Diaw shows what in the world is going on in pro sports
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Long gone are the days when professional basketball players just played basketball. Now they are walking, talking, leaping marketing mavens, and Wednesday night students in the Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University got a global look at what they do and how they think.
Boris Diaw isn’t a household name in the National Basketball Association. The former Phoenix Sun, now a reserve forward for the San Antonio Spurs, has averaged just nine points a game in his 13-year career. But that doesn’t mean he can’t have a brand that extends far beyond his native France.
“We talk all the time about the global nature of sports business,” said Dr. Brian Smith, director of the Colangelo School of Sports Business. “It’s one thing to read about it in a textbook, but here is a global businessman experiencing it right now.”
Notice that he said global businessman. He didn’t say basketball player. Basketball is merely the jumping-off point for the rest of Diaw’s life.
“I know that in two, three, four years I’ll have to retire,” said Diaw, who turns 34 in April, “so I’ll have to find something else to do.”
He’s already working on it, literally. Diaw’s one-hour talk was about business with a little basketball thrown in. “The biggest part of my job is to play,” he said, “but there are a lot of things around it.”
He talked of how he uses social media to his advantage and has 307,000 followers on Twitter and 181,000 on Instagram. His main advice about social media? “Try to create content that’s natural — people don’t want advertising. And be funny.” He cited the finding that a single tweet from LeBron James has a media value of $140,000.
His idea of natural content was sending out an Instagram post about the espresso machine in his locker right after a game — he made sure the Spurs won first — and getting 10,000 new followers plus a coffee endorsement deal after it was retweeted by NBA.com and various media outlets. His passion for coffee has led teammates to call him The Borista, as detailed this week in this story.
He shared his passion for photography, which led to a National Geographic kids’ book about pictures he took while on a safari. He first took the photos, then used his status as a pro athlete to get National Geographic to look at them. He also did a photo shoot to showcase a Nike clothing line.
He even did an internship with the NBA one summer, just to see what it was like.
“I’m pretty much like you — I’m doing my education right now,” he told the students, emphasizing that he wants to act now while the game opens doors for him. “I’m building my experience.”
His experience Wednesday included giving a more basketball-oriented pep talk to the GCU women’s team (the men’s team is in Chicago). The women also went over to the CCOB building, where sitting in the audience was Boubacar Toure, a center on the men’s team who is sidelined by an injury.
Toure is from Senegal, as is Diaw’s father, and Diaw has done considerable work there, including starting an all-girls academy. When the NBA brought its first exhibition game to African soil last year, Diaw was one of the players who participated.
Smith was able to bring Diaw to GCU through his connection with Jullien Leleux, director of marketing for Position Sports, the Phoenix-based sports marketing firm that has a partnership with CCOB. Leleux previously worked for Nike France and does marketing work for Diaw.
They were quite a pair as they spoke to the students, jabbing at each other with asides and interjecting ideas to accentuate a point. One of Leleux’s most important points was that kids don’t necessarily follow their local heroes anymore; like the athletes, they are thinking globally. The athletes, in turn, should have a “CEO mind,” he said.
That’s a long way from the old-school philosophy that players just played and left the big-picture thinking to their coaches. The message, as Smith saw it, was this: “Raise the bar for yourself. You’re going to school, but let’s think beyond that.”
It helped that the students saw a player (aka global businessman) who clearly was enjoying himself.
“He came across very well,” Smith said. “When it comes to representing your personal brand, I think he really impressed a lot of people.”
As Diaw put it, “I’ll always be involved in basketball. It’s my first passion.”
But hardly his only one. For the modern athlete, that’s how you play the game.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.