Think of Grant Hill, and your mind spans the basketball universe. Maybe it’s his two NCAA Championships with Duke. Maybe it’s his seven All-Star appearances in a career that spanned four teams and 19 seasons in the NBA and his eventual enshrinement in the NBA Hall of Fame. But, if you truly look across his basketball life, it may be what he is doing now that shows where players in the league could be heading.
In 2015, Hill and group headed by equity investor Tony Ressler purchased the Atlanta Hawks for $850 million where Hill now holds the title of Vice Chair of the Board. In doing so, Hill is part of a small fraternity of former players that are involved in ownership: Shaquille O’Neal, who has a small stake in the Sacramento Kings, and Michael Jordan, who owns the controlling interest in the Charlotte Hornets.
When asked why he sees star players looking to get involved in ownership after they retire maybe more than with other sports leagues, Hill sees the dynamic of the NBA’s leadership with its players being critical.
“I can’t speak to the other sports, but I think the NBA is progressive,” Hill said. “It may be part of the relationship that the league has with its players. I really feel that it is a partnership that leads to the value and the perspectives that a former player can have once they retire.”
Hill cited examples of how former players have launched post playing careers in not just television, but coaching and front office, but further up.
“We’re seeing more examples of former players moving into ownership,” he said. “The NBA presents opportunities for those that have worked hard and put themselves in a position to move upward, in that sense the NBA is the most progressive in that regard.”
Indeed, as Hill noted there are a number of players that have worked their way into executive positions. Shareef Abdur-Rahim has gone from being an assistant GM with the Sacramento Kings to now being the Associate Vice President of Basketball Operations for the NBA. Kiki VanDeWeghe has gone from being a coach to now being the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for the league.
As to the transition from playing to executive, Hill had some experience to lean on. His father Calvin was a veteran player in the NFL and was on the board of the Baltimore Orioles, and eventually the VP of Personnel for the club till 1994 that helped him understand the process.
“My journey to NBA ownership started long before I became one,” Hill said. “It started with my father, who had tried, unsuccessfully, with groups, to purchase various teams. So, the idea of ownership was on my radar. Being around my father created access and relationships with the likes of Art Modell and Edward Bennett Williams gave me somewhat of an idea of what the ownership perspective before I ever entered professional sports as a player. That planted the seed.”
Fast-forward to where Hill is now, and he has a greater understanding of the complexities involved in ownership.
“I had good relationships with all the owners I played under, with my last season with the Clippers the exception,” said Hill. “So, I was privy to a lot of information around the moving parts of a team, but I had no idea. Doesn’t matter if you’re a former player or an executive from another industry that’s getting involved in ownership, there is always a learning curve.”
As to the work that he’s been involved in since the ownership of the Hawks, the naming rights deal with State Farm Insurance to rechristen Phillips Arena into State Farm Arena is one Hill is proud of.
“It’s the second-largest naming rights deal in the NBA,” says Hill of the 20-year, $175 million partnership. “State Farm is a fantastic partner. If you were going to line up a series of credible brands that you’d like to identify with, State Farm has to be one of those at the top.”
For Grant Hill, he has quickly absorbed the ownership landscape and how perspectives differ depending on how long the ownership tenure has been.
“The perspective of new owners are going to be different that others that have been part of the NBA for some time,” said Hill. “The franchise values have skyrocketed, and so those that have been involved before the escalation look at cash flow and revenues maybe a bit differently than those owners that are relatively new. Your objectives might be very different.”
As to who could follow in Hill’s footsteps, the gateway has become both easier and more difficult. “As player salaries escalated with the last media rights deal with the NBA, there’s more money for a player to look into ownership to work from, “says Hill. “But, as franchise values continue to escalate, it will take others to create competitive bids.”
Who might be able to move into a position as a majority owner in the future? Could someone like Kevin Durant, who has been active in venture capital pull it off? Maybe, but Hill is more than aware of who has the biggest pull in the league right now.
“It would be hard for any one player to purchase a team outright, but if anyone might be able to get into majority ownership at a high level, you have to look to Lebron [James].”
More Info: forbes.com