National Basketball Retired Players Association Expands Horizons With NASA Partnership

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In its most recent innovative initiative, the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) has teamed up with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center to create an entrepreneurship program for former players.

“You think about these former players — they’ve made it to the top of what they’ve done,” said Eric McGill, senior technology manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “They’re dedicated and hardworking. These folks are very smart people. They have that drive and the ability to work on teams, and the entrepreneurial industry is built on teams, with people from a variety of backgrounds.”

The partnership will pave the path for former NBA, WNBA, ABA, and Harlem Globetrotters players to work with NASA engineers and delve into the commercialization of patented NASA technologies.

“Professional athletes already leverage their likeness and celebrity and use that in their business dealings, so this is a good opportunity for them to learn about the technology first and foremost, and utilize it,” said Scott Rochelle, president & CEO of the NBRPA.

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The connection between NASA and the NBRPA was established well before the implementation of this program; NASA has been involved in the NBRPA’s tech summits for years.

Additionally, former Globetrotter David Naves, who is also on the NBRPA board, has worked at NASA for more than a decade, so it was an organic partnership for the two organizations.

“We decided we needed to do more and formalize a program,” said Rochelle. “NASA had just done a program with the NFLPA, so we took something similar and applied it to our former players. Through the summer conference, we’ve connected players with the NASA reps through that informally, but now we’ll have an onboarding system.”

“We had a natural connection because of our relationship with NASA,” he added. “They have a keen interest of using their technology and getting it into the hands of entrepreneurs.”

On top of that preexisting relationship, McGill explained that the partnership takes advantage of the drive and resources of former players.

“We thought there would be way for our organization to work with the NBRPA and figure out a way that makes sense for us to engage them,” McGill said. “What we came up with is, in our field of technology commercialization, with the transfer of technology from federal labs, many people who want to license our inventions have problems raising capital, and it’s hard to find those first investors because it’s high risk… These guys [with the NBRPA] have resources that an average person wanting to start company might not have.”

The program itself will feature informational sessions and meetings with NASA engineers to pinpoint specific opportunities tailored to each former player’s interests.

“We’ll have workshops we’ll put on where they come in and get exposure to our portfolio and folks who’ve gone through the process and successfully licensed our technology,” McGill said. “We’ll plug them into the entrepreneurial ecosystem to show them how to be successful.”

The informative style of the program is ideal for the NBRPA’s diverse membership, according to Rochelle.

“The educational component will come with site visits to Goddard, seeing how NASA applies technology, and then it comes down to customizing business opportunities around existing technology that’s there,” Rochelle said. “It’s a better way to engage young people, and the older generation that’s learning how to operate it. Our membership goes from age 28 to 98, and technology is that one constant that almost everyone uses.”

Former players have already started to dip their toes into the program and utilize NASA’s technology.

“One of their members was interested in educational licensing for specific technology, so he’s building a curriculum for student-athletes, aimed at high school students, to stay plugged into more than just athletics, but their academics too,” McGill said. “So, he licensed technology from us to integrate into his curriculum.”

The program is open to former players who are experienced in the startup realm, as well as those looking to break in for the first time.

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“It’s for those thinking of getting in the business and those who have existing ventures,” Rochelle said. “They can all work within this new program.”

With that sense of inclusion in mind, the NBRPA has created a unique opportunity for former players, which is on par with the organization’s broader mission to continuously innovate.

“It’s very important because we’ve been operating for 26 years, and we have to maintain our relevance and stay up to speed,” Rochelle said. “The landscape for retired players has changed. We used to talk about financial literacy as the main thing. Now, we’re looking forward, putting them in positions for success as leaders in the entrepreneurial world. Now, we need to lead.”

“We expect to be in this space for a long time, no pun intended,” he added with a laugh.