Between countless flights, 82 games and all the off-the-court obligations that come with an NBA contract, the six-month NBA regular season is a marathon. Add the postseason plus the suddenly busy offseason and one wonders how players manage it all. Twelve-year NBA veteran Thaddeus Young has built a solid NBA career, providing steady leadership and quality play. Young was the heartbeat of the Indiana Pacers this season. The Pacers’ team captain helped steer the team in the right direction after star Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury.
Off the court, Young has kept himself busy. He started a private investment fund, Reform Ventures, a couple of years ago. The fund has invested in companies like DraftKings, Pinterest and SpaceX. Young had been investing for some time individually, but he decided to organize his operation, creating Reform Real Estate Ventures, Reform Business Ventures and a two-court basketball facility named Reform Sports Training.
On top of his business ventures, Young is also pursuing a master’s degree in business at Union Institute and is near the finish line.
“I’ve got four more classes that I’m taking right now,” says Young. “I decided to take the last four and just get them out the way. Hopefully I’ll have [my degree] by the end of the summer.” He somehow manages all this while also being a family man, with a wife and two sons, ages 5 and 8.
Young spoke with ONE37pm about how he developed as a leader in the NBA, how he manages all of his ventures and the art of learning how to say no.
Tell me about your first pitch. How did you decide that you wanted to invest?
Thaddeus Young: The good thing was that I had my business manager at the time and he was really tough. So he was asking all of the hard questions for my first pitch. I’ve been doing my research and just educating myself more and more in the VC field and just [learning] how everything works.
That means looking at cap tables and looking at decks. It means understanding the different documents that I’m looking at—from the convertible notes and the fake notes to just different things that are going on in the VC world to understanding the difference between early-stage, growth-stage and late-stage investments.
Do you feel like you’ve become more adjusted to the process and experience? How has it been taking pitches and meetings on a regular basis?
Young: Now it’s easy, because I know exactly what to look for, and if I don’t know something, I know where to go and get the expertise, where to go tofind the knowledge and who to get it from. One thing is that everything [in a pitch] might sound good, but you have situations where the paperwork is not right or something falls apart during the course of a pitch. It might look good, but that doesn’t always mean it’s good.
If I have the ability to walk away and move on to the next thing, and if that company blows up and makes millions of dollars, then hey, I’m fine with that! I missed my opportunity, I missed my chance. But at the end of the day, I got my lottery ticket already playing in the NBA, making millions of dollars, and I’ve done very well for myself off the court, so it’s not really that big of a deal. I’m just in the investor stage to where I want to see my money make more money for me, and that’s what I’ve been doing so far.
What you said about saying no to someone’s pitch is really interesting. We always hear that it’s difficult for professional athletes to learn how to say no to friends, family and acquaintances. You have to get used to that when you first come into the league. Did that help you early on in your life, being able to learn how to say no to people?
Young: For sure. We make a lot of money, and people just see cold, hard numbers. You get a $50 million payday and they say, “Oh, he got $50 million.” They don’t see that it’s chopped in half because of taxes. They don’t see that you have living expenses, that you have a house and cars, that you have to take care of your wife and kids and all those different things.
For me, I have to get people to understand the difference in all the different aspects of life that I’m going through. I don’t really take too much time to explain it. If it sounds worth talking about, then I’ll talk to you about it, but most of the time I try to get into the habit of just making no, my final answer, as the only answer sometimes. You’ve got to be cold-blooded sometimes, and you’ve got to be tough.
I learned that early. When you give, give, give and you go back and see that you didn’t meet your monthly or annual financial goals, you start tracing through your finances and you see that you gave people in excess of $20,000, $30,000 or something like that over the course of a two-month span.
Then you know that you can’t keep doing that. That’s when you figure out that you can create a fund that you can use to help people. After this fund runs out, then there’s no more. That’s how I try to factor things in. I know people are going to fall on tough times. I know things happen. This will be my little slush fund that I can give away and leave it at that. It’s not for anything else.
Like you mentioned, you have your own private investment fund called Reform Ventures, and you are also taking an organizational leadership class online for your master’s degree in business administration. You’re also an NBA player. You’ve been in the playoffs most of your career, so you’re playing a lot of the time into late April or early May. What’s it like balancing all that at the same time?
Young: It’s tough sometimes. I have two boys, 5 and 8. They’re very active. A wife who’s home now every day. Sometimes she feels like she’s a single mom just because I’m gone so much. But I have a lot of free time on my hands. I’m not one who goes out a lot. With that going-out time or that free time, I can be sitting here taking a class or I can sit here and educate myself a little bit more with certain things I want to do after basketball.
I promised my mom before she passed away from breast cancer that I would get my college degree, and once I did that, I wanted to take it a step further because of some of the different things I wanted to do after basketball. When I walk into the room, I want to be not just an educated guy but a well-educated guy. And I don’t want to be just a qualified guy, I want to be an overqualified guy. That’s my firm belief in everything I decide to do, not just basketball—whether it’s going into a front office position or doing something around basketball, being one of the guys on television picking apart other people’s games or just chilling at home, working on my investments and real estate.
One of the moments that stuck out this season was when Victor Oladipo suffered his season-ending injury and you had probably one of your best performances of the season. You put up 23 points and 15 rebounds against the Toronto Raptors, and it came to define the Pacers season as a team that fights despite injuries. You took a leadership position with the team, and you went into the huddle right after Oladipo was carted off and you gave a message to your team. Everyone responded well and you won that game.
How did you develop your leadership skills coming into the NBA as a rookie? How does that process work where you feel confident and comfortable to lead?
