Baron Davis gets bored like the rest of us, and when that happens, he does what we all do. Take, for instance, one night a couple of years back: He lounged on his couch, doing very little. He must have felt the type of sweeping boredom that has you mindlessly dig deep into your phone, scrolling through the Instagram feed, then opening Twitter and doing the same, then reflexively checking Instagram again.
What to do…
With no other choice, Davis, a retired 13-year NBA vet, opened up LinkedIn.
At first, he didn’t know how to use the app, didn’t understand its purpose. In fact, he’d long avoided it, despite so many push notifications. And yet, as he powered through on that night, something funny happened.
“I started seeing all these people, and I’m like, Connect, connect, connect, connect, connect, connect, connect,” he says in an interview with B/R. There were old friends, business partners and former teammates. He found that one marketing person who worked on that one commercial. That businessperson he’d admired. “I became obsessed with the app.”
Davis was an entrepreneur, and he longed for a way to utilize his resources to advance those interests. His company, Baron Davis Enterprises, looked for young innovators who wanted to help underserved communities. Davis attended business seminars, trying to learn and network. Only there was a problem: At most events, he recalls, hardly anybody would be there, or he’d be the only athlete there, or the only African American, and maybe there’d be one Asian person, one Indian person and one woman there, but not more. He wasn’t finding what—or whom—he was looking for.
Meanwhile, on LinkedIn, opportunities abound. There, Davis found a diverse group of budding entrepreneurs with varied interests and disposable income. Many of them happened to be athletes, updating the world on their latest endeavor, often a tech investment.
If LinkedIn hasn’t reached the ubiquity or popularity of Instagram or Twitter, it is undeniably, modestly, ascending across sports. It’s a funny development for a historically stuffy platform that houses online resumes and uninspired DMs. But maybe it’s not so surprising: Today, the winningest players in sports also fuel hot startups and grace the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek. LinkedIn is helping this new generation of business-minded athletes establish their second careers, often before their first ones come to an end.
Many athletes operate their own pages, complete with work histories and snazzy profile pictures. Agents and PR reps might write their bios, but players mostly do the rest: forging connections, returning direct messages, and sharing, liking and publishing stories. Now, in the midst of the NBA and NFL offseason, it’s especially busy. But even during the playing season, active players check LinkedIn every week; business, as Pacers forward Thaddeus Young says, is a year-round cycle.
The NBA champs are on there, with Steph Curry and Andre Iguodalaready to expand their portfolios. Metta World Peace has leadership skills formally endorsed by a former teammate, plus 121 others. David Robinson promotes the capital group he founded in 2008, though nobody can top Shaquille O’Neal‘s long list of post-retirement accomplishments.
Across sports, baseball’s all-time home run leader, Barry Bonds, has a neatly designed page, and Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels’ profile spotlights his freight management company. Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, who co-founded an equity firm worth over $4 billion, has over 500 connections. Former New York Jet D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who’s making his way in finance, posts on the site nearly every week.
All of these people—and many more like them—are, as Thaddeus Young says, “high net-worth individuals.”
Harrison Barnes, for instance, is in the middle of a $94 million max contract. Barnes boasts a substantial experience history on LinkedIn, full of brand ambassadorships. He recalls outlining it himself a few years ago while riding on the Warriors team bus to practice. Andrew Bogut, James Michael McAdoo and [team community ambassador] Adonal Foyle all loved LinkedIn, and they implored Barnes to give it a try.
So on the bus that day, Barnes prepared to upload his profile photo. “A picture of me in a uniform?” he asked the bus. “No!” his teammates shouted back. “A business picture!”
Young himself is playing on a $54 million contract, and he has used some of that money to invest in budding tech companies. With the help of LinkedIn, he’s established himself as a legit businessman.
“It’s kind of like LeBron James,” Young says. “Obviously, we see him as the best basketball player in the world right now, but when everybody raves about him, they rave about not just his basketball skills, but his business mentality. That’s what I strive for.”
Young has an unofficial business partner in teammate Trevor Booker. “He throws me investor decks, and I throw him investor decks,” Young says.
Booker co-founded JB Fitzgerald, a venture capital firm with more than 100 employees. He may not carry the profile of a Curry or Kevin Durant, but he’s been in the league for eight seasons, will sign a new contract this summer and is committed to making sure his money goes to work for him. “Some guys say they’re entrepreneurs and they want this and that, but they don’t take it serious the way we do,” Booker says. “That’s one thing that I pride myself on.”
Booker notes that some of JB Fitzgerald’s deals have materialized through his LinkedIn account. But, he says, the goal is not only to find new business opportunities on there—it’s also to alter public perception.
“I have a mind that I use on something other than basketball,” Booker says. “A lot of people think athletes just stick to sports or only know sports, so I’m definitely trying to change that stigma.”
Former WNBA player Tamika Catchings, one of many recent retirees on the site, can appreciate Booker’s goal. Today, she runs a tea shop in Indianapolis, operates a foundation that mentors young people and serves as the Pacers’ director of player programs and franchise development. LinkedIn, she says, “gives you more credibility. It’s like, ‘Yeah I was an athlete, that’s what I did, but now this is what I do.'”
Ferguson, who retired in 2016, struggled for a while with that distinction. “When I retired,” he says, “I had to do some soul-searching. I tried a number of different things that were closer to football, like broadcasting, thought about being an agent or scout, and then something in me thought, Maybe go outside the scope.”
He landed an internship with EisnerAmper, an accounting and advisory firm in New York City. The company’s social media team encouraged Ferguson to use LinkedIn, and he noticed that Kelvin Beachum, a fellow offensive lineman, had a big presence on the site.
Now, Ferguson’s profile looks like most anybody’s in wealth management. His photo depicts him in a striped blue shirt and dark jacket. He shares articles about developing technology and posts photos from various professional events. Everything about him looks ordinary, really, until you scroll to the part about playing football for a decade. “Professional Athlete,” the listing reads. “Accomplishments: All Rookie Team, 3x Pro Bowler, 167 consecutive starts.”