Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Today, ex-Knick Charles Smith is the head of sports and entertainment at MediaCom, a global communications and marketing firm. He works with athletes (Tobias Harris) and entertainers (Akon) to align them with brands through social media.
His path from NBA player marketing executive wasn't a straight line. It included some self-reflection and difficult moments.
"I am not the same person I was when I played and I could not be the same person I was when I played in order to be sitting in this seat at MediaCom," Smith says. "It's impossible."
Smith hopes that his post-playing experience can help instruct current players who are - or will be - transitioning to a career after basketball.
Below, Smith discusses his path from the NBA to MediaCom and some of the challenges of transitioning from the NBA to the corporate world.
Toward the end of his career, Smith was offered a $1 million contract to play in Italy. Instead of playing overseas, Smith decided to continue working with a software company that he founded during the .com boom.
"While working, I realized all the things that I didn't have and how I was not prepared. I lacked a lot of temperament and personality traits for business. I came from a world (in professional sports) of harsh direct dialogue using a lot expletives," Smith said. "I didn't have the right decorum, approach or understand corporate culture to be able to adapt to business. I realize that everything that I learned to be a pro athlete really was counter-intuitive for what I needed in business after (my playing days). And that was the roughest part of my transition. Identifying all those things when they came up and then finding the ways to kind of retrain my thoughts and skills for the betterment of me."
Smith said turning to therapy at the time helped him change his thinking and thrive in his post-playing career.
"It took a lot. To be totally honest, I've cried many times in therapy. There was a point where I was so confused as to who I really was as a person. I got depressed because I couldn't be myself and I was misunderstood," Smith said. "It took a lot for to realize what I needed to change then do it. Today I'm unapologetic for being a business executive that's 6-10, being a former NBA player and no longer having to hide my experience and business know-how because others are uncomfortable with me."
Not equipped for corporate life
Smith, who earned an MBA at Seton Hall after his playing days, credits that shift in thinking for his success in corporate life.
"The biggest challenge is understanding that you are, and I don't mean this literally, but figuratively, you're trained to be an assassin. You're trained to not care. You're trained to go above and beyond and through people. You're trained not to care about the person in front of you, step on him and move ahead. If he's not performing, you don't help him, you take his minutes. You're trained to just perform your best every night. It's up to you to get it done. So everything that I just mentioned, it doesn't work in business and it doesn't work in life afterwards," said Smith, who in addition to corporate jobs worked for the NBPA after he retired from the NBA. "….I found that I needed to change certain negative behaviors from basketball to move forward with personality traits and skill sets that were good for business, my family and doing a lot of things beyond sport."
The best approach
So how would Smith advise today's NBA player to prepare for life after retirement?
"For any rookie today, I would tell them, focus on your career. Don't worry about business and other things (during your playing days)," Smith said. "Take care of your bodies and maximize your ability to make as much money as you can in this short period of time. Find a trusted team to help you do whatever it is that you want to do, but seriously focus on your body and maximize your career. It's a different time and they don't have to think about business while they're playing. They can begin to think about their next career after they finish playing with $50M in the bank."