The Business of Basketball - How To Make A Career on the Hardwood


Richard Gray


Manager of Basketball Admin - Madison Square Garden

Sport VU Operator - Brooklyn Nets


About Richard Gray:  A basketball fanatic with a real eye for talent.  Rick is a former player and aspiring NBA GM who is fully submerged in the business of basketball.  He studies the game from the aspect of player development and coaching, always looking to grow.  You want a good debate?  Rick will hit you with facts from the depths of the most obscure basketball reference website.  We are proud he is in our network of coaches/basketball minds and look forward to many more great conversations.


I’ve seen hoop dreams deflate like a true fiends weight
— Shawn Carter

For the sake of this blog, hoop dreams don’t deflate (Sorry, J)… they evolve. We go from shooting trash in the garbage can and yelling, Kobe! -- To tweeting out potential trade scenarios using NBA front office jargon and envisioning being the next Masai Ujiri (Toronto Raptors President/GM... one of my faves). Lets take a look at the timeline…

Initially, we have a goal to play in the NBA, make millions, and have our own shoe and blah blah blah.

Challenge - We know the odds here. There are only 420 roster spots in all of the NBA and about 1 billion guys competing for those spots. Good luck.


(I stopped here. I knew I wasn’t good enough… but lets keep going).


Once that doesn’t work out, we want to play overseas, make 6 figures, and be a celebrity at home in the summertime while at local gyms wearing our euro team shorts. We all know that guy.  Going half speed, emotionless confidence (all planned), making every shot and has a 60 thousand dollar car in the parking lot. 


Challenge - The odds here are very low as well.  There is a cap on American players on the teams overseas and there are usually NBA level guys competing for those limited spots. You’d better be 7 feet tall or Will Bynum (NBA Level, but lost in the numbers/politics game). Good luck again. 


If that doesn’t work out, we aim for the mid to low level overseas teams and the NBA D-League. It get’s very spooky here. For a guy that can actually play, this looks VERY attainable. You see a lot of your peers that you feel equal to or better than getting opportunities, so you get caught up in the infamous fallacy, “IF HE CAN DO IT, I KNOW I CAN!” 


Challenge- Odds are higher here but the rat race to the goal of getting a job is more mentally taxing than making a run at the NBA and coming up short. It’s exhausting and you are blowing off years of potential professional development. It’s a more reasonable goal but be careful. And ask yourself, “can I handle friends and family asking where am I playing this year and when do I leave?” Seriously. 


So, here we are. You’ve tried to go pro and most likely it either didn’t work, didn’t fulfill your personal expectations, or just ready to move on. Some people quit after the first scenario (me) and others are extremely diligent and try all three. 

What’s next? Whether it’s coaching, scouting, training, or agency/front office, you want to enter the business of basketball.


Rolls up the sleeves.


I’m going to be 100% transparent here. If you are in it for stardom, celebrity or anything alike, don’t waste your time. The head coach (some assistant coaches), the players & the top execs (Presidents & GMs) are the stars. Everyone else are/is the workers/the help.


There are less coaching and top front office jobs than there are roster spots in the NBA.  So, the odds are even tougher here than being an NBA player, when you look at numbers alone. Once you add in the political and timing elements, forget about it.  


Only a handful of people are talented enough, physically gifted enough and lucky enough to have a shot to qualify to be an NBA ball player. Let me let you in on a little secret… ANYBODY is qualified to do what is required as coach or exec, if they put the time in, are ambitious and can take losses in stride. 


So, generally and realistically (hate that word) speaking, getting to that low/mid level position as a staff member (coaching or exec) is a task that similar to the 3rd option of being a mid/low level overseas pro basketball player… “IF HE CAN DO IT, I KNOW I CAN!” Remember? Ok, let’s get to it.


I, personally, am currently knee deep in this part of the process and can give every step that I took, but it wouldn’t help. Everyone’s journey will be different. I will, however, give a couple of elements that will be helpful in your journey.


1. Win through failure: There will be countless amounts of failure; and, lessons through those failures will be the only thing keeping you afloat. If I did an email inbox search of, “Thanks for applying, however…”, I would get over 1000 returned messages. It will get to the point where you will get numb to rejection. It’s a part of the game.


Note: I once waited 2 months for a rejection after a face-to-face final interview with the number 2 executive at the NBA League Office at the time. Demoralizing but I survived. 


2.  Work for free: They say that if you love and are passionate about a profession, you should be able to do it for free, right? In Basketball, they mean that literally. Your friend or family member that you see with the official NBA team gear or rocking a suit at the arena on game night is likely working for free (or close to it) and can’t come home for the holidays (can’t afford the flight), or if they can, need to borrow money to get a cab from the airport. Because… #HeAintGotIt. 


Note: At one point I was almost the oldest intern in the NBA. Experience in this business comes at a premium. And that premium is your personal livelihood. Willing to sacrifice that? If so, you’re in good shape here. 


3. It’s who you know: Network is your net worth: Ah… another cliché but its 100% authentic. Through your countless interviews, networking events, internships and former coaches/supervisors (you’ll need all of it), you will get a network valuation that will determine your “worth” on paper. In most cases, the dots an organization can connect to your network are the single most important factor in getting an opportunity in this industry off the court. Period.


Note: The person who hired me for my first “real job” in basketball was a mentee of my college coach; a close friend of the head coach of an NBA team I previously interned for; and a close colleague of the owner of a sports agency that I interned for. It took my educational background and a call from each of them for me to get the job. That’s over 10 years of relationship building through working to get to 1 yes. 


4. Love the Process: The love will keep your morale up through the failure. The love will keep you motivated and your self-esteem high through the struggle. Your relationships in the business will be created because people will see your passion, which is a product of the love that you have for the process. You can’t fake it.



Basketball is drilled into our brains at a young age and flaunted as “a way out” or, at worst, “a tool that instills characteristics that can help you in your professional career later on in life”, if you don’t make it. You know -- “team play”, “perseverance”, and “competitive nature.” All true. However, far too little are we made aware of or told how to transition from the game to the business of the game and what is expected. So, here is some insight from my perspective.


Every process is different and nothing is guaranteed. However, information share is one of the best resources to use during your marathon… Keep running.



- RG

Esian henderson