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The good, the bad, and the unknown in athlete investments


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Whenever I hear about crypto crashing, I think of the Simpsons episode where the tech bubble bursts and a young startup nerd gives Lisa company stock from a spool of toilet paper. (The joke was tech stocks were so abundant and worthless that their only concrete value was using them to wipe your ass.) I don’t think we’re there yet with crypto currency — and I say that largely because the shows I watch have yet to make fun of Bitcoin to that degree — but backers of Ether or TerraUSD are sweating profusely as the markets have taken another dive.

When the last dip happened in January, my colleague Grace McDermott wrote about the risk athletes like Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Rodgers assumed when they opted to take compensation in the form of crypto instead of cash in recent contracts and deals. At that point, the Bitcoin low was $36,000, down from a November peak of $96,000.

Now, it’s hovering just above $30,000, which is a key number that analysts say could indicate a drop even further if it’s unable to hold there. And that’s about the extent of my crypto knowledge — or at least as far as I read before getting confused.

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So as opposed to regurgitating what Grace wrote in a different way, or co-opting a co-workers joke in our Slack channel about “What’s a bigger gamble: A James Harden extension or Bitcoin?” I’m going to look at three different athlete investments that either worked out, went to shit, or are still in the works. (I’m going to leave out fraud scams because losing money unlawfully isn’t really an investment.)

The Good: Al Harrington’s Viola marijuana company

The former NBA player is amassing a $100 million team of Black entrepreneurs in the weed industry in an attempt to bring more diversity to the $25 billion industry in which only 2 percent of business owners are people of color. In an interview with Forbes, Harrington brought up how his community has been negatively, and disproportionately, affected by the policing of the drug, and how Black and Brown people are having a tough time getting a foot in the industry — or getting a foot out of prison for charges related to marijuana.

The president of Viola has numerous current and former NBA player investors, including DeMarcus Cousins, J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, Ben Gordon, and Josh Childress. The future of cannabis is a safer bet than anything I’ve seen from crypto currency. The weed is out of the baggies (and now available in child proof jars), the joint has been smoked, and the government isn’t putting the kibosh on a business that could generate $65 billion in sales by 2030.

The Bad: Dennis Rodman’s Bad Boy Vodka

The eccentric athlete, who was seen drinking Mind Erasers during practice on ESPN’s The Last Dance, followed in the footsteps of fellow vodka pioneers like P Diddy and 50 Cent with his own spirit. Unlike Ciroq or Effen vodka, Bad Boy Vodka doesn’t appear to be turning a profit — or even in existence. BadBoyVodka.com is a dead URL, and I couldn’t find a bottle to purchase anywhere on the internet.

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Perhaps Rodman’s former drinking buddy, Kim Jong-un, bought up the supply and is hoarding it for the former Detroit Pistons Bad Boy’s next visit. Or Rodman, who has been to rehab for his drinking in the past, kicked Bad Boy Vodka off the wagon when he allegedly hopped on it after a 2018 DUI. It’s unclear if he’s still sober, but here’s hoping he left that lifestyle behind with his failed vodka venture.

The Unknown: NBA players and wine

This one is fascinating to me because everyone is an oenophile in the NBA now. LeBron James pined for a glass of wine after a loss to the Trail Blazers this season. Carmelo Anthony graced the cover of Wine Spectator. I personally sampled a glass of rosé from Dwyane Wade’s Wade Cellars, hand-poured by the Finals MVP himself, at Food & Wine a few years ago. C.J. McCollum enjoyed the Willamette Valley vino scene so much during his time in Portland that he bought his own vineyard.

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There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get in on the ever-profitable alcohol industry, but it’s hard to gain legitimacy in wine, especially with the predominantly white, overwhelmingly exclusive perception of the business.

Carlton McCoy, one of three Black master sommeliers out of 500 total master somms in America, put it succinctly when he told the New York Times, “Wine is marketed as luxurious, even entry-level pinot grigio, but that’s not what people of color are associated with.”

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Maverick Carter, LeBron’s business manager, is one of McCoy’s mentors, which is why I find this subject so interesting. (I hauled McCoy’s wine shipments around the hotel during my time on the loading dock when we were both at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colo., and he’s one of the most charismatic and hardest working people I’ve ever encountered, so that also plays a part in my curiosity.)

Ideally, McCoy can help NBA players shake the snootiness that’s seemingly ingrained in wine drinkers’ DNA, and if that happens, it’ll turn uncertain investment into soon-to-be-tapped profit.

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