From the locker-room to the board room

Arthur
8 min readSep 1, 2020

Beyond the big names like Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, Andre Iguodala is one of the top NBA players of the past decade. Yet, he is on his way to achieve way more off the court than he did in his 16-year career, winning three NBA Championship titles, gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics and being elected MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals. Through hard-work, dedication and learning from the best — qualities that made him succeed on the courts — Iguodala has become a successful tech investor, acclaimed NYT best-seller author, board member of a NASDAQ-listed company, sports industry disruptor, thought-leader and role model for a lot of athletes.

Iguodala is one of the great NBA players of his generation.

He was the 9th overall pick at the 2004 NBA draft, by the Philadelphia Sixers, and he is still considered as one of the best NBA defenders 16 years later, now playing for the Miami Heat. At the Sixers, after Iverson left in 2007, Iguodala became their franchise player, earning himself a seat at the NBA All Stars in 2012, the same year he became gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympic Games. After one year at the Denver Nuggets, he joined the Golden State Warriors in 2013, where he won three NBA Championship titles in 2015, 2017 and 2018. Despite being dubbed The Sixth Man, he was designated NBA Finals MVP in 2015.

“Andre’s gone to an All-Star game, and he’s been a great player, but he’s not esteemed as one of the very best. Yet he’s created more opportunities for himself than just about anybody. I don’t think any other player will have as many options as Andre will have once he’s done playing basketball.”

Rudy Cline-Thomas, financial adviser and business partner, interviewed by Wealthsimple in 2018

Iguodala’s legacy will go way beyond the court.

First, he has become one of the most active athlete-investors. In less than a decade, he has invested $25,000 to $150,000 cheques in over 40 companies including successes like consumer-focused Allbirds, Casper, Carta, HIMS, or enterprise technology companies Cloudflare, Datadog, PagerDuty and Zoom. He even became the first active major-sport professional to sit on the board of a public company after he helped Jumia complete its IPO in April 2019.

In 2015, once established as a successful tech investor, Iguodala launched the annual Players Technology Summit, first in partnership with NBA Players’ Association then with Bloomberg. The event brings athletes — including his teammates Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — investors, and the tech world closer together, with the objective to help fellow athletes develop the relationships and knowledge required to solidify their financial futures, while bringing their star power to the Valley players.

In 2019, Iguodala published The Sixth Man, tracing his journey from childhood to NBA Champion. Reflecting on what it takes to become a star athlete and sharing his experience of the conflict and racial tension in the US, the book immediately became a NYT best-selling book, and featured on Obama’s 2019 list of favorite books, reinforcing Iguodala’s image as a thought leader among NBA players.

That same year, Iguodala was elected by his peers as First Vice-President of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), succeeding Lebron James, for a 4-year term.

Most recently, in early 2020, even before retiring from basketball, he just became venture partner for Catalyst Fund, the venture capital arm of Comcast, focusing on early-stage investments in companies founded by African American, Latinx and female entrepreneurs.

“It’s just about putting the right people in the right place in front of the right people and us working together and coming out with the same goal to help each other be better businessmen but also take care of the next generation so they’re in a better position as well.”

Andre Iguodala, interviewed by Forbes in 2019

How do you achieve so much off-the-court while winning three NBA titles?

Iguodala understood early on he needed to be extremely curious, disciplined, hardworking and more importantly surround himself adequately to learn from the best and get access to the right opportunities.

As a rookie, it started with getting close to the veteran players of the Sixers, from whom he was looking for basic financial advice, continued with Rudy Cline-Thomas, his financial adviser turned business partner, and accelerated in 2013 when he eventually managed to get to the Silicon Valley, declining a 5-year contract from the Denver Nuggets to accept a 4-year contract with the Golden State Warriors.

From the Sixers’ old guard, Iguodala learned that to avoid joining the long list of NBA players going broke — 60% within five years of leaving the NBA — one needs to save enough — setting $10m as a reasonable target — to live out of interest for the rest of one’s life, before starting to invest in riskier asset classes. A precept that is front and center of what he teaches to other athletes at the Players Tech Summit.

In 2008, Iguodala agreed to a 6-year, $80m contract extension with the Sixers, largely enough to start seeking for riskier investment opportunities. That is when he got to know Rudy Cline-Thomas, bonding over shared interests in business, technology, and basketball. Cline-Thomas first became his financial adviser then business partner for over a decade. The pair started by investing in listed companies, mostly tech. Although they did well, they quickly realized they could get better returns by investing before the companies hit the public markets. Cline-Thomas had developed a connection to the VC world through Philadelphia-based VC Josh Kopelman, but that was not enough to access to the kinds of early-stage deals where the real money is made. He started to come out to the Valley in 2010 to grow their network of relationships with VCs and entrepreneurs, searching out leads and lining up meetings, while Iguodala was still playing for the Sixers.

