Walking around Charlotte in 1999, the locals saw an unfamiliar sight: Baron Davis and former North Carolina State Senator Marshall Rauch.
“I remember being a 20-year-old rookie and him sitting me down and asking me, ‘What do you know about finances?’” Davis says. “I told him I didn’t know a lot, but I knew enough and he taught me a lot. People would see an 80-year-old Jewish man and a young black dude with a durag on his head, sitting, having breakfast or lunch in Charlotte at one of these uppity, uptown places. It was just like, ‘How do those two know each other?’”
Davis was drafted by the Hornets in 1999 after two years at UCLA. He’d grown up in Los Angeles, and Charlotte was his first excursion outside of Hollywood. Davis was introduced to Rauch by Michael Holton, a UCLA assistant and friend of Rauch. Holton played for the Hornets from 1988-1990.
Fast-forward to 2019. It’s Friday of NBA All-Star Weekend and Davis is back in Charlotte. This time, he is hanging with Michael Luscher and Mikko Simon, CEO and COO, respectively, of Atlanta-based POINT 3 Basketball.
Davis has recently committed an investment with POINT 3, finalized at the end of Q3 in 2018. He will also serve as creative director. Founded by Luscher in 2010, POINT 3 specializes in basketball attire and is best known for its DRYV Moisture Control Technology. DRYV is a towel-like material that can be incorporated into performance apparel such as basketball jerseys and shorts.
“I’d be in this hot gym in the summer of ‘09 in Atlanta and I would sweat so much, dripping down my arms and saturating my hands with moisture,” Luscher says of POINT 3’s origin. “I’d have trouble controlling the ball, so I would steal my wife’s kitchen towel and hang it over my waistband, like a quarterback does, so I could dry my hands off without leaving the court.”
Luscher also has a valuable asset to this material he can bring to investors. In 2014, POINT 3 was given a patent for its “moisture control garment.”
“I think the protectable IP was a big part of it,” Luscher says on Davis’ decision to partner with the brand. Luscher and Davis did not disclose the amount, but Luscher calls it “significant.”
Investing with Baron Davis is about more than him writing a check. When Davis got to Charlotte, he was not wired like most 20-year-old rookies. He interned at a law firm while in college, and in his first few years in the NBA, he would spend summers working for his agent. Just a few seasons into his career, Davis started his own sports agency, negotiating marketing deals and investing in brands.
Davis’ mentor, Rauch, was also once displaced in North Carolina. Rauch was born and raised in New York City before going to Duke in 1940 to play basketball. He never left, serving in the state senate from 1967-1990. Outside of politics, the World War II veteran was a successful businessman running Rauch Industries Inc., a national Christmas ornament manufacturer from 1954-1998. Rauch is considered to have been the “largest Christmas ornament maker in the world” at one point.
“He was an entrepreneur, he was self-made and he just showed me how to take care of myself, how to take care of my family and the future,” Davis explains. “He taught me what money means, what possessions mean, what things mean in life. It’s really about the opportunities that I get from taking advantage of them and about building a community of people that you can be in business with and where you have great relationships with.”
POINT 3 is far from Davis’ first investment and it will be far from his last. But it is a rare Davis investment into the basketball industry.
Davis has been in hundreds, if not thousands of pitches. At this point, he knows roughly what he is looking for.
“What are they doing? What is their mission? What does the brand look like?” Davis says about analyzing a company. “It’s the law of attraction. After that, it’s about, what do the operations look like? What is the vision of the entrepreneur? Where does this sell? What does the trajectory look like? And then for me, once I start to see that, I start to see where I could help and assist. Me, being a creative person and a visionary, are our visions aligned? Or, maybe they have the vision and I can jump in and support and accelerate it.”
Like any good relationship, potential investors with Davis need to play the long game. It was a process getting pen to paper between POINT 3 and Davis. Luscher and Davis were originally introduced by Josh Gotthelf, co-founder of Dime Magazine and former general manager of Baron Davis Enterprises. Gotthelf, an advisor and investor to POINT 3, connected Luscher and Davis. After all, Davis was constantly coming in to Atlanta for his work with Turner Sports, and he could use a friend.
Davis and Luscher would meet for meals or drinks. As they bounced ideas off each other, the meetings became more frequent.
“He found something that we could connect to,” Davis says. “Not just through basketball, it was more so fashion. I think over lunch, another lunch, we just kept building and talking about all forms of fashion, athleisure, sports performance, things like that. It took us a while to get to the deal, but when we looked up, we had built a friendship. And so it made the deal easy to get done because we were both wanting to make it happen. Sometimes things happen like that through building a relationship and having commonalities and likenesses.
“And then I thought, here’s a basketball brand that can be disruptive. They’re not trying to compete with the big boys, but there’s an understanding of where they are and understanding the community and the audience that they can serve.”
Disruption is a big word. And it means big-time. Shaking up an industry dominated by Nike, Adidas and Under Armour would send shockwaves through the basketball world.
“I think first and foremost was Baron’s desire to not accept the current paradigm and try and disrupt the industry,” Luscher says.
“His creative vision, his contacts, his ideas. That’s when the more we met and started talking about it, I was like, ‘This guy can really be a difference maker to our business.’”
According to Luscher, Davis’ partnership helped “leverage our reach in the team space to supercharge our direct-to-consumer growth strategy” in Q4 of last year. He says the brand saw a 300-percent year-over-year growth in direct-to-consumer online business during that time.
Davis plans to work with POINT 3 to connect with AAU coaches and friends from the NBA world to help grow the brand, while also incorporating current brands he partners with. Under the Baron Davis Enterprises umbrella are four companies he founded: Sports and Lifestyle in Culture, The Black Santa Company, BIG and No Label. Davis was also recently announced as part of Overtime’s $23 million Series B round of funding.
“It’s been maybe decades since anybody made a meaningful innovation to basketball apparel,” Gotthelf says. “And this sweat-drying technology, being able to dry your hands on your basketball shorts, is the first true game-changer in the basketball apparel space in maybe 20 years. And the fact that it’s a protected patent, I know is a big part of what brings value to that investment.”
For Marshall Rauch, it was about ornaments. For Michael Luscher, it’s about towel material.
But above all for Baron Davis, it’s about connections. On Sunday before the All-Star Game, he hosted his “BIG Brunch & Convo” event. Luscher and Rauch (who is 96) were both in the room.
Maybe they can brainstorm a crossover ornament-DRYV idea.