The Phoenix Suns guard has turned his basketball career into a crash course on business. Now comes the fun part.
When Devin Booker was joining the Global Ambassador hotel project in Phoenix last year, he was invited onto a call to go over the business plan. It was his first commercial real estate investment, but as an NBA All-Star and one of the city’s most famous faces, he wasn’t expected to do much more than offer a quick hello.
As the discussion of legal minutiae stretched past an hour—then two, then three—he certainly would have been forgiven if he’d left his manager or lawyer to mop up. Booker, though, stayed on. And stayed on. And stayed on—even while taking a Covid-19 test and then for at least another 30 minutes in his car as he waited to head into practice.
“His desire to be a businessman and learn about business and investments at that young an age was something I had not heard before, not seen before,” says Jim Reynolds, Booker’s advisor and business partner. “Not like that.”
Now, having invested his time learning about business, Booker is starting to invest his dollars.
The 25-year-old has picked up stakes in seven startups since signing a five-year, $158 million contract extension with the Phoenix Suns in 2018, including deals last year with sports video companies Overtime and Buzzer and convenience store delivery app GoPuff. Most recently, Booker, who is making $31.7 million in salary this season and another $8 million annually from endorsement deals with brands like Nike and video game Call of Duty, participated in a funding round for luxury watch marketplace WatchBox, announced in November.
The shooting guard, named to Forbes’ 2022 30 Under 30 list in the sports category, has already shown he can be a quick study. He was the youngest player in the 2015 NBA draft class, selected 13th overall after a season at the University of Kentucky, and he made his professional debut before turning 19. He proved himself an elite shooter almost immediately, posting a 70-point game in his second season—only the sixth player ever to reach that total. On Wednesday, he became the seventh-youngest player in NBA history to have scored 10,000 points.
Devin Booker, a two-time NBA All-Star, is starting to roll up his sleeves as a co-owner of coconut-water sports drink COCO5.
Guerin Blask for Forbes
What truly impresses NBA insiders, though, is the 6-foot-5 Booker’s evolution as a playmaker, able to create shots for both himself and his teammates. That, along with the Suns’ 2020 trade for Chris Paul, has helped produce the kind of team success that eluded him early in his career. Phoenix captured its first conference title in 28 years in 2021 and is off to a 27-8 start this season, after an 18-game winning streak and an undefeated November.
Starting with virtually zero financial knowledge, Booker knew that he would have to work just as hard off the court. Almost from the moment he turned pro, he has asked his older teammates for business advice. He sought out Reynolds, the CEO and chairman of Chicago-based investment banking firm Loop Capital and the father of a former teammate from Booker’s AAU days. Reynolds, who has worked with a number of athletes, then helped put him in touch with Magic Johnson, an NBA legend who himself has had tremendous business success since retiring from basketball in the 1990s. Booker ended up meeting Johnson for dinner twice to pick his brain, and went home with a story that helped reshape his philosophy.
When Johnson left college for the Los Angeles Lakers, he told Booker, all of the major shoe companies wanted to sign him as a spokesman. He picked a cash deal from Converse, passing on an offer for shares in an upstart—Nike. That underscored an early lesson from Reynolds: The money from your playing contract is nice, and the millions you make in endorsements will help, but “if you’re going to have real wealth, you have to own equity.”
Johnson says Booker was a “sponge.” And he is starting to act on the advice, with a particular interest in playing a hands-on role in his investments. Reynolds lays out the template going forward: “Every company that he buys he will have a significant stake in. He will fully be integrated into the finance and operations and leadership of that company. He’ll sit on the board of directors, if not be chairman of the board of directors.”
They have put that plan into practice as co-owners of coconut-water sports drink COCO5, with Booker making a seven-figure commitment as one of the lead investors in a deal that closed over the summer. They immediately moved the startup’s headquarters from Chicago to Arizona, to be closer to Booker, and he has stayed busy interacting with local retailers and weighing in on marketing campaigns and a packaging redesign, in addition to promoting the company on social media and in stores. He will also play a part interviewing and hiring the new leadership at the company, which Reynolds says projects to grow rapidly from less than $5 million in revenue in 2021.
Booker tracked down Sam Fox, an 11-time James Beard Award semifinalist for outstanding restaurateur who has major street cred in Phoenix, when he learned he was developing the Global Ambassador, a 141-room food-focused hotel that is on track to open in late 2023. Fox hopes to attract visiting NBA players and baseball players in town for spring training as guests and has solicited Booker’s input about tailoring rooms to athletes, including the size of the beds and the height of the shower heads and doorways. Booker, who signed on in the spring with a seven-figure investment, has also shared feedback from his travels on the elements of a successful private members’ club. Best of all for Booker, the hotel is being built next door to the Suns’ practice complex, so he can check on his investment every day.
Even with his more traditional endorsements, Booker wants to roll up his sleeves.
“You get approached by all these companies that try to, I’d say, control the narrative or push out what they want to,” he says. That led him to launch a creative studio, Book Projects, in October to route his brand collaborations through and ensure the products that bear his name maintain a consistent design aesthetic. The first project was a couple of basketball courts he renovated in his hometown, Moss Point, Mississippi, with the backing of 2K Foundations, and he’s now working on his fourth, a collaboration with SCUF, which makes high-end gaming controllers.
Booker says he’s always aspired to be an entrepreneur, and to avoid being labeled a “dumb jock.” But he’s also driven by fear. Like other players of his generation, Booker grew up reading and hearing the horror stories of athletes going broke.
Reynolds, though, knows that Booker has a big advantage on the players who came before him—including Booker’s father, Melvin, who played pro basketball overseas and briefly in the NBA—because he’s not waiting until retirement to get serious about his investments. “He really wants to make sure that his money lives as long as he does,” Reynolds says, adding, “What he’s learning and where he’s starting, there is no doubt in my mind he’ll be a billionaire.”
Booker isn’t setting his sights quite so high—not yet, anyway—but he is thinking seriously about his future.
“I want to play for a very long time,” he says. But, he adds, “I’m worried about life after basketball and building businesses that will be here once the ball stops bouncing.”
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