Young: It’s definitely a growing process. I started in the league when I was just turning 19 years old. Seven days after my 19th birthday, I was drafted. Just watching guys as I was coming up, the luxuries of playing with a lot of different guys throughout the course of my career. I started off with Andre Miller, who was a phenomenal leader. Very quiet, but he knew how to lead and speak when those moments came. All-out tough guy when it comes to guys I was playing with: Reggie Evans. He didn’t score very many points, but he grabbed a lot of rebounds and his leadership was amazing. Theo Ratliff, Donyell Marshall, Elton Brand and a guy who’s winning championships right now, Andre Iguodala.
Those guys were very pivotal for me as a player. Then some older guys like Kevin Ollie. They helped show me how to lead, how to play the game. In these last couple of years in playing for the Pacers, each and every year I feel like I got better with the team, simply because of the leadership role that they were asking of me and me going out there and understanding how to play the game and playing with younger guys, teaching and showing them how we need to play in order to win. And getting them to believe in the team concept. One of the biggest things for us has always been the team concept. People counted us out, but I told [my teammates] all the time, ‘Everybody doesn’t need to be a hero.’ We can be a hero in our own sense, but when you think about it and look at all of these different movies with all these different heroes, even the best heroes still needed help.
All the heroes had to come together at some point. That’s why you have Justice League and Avengers and all those different characters. Batman had a Robin. All the heroes had to come together and form an alliance where they could come in and get rid of the villain.
This offseason, you’ve already started participating in the NBA’s Job Shadow Program. You got to go down to Atlanta and see TNT and NBATV’s studio broadcasts. What was that experience like, and are you interested in broadcasting down the road?
Young: Yes. Now, when I first got there that morning, the guy leading the program asked us to introduce ourselves and tell everybody what we were there for. I was just there initially to see how everything worked. I had no aspirations of being a broadcaster or an analyst, and then it shifted halfway through the program.
You see how those guys prepare to go on camera, the meetings that they were having, how everything works behind the camera, the teleprompter, how everything is set up, how everything is on queue, how you have to look at each and every situation. Then I got a chance to actually go on camera and explain situational basketball with Mike Fratello and Grant Hill. It was an eye-opening experience. And then I got to see Kenny [Smith], Ernie [Johnson], Shaq [O’Neal] and Charles [Barkley] and I saw how that chemistry was on air [on Inside the NBA], how they all gel together and how they work and feed off of each other’s energy.
It changed my perspective about doing the analyst thing. It was an amazing program. The only thing I would say they need to do is give us a nap in the middle of the day. We were there from nine in the morning to nine at night.
So you’re entering free agency this summer and you’ve gone through it before. Four years ago you re-signed with Brooklyn on a four-year deal. Is the experience as nerve-wracking as people expect it to be?
Young: Four years ago, I was a little bit younger and I had already been offered an extension by Minnesota before I even got to Brooklyn—in a mid-season trade for Kevin Garnett—and I turned it down. I knew what the market was, I knew I was going to get another paycheck, I knew that I could potentially make more with Brooklyn if I made the playoffs, and I did end up getting more money than I did with what the Wolves offered me in Minnesota. And I was very comfortable in understanding each and every thing that was going on, and I knew free agency wasn’t going to last long for me.
But now, I’m 30 going on 31. I wouldn’t say it’s nerve-wracking. The only nerve-wracking part is knowing if you’re going to go back to your previous team or you’re going to switch teams. You have to move your family. I think I had a very good season this year. I think I did very well with helping lead my team. I think GMs and teams around the league understand who I am as a person, who I am as a player, my leadership and my value being brought to any franchise or organization that would offer me a contract.
Right now, I’m in a great space. I’m hanging out with my wife and kids. I’m not really even worried about the free agency situation. To tell you the truth, I haven’t even really thought about it. I’ll think about it when July 1st comes or when June 30th hits. But at the end of the day, I’m comfortable. I don’t think I should be worried, but I’m very happy with the season I played. It’s not as nerve-wracking as most people think it seems. Not for me at least.
What are you looking forward to the most in your future post-playing career years from now?
Young: I know one of the biggest things is my kids will probably be middle school or high school [by the time I retire], so it will be a great chance to connect with them through sports and going to see their games, because they love basketball now. So just going to their games and being able to go and hang out with them.
Spending a lot of time with my wife is another. One of the biggest factors in anything I’m going to be doing with my next contract is my family. The biggest things I’m looking forward to are sitting back and relaxing, enjoying my wife and kids, and just enjoying life. You spend so much time playing in the league—it’s a lot of wear and tear on your body and it hurts sometimes. At the end of the day, you know what you’re doing it for: the love and the passion for the game, and taking care of your family and living a great life after you’re done.
Also, definitely traveling the world and going sight-seeing everywhere. But just hanging out with my wife and kids will be the biggest part.
Have you found other guys around the NBA or around your team who talk about investing?
Young: A lot of my teammates started to figure out in the last couple of years that I do a lot of investing. I have a lot of conversations with different people on my team. Darren Collison and I talk all the time. Cory Joseph—he actually said that he needs to take a visit and sit with me and my people for a day. I told him that I’m fine with that. Myles Turner is another teammate I’ve talked to about that. A lot of different guys.
And there are some guys on other teams too. They’ll hit me up and ask me about some different things that I’m involved with. I think some of the top investors in the league that people don’t know about would be me, Anthony Tolliver and Trevor Booker. He’s been doing a really good job. Obviously,everybody knows what Andre Iguodala is doing in the VC world, with him being out in Golden State with Steph [Curry] and those guys. He and I have conversations all the time about different investments and investment strategies. It’s a lot of different guys getting into this tech industry and getting into this VC world.
Some guys have very impressive portfolios, and that’s all I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make some profits and gain some more insight each and every day and become one of the best at this VC game. There’s a lot of money being tossed around, and there’s a lot of money to be made through your investments and through having a solid team. I’ve done that. I think I’ve built a solid team of professionals.