THE BLOG
12/23/2014 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

From Basketball to Business: Lessons I Shared During the NBA Players Association Leadership Development Conference

2014-12-15-NickFriedman.jpgAuthor Nick Friedman is President and Co-Founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk & College Hunks Moving, the largest and fastest growing US-based junk removal and moving franchise opportunity. He started the business in college with his best friend in a beat up cargo van, and now has over 50 franchise locations nationwide.

I grew up having hoop dreams. I was obsessed with the game of basketball and dreamed of one day playing in the NBA. Unfortunately, I was not blessed with the God-given gifts that would have given me an advantage when it came to accomplishing this feat. Although I grew beyond my family's projected height as a kid, I still peaked at just barely 6 feet tall. I did not inherit great jumping or running abilities, and I did not have smooth coordination when it came to shooting or handling the ball.

All that being said, I was told as a kid that if I worked hard enough and believed in my dreams, then I could achieve anything. So I attended summer camps and listened to NBA players talk about what I needed to do in order to get to their level. I worked extremely hard to become the best basketball player I could be and spent countless hours in the gym shooting, running and jumping. And while I would never reach the highest level of the game, I did enjoy some success that I probably would not have otherwise realized if it were not for my hard work and determination.

Choosing business over basketball

My professional basketball aspirations began to fizzle out and reality began to sink in during college. The summer before my senior year, I decided to start hauling junk with a friend from high school to make some extra money. We called ourselves College Hunks Hauling Junk and we had a vision to become a national brand. Now, 10 years later, we have more than 50 franchises and more than 1,000 employees nationwide. We are the largest, fastest-growing junk removal and moving franchise in the country.

This business success at a relatively young age led to being invited to speak on a panel about entrepreneurship at the NBA Player's Association Leadership Development Conference, which took place in Las Vegas this past summer during the NBA summer league. I was on a panel with some NBA greats who have made the successful leap into business, including Baron Davis, Roger Mason, Jr., Jonathan Bender and John Crotty, as well as WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie. There were more than 200 current and former NBA players in the audience, all looking to me for advice on how to become successful in business.

In an instant, I felt like the roles had been reversed. No longer was I looking at these professional players wanting to one day be like them, but rather, they were looking to learn from my experiences and achieve business success in their life after basketball. Everyone's athletic days must come to an end at some point. (Mine just ended a lot earlier and a few million-dollar salaries less than the players I was speaking to.)

The NBA hosted this Leadership Development Conference because it recognizes that, while professional players often enjoy huge salaries and endorsement deals during their playing days, they still need to be thinking about their professional life after basketball. There have been countless examples of careers cut short by injuries or bad financial decisions. ESPN even aired a documentary highlighting the fact that the majority of professional athletes are now broke.

The key to business success for professional athletes

The advice I gave to the players was based on my experience as a successful entrepreneur, and as a failed basketball player. I explained that success in business requires some God-given natural talents, just like success in sports. These business talents include an ability to see opportunities, solve problems, see the future, to inspire those around to make it a reality, and to take risks in the face of doubters. And just as someone born with natural athletic abilities must work hard to fine-tune their skills in order to excel, the same holds true for someone aspiring for business success. Hard work, discipline, leadership, teamwork, and a thirst for improvement go hand-in-hand with both athletic success, as well as business success. But while there are certainly translatable skills from sports to business, there are also some significant differences.

Whether someone is a professional athlete or a corporate employee, in order to make the shift into entrepreneurial overdrive, you have to be able to change your mindset. You are now responsible for all decisions good or bad. You need to be able to develop very clear long-term and short-term visions, you need to be able to manage time and money, and you need to be able to make critical decisions in selecting and inspiring your employees who will help make the vision into a reality.

After my talk to the NBA players, the next speaker was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who applauded the players in the audience for thinking about their lives after basketball. It was a great first step for these aspiring entrepreneurs with impressive basketball careers, and a very humbling experience for this successful entrepreneur with expired hoop dreams.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program.