Eventually, in 2013, Iguodala signed with the Golden State Warriors — owned by Joe Lacob, a partner at venture capital company Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and a group of tech leaders including YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya — offering them unparalleled access to the Valley and its ecosystem of world-class VCs, successful entrepreneurs and fellow athlete-investors. In his 6-year tenure with the Warriors, through hard-work, persistence and learning from the best, with the help from Jeff Jordan, partner at Andreessen Horowitz — whom he chased when he arrived in the Valley — Iguodala became one of the most tech-savvy and well-connected players in the NBA, if not of all sports. A massive network that helps him source and vet deals.

“Most of the people think the celebrities and athletes are kind of dabbling here and there. Tech is hot, so they’re jumping in, and it’s the fad of the day. But people don’t realize how long these guys Rudy and Andre have been thinking about tech, working on tech, building connections, getting smart.”

Paul Kwan, Morgan Stanley’s head of West Coast tech banking, as quoted by Bloomberg in 2017

More than just becoming a successful tech investor, Iguodala disrupted the athlete-corporation partnership model in many ways.

Although not among the very best, Iguodala is a NBA player, with all the fame that comes with it. He quickly realized that celebrity provides access. Since tech startups do not give money to ambassadors, but take it from the lucky few, Iguodala perfectly leveraged his Golden State Warriors status and Andreessen’s vetting to invest in some of the most promising startups. With returns that can be far more than the traditional cash-for-service arrangement. A very smart move and massive opportunity for an athlete with 1.3m Twitter followers and 1.8m on Instagram, who cannot compete with the likes of Lebron James (46.8m on Twitter and 69.4m on Instagram) to attract endorsement dollars.

What differentiates Iguodala most from other athlete-investors is his enthusiasm and savviness for tech companies beyond sports. Considering sports investments rarely scale, Iguodala and Cline-Thomas put a lot of effort in learning about less sexy verticals, where they saw more interesting risk-return profiles, to build a diversified portfolio, ranging from consumer to financial, tech and enterprise businesses.

Iguodala also fights against the clichés of “being just an athlete” and only invests when he can make an impact on the companies beyond his capital or fame.

“I’ve grown to learn and grown to put a lot of my thought and effort into learning the space [enterprise software companies] and playing catch up. Being a professional athlete, you tend to not know about that space because it’s not the sexy something that everyone’s talking about. But in terms of growth, I think that’s what’s moving the tech sector more than anything else.”

Andre Iguodala, as quoted by CNBC in 2020

Conscious of being a role model, Iguodala is very keen to share the learnings of his own journey to pave the way for the younger generation.

Getting a piece of a tech startup has become a status symbol among athletes, like wearing designer watches or being name-checked in a hip-hop lyric. Conscious of the financial risks, Iguodala never misses a chance — in the locker-room, at a conference, organizing private dinners — to share best-practice with other players.

Comparing early-stage investment to the long-shot odds of the journey to become a professional athlete, Iguodala really wants other athletes to understand that startups is a great wat to lose money if not approached in a professional way. Adding that athletes should only allocate small portion of their wealth to that asset class. Himself, he has invested less than $10m out of career earnings approaching the $200m mark at the end of his current contract with the Miami Heat.

And when investments go south, it is important to learn along the way.

He’s a little bit more experienced than a lot of us, so if you need to ask questions, he’s learned the do’s and don’ts.

Stephen Curry, teammate at the Golden State Warriors, as quoted by Bloomberg in 2017

Iguodala is now venturing into new challenges.

Now reaching the sunset of his career, Iguodala is transitioning into a professional investment career, where he aims at being as impactful as he was on the courts, focusing on entrepreneurs from discriminated backgrounds. What a new challenge. We wish him best.

Last month, in Tech investments — How the next billionaire athlete will emerge, we concluded that “the next billionaire athletes might just be those who got the flair to invest in tomorrow’s Google, Uber or Facebook before the crowds”. Iguodala has yet to exit his investments and realize the expected capital gains, but he definitely got the flair to invest early in a few unicorns, and position himself as one of the NBA outliers for his off-the-court ventures.

Rudy Cline-Thomas, Dr. Yusef Salaam and Andre Iguodala (left to right) at the Players Tech Summit 2019

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Arthur

Deeply passionate about media and technology, and the evolution of content distribution and audience monetization.