involved in how teams go about selling more tickets or executing social media platforms — all these different things that I hadn’t experienced. What was awesome about it was, because I had gone through a year of business school, I was able to totally relate. I understood the conversations that my team was having and I could offer smart viewpoints.

It was a wonderful experience and I learned a lot. I was really thankful for the opportunity. During my internship, I was able to offer a perspective as an ex-athlete. No one on my team had actually played in the NBA. Having the experience of being on both sides, being a player and having attended business school, I was able to lend value by being able to see additional issues that might be overlooked. I recently accepted a position in the NBA as associate vice president of basketball operations. Spending time in the TMBO allowed me to build relationships and show some of the things that I could do. So the internship was also helpful in that way.

PROVIDING RESOURCES TO COMMUNITIES WHO NEED IT MOST

The Future Foundation's Cornelius "Cornbread" Harper with 2016 graduates.

The Future Foundation’s Cornelius “Cornbread” Harper with 2016 graduates.

The Future Foundation started initially as a basic kind of charity. We ran holiday-themed programs and back-to-school events. It graduated into an after-school program where we would identify young people who are at risk and bring them in so we can tutor them, help them with homework, and get a sense of where they were with reading and science. That change happened 10 years ago and has evolved overall. We still do all of this, but a key part of our mission as a foundation is that we now go into high schools and promote healthy lifestyles and relationships, preparing for college and taking college tours, and providing resources to families to help make parents and other family members healthy and productive. Now, we have young people who started in our program in the fourth or fifth grade and have gone through the whole program and have now graduated from college. Some have come back to volunteer or taken jobs with the foundation and are here every day. In a nutshell, I would describe this as an overall admissions program. Our tagline is that we try to bridge the gap between young people who have a deficiency in resources in their environment or community to help them reach their goals, and we try to provide those resources.

One student success who comes to mind is Cornelius Harper. We call him Cornbread. He was one of our first students. As a young man, he went through our program. He went to college. He now works for the foundation helping young people in the same way he was helped. He got married and is really doing great. This year, we had a young lady who received a scholarship. Through the program, a lot of young people are having the chance to do those things. We just want to be a voice that when people say you can’t, we are fortunate to produce the results that say you can. It is all based on young people doing the work and being committed and wanting to achieve their goals. We want to continue being a resource and a help for them.

I’m also part of the Washington Capital Alliance. I wouldn’t term it as a social business or initiative. Everything I do has a social objective. I wouldn’t do anything that I don’t feel is morally sound. The business was started a way to provide stable investments. When I was playing, I was starting to do investment in real estate, properties that are in one shape or form by government or regulatory agency. From there, our group evolved into a business that provided a foundation for groups and companies that could benefit from what we do.

BUSINESS SCHOOL KICKS OFF THE NEXT PHASE OF LIFE

20 years after being drafted into the NBA, Abdur-Rahim opens a new chapter of his life.

Twenty years after being drafted into the NBA, Abdur-Rahim opened a new chapter of his life with his MBA.

I’m probably two years into social media and it is something that is really new to me. My thoughts were not necessarily for public consumption. That changed during the process of being in business school and being away from my professional life for a while. It also helped that I was not connected to someone else’s brand. When I played, I was always representing a team, a company that endorsed me, or even a community. So I needed to, not necessarily align, but be conscious since I wouldn’t want to hurt or damage someone else’s brand or company based on if I had an unpopular opinion. I was conscious of that, whereas the last one or two years, I felt that I had a platform to give my unfettered thoughts about this or my ideas about that. This is what I’m doing and not having to worry about, “How will this reflect on this company or that?” For me, this was an opportunity to share my lessons from graduate school and my experience in nonprofits and the sports industry. I think the writing helps you get better.

Moving forward, I feel like so much of my life, professionally anyway, has been linked to basketball. It always will be. I enjoyed basketball, but I’m looking forward to the next phase in my life: accomplishing new goals and not just resting on those previous accomplishments. I think business school is the start of that. This is the start of new goals for me, and how I use that going forward will show the results of it.

For me, if I could have an impact on other people or in the community or make the situations of others better, that’s success. Personally, I’ll do OK. I’ll be fine. I’ll figure out how to do good and continue to produce and accomplish things. If I was able to be helpful, that’s success.

DON’T MISS: MY STORY: THE PRIEST WHO EARNED AN MBA OR MY STORY: FROM NFL EXECUTIVE TO KELLEY MBA STUDENT

To learn more about the Future Foundation, click here.