In my experiences around athletes throughout my life, many of them don't have a plan once their sport ends. They spend their entire lives training and practicing, but once college or their professional careers are over with, they're unsure of what path to take next.
Demetrius Spencer, the CEO of Ball Up, wanted to do something about that. A few years ago he noticed that every singer wanted to be on American Idol, and every fighter wanted to be on Ultimate Fighter. However, he noticed there was nothing like this for basketball. He used his connections in the TV industry and pitched the idea, which Fox Sports picked up. In its third season, Ball Up's basketball reality show "The Search for the Next," has been a top rated show on the network each season.
Knowing first-hand the struggles athletes face and how playing professionally in different countries isn't always guaranteed, for many players this can be a final shot at achieving their childhood dreams of playing professional basketball. Intrigued about this concept, I asked Demetrius a few questions about his inspiration to create the tour, and why he felt this was so important.
What was your inspiration behind creating this show?
Demetrius: I noticed the popularity of American Idol and reality television, and I knew I could create something like that, only for basketball. I knew I could create a program that gave players the opportunity to do what they love and turn it into a professional career for themselves through live events and television.
How important is helping athletes keep pursuing their dreams of playing pro basketball?
Demetrius: It's extremely important. G Smith, the winner of last season, said, "I'm now able to call home and tell my wife and kids I'm a professional basketball player." I didn't realize how much of an impact this was going to have on people's lives. When we go overseas, the fans already know who these players are now. It's a huge opportunity for these athletes to create their own ID.
What do you think holds people back from achieving their dreams?
Demetrius: Fear. From my perspective, too many people operate out of fear. You can't be scared to fail. If you do fail, you will learn from it. Build your dream, then when that tops out, build it even further.
I also had a chance to speak with two of the players from Demetrius' Ball Up series, streetball legend Ryan "Special FX" Williams, who is signed to the Ball Up All-Star team, and streetball hopeful Brian Smith, who is featured in this week's episode and who runs local basketball programs in his community. I asked what impact basketball had in their lives growing up, and why it's so important, even to this day.
How important was basketball to you growing up?
Special FX: Growing up in New York City, it got me prepared for real life. I played against the older guys all the time. Playing in Rucker Park at 16 years old, it was an easy transition to then play college ball at St. John's in front of thousands of fans.
Brian: Growing up in Philly, there were a lot of distractions. It was easy to get pulled into selling drugs or illegal activities. Basketball, for me and many other guys, gave us a focus and a dream. It was an activity we could do to stay away from all the bad stuff we were surrounded by. Because of this, I've created a Basketball Builds Bridges program that helps young athletes.
How has Ball Up helped keep the dream alive of playing pro basketball?
Special FX: There are only about 350 spots in the NBA, and it's not always easy to play overseas. This provides players with another option to get paid to play the sport they know and love. I was in Japan playing professionally, but this helps me be closer to my kids. When my son has a basketball game now, I can go to it instead of only watching the video.
Brian: There are NBA players who are rookies at 30 years old. This just shows that no matter your age, having a dream is the most important thing. Ball Up provides athletes with another option to keep playing.
Being a ballplayer, this concept is a dream since it provides us with another option to play pro. Maybe in a few years, kids will not only want to "make the NBA," but also want to "make the Ball Up" tour. If it keeps growing in popularity, I see this as having real potential. These athletes are celebrities in their own rights, and with the proliferation of social media, connecting with them is easier than ever.
Watch "The Search for the Next" on Friday, May 8th at 7:00pm on Fox Sports 2 and again on Saturday on Fox Sports Net (premiere times vary by regional network).
Follow Ball Up on Twitter at @BallUp
Follow Special FX at @718SpecialFX
Follow Brian at @Bsmith_215
Follow Demetrius Spencer at @Ballup_Ceo