At the end of June, 10 NBA players traveled to Milan, Italy, for the NBPA’s newly developed International Business Academy. In partnership with the SDA Bocconi School of Management, the NBPA created the three-day program, which lasted from June 26-28, to help players focus on branding in the global economy. The program was led by SDA Bocconi professors Dino Ruta, a professor of human resources and sport management, and David Bardolet, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship.
Player host Danilo Gallinari and his NBA peers — Alexis Ajinca, Wilson Chandler, Jordan Clarkson, Boris Diaw, Jerami Grant, Gary Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Nikola Vucevic, and former player Ronny Turiaf — were the participants in the inaugural IBA.
“It will be a very good experience for everybody, especially us as NBA players,” Gallinari said prior to the program’s start. “It’s going to be a chance for us players to learn a lot about business.”
Unlike other NBPA programs, IBA presented international players the opportunity to partake in an offseason event that didn’t require them going back to the U.S., thus encouraging more international player participation.
“I was really looking forward to coming to this,” Diaw said. “I’ve been in the NBA for 14 years, and I’ve never been to one (NBPA) event because they’re always in the U.S. And in the summer I’m back in Europe. So I was happy when they said that they would do one here.”
Among the 10 player participants in the IBA, five countries were represented: France, Italy, Montenegro, Serbia and the U.S.
The group itself was also diverse in its experience. Not only was there an ex-player and several veterans in attendance, but also three players 25 years old and under, giving them a chance to learn earlier in their careers to help them get going now and better prepare them for their futures.
“You can never plan too early — even though I’m still pretty young in my career,” said the 22-year-old Harris. “But I think it’s great for everyone. Whether you’re young, you’re old, as long as you’re looking towards the future, it’s great.”
The IBA was created to be more than just an educational program, though. It was developed around topics that the players are most passionate about, thus creating an asset that could help develop those interests. This was achieved through education, but also thanks to direct exposure to companies that represent excellence in the fashion, automotive and beverage industries among others.
“The International Business Academy is part of what the (NBPA) is providing for players,” Turiaf said. “You see you have the real estate program (Real Estate Symposium). You have the broadcaster program (Sportscaster U). You have those opportunities to be able to see what makes you tick, what you like, what you don’t like.
“You see nowadays where it’s so much aligned with what we want to do as professional basketball players, some of our interests and our passions. If you give players the opportunity to follow their passion, they will take advantage of it.”
From food to fashion, the NBPA brought in various brands to cover the different passions players have, allowing the players to hear, learn from and network with top people from high-profile brands.
In terms of beverage brands, players met with Ferrari Wines and the Campari Group. When meeting with Matteo Lunelli, president of Ferrari Wines, players learned how wines became brands. The Campari Group, a beverage company that owns more than 50 wine and spirit brands, held a session titled “Campari: The Challenges of Managing a Multi-Product Global Brand,” focusing on how the company manages its myriad of products in different markets worldwide.
Fashion enthusiasts, like Chandler and Clarkson, could find interest in the fashion brands NBPA brought in for IBA. Remo Ruffini, the president and creative director of the Italian fashion company Moncler, met with players to give insight on how Moncler, a label that has worked with popular musician Pharrell Williams, became the high-end brand it is today.
There was also a visit to the factory of Stone Island, another high-end Italian fashion brand that recently began a highly successful collaboration with Supreme in the U.S. Players met with Carlo Rivetti, the man at the helm, and saw how the company focuses on innovation to develop its products — something that has allowed Stone Island to achieve worldwide success.
On the nonprofit side, Javier Zanetti discussed his organization, PUPI Foundation: a nonprofit organization based in Argentina that helps underprivileged children. Zanetti, a former Inter Milan soccer player and the club’s current vice president, developed the organization in 2001 when he was still an active player. In addition to talking about his nonprofit work, Zanetti spoke to players about his life since retiring in 2014, his career today and how to manage a personal brand. Being a retired soccer player, who spent his entire playing career in Italy, Zanetti’s inclusion in the IBA drew particular interest from Vucevic, a big fan of Italian soccer.
A special treat for the entire group was the group’s visit to the home of Ferrari, Maranello. The factory is renowned for its secrecy and being granted a tour is a rarity. However, Ferrari opened its doors to the players and helped them learn about the Ferrari brand, which was named the fourth most powerful brand by Brand Finance in 2017. They met with personnel from Ferrari’s global communication team and went on a factory tour, getting to see the valued Ferrari cars themselves. With Scuderia Ferrari, the company’s racing division that focuses solely on Formula 1, players were able to learn about how the brand utilizes its racing drivers as testimonials.
Aside from meeting with brands and high-profile people associated with those brands, players had classroom sessions with several SDA Bocconi professors in addition to Ruta and Bardolet. SDA Bocconi visiting professor Lluis Martinez-Ribes led a session titled “Brain-pleasing branding experience,” teaching players about the basics of building a brand and how aspects of the brain affect a customer’s perception of a brand. SDA Bocconi professors of marketing Davide Reina and Zach Estes taught classes titled “Co-branding Partnerships” and “Names and Logos: The Perception of a Brand,” respectively. Players learned how to create and develop the right partnerships and how names and logos are essential to a brand’s identity.
The educational component that SDA Bocconi provided also proved key in helping players take concepts learned through guest speakers and company visits, and helping them apply these to the marketing and branding of their own personal ventures.
At the program’s conclusion, players had a chance to reflect upon everything they learned when they created their individual action plans. The purpose of the individual action plan was to further help players apply what they learned during IBA to their own lives, answering the question, “How will I maintain and expand the knowledge acquired in this program and develop myself as an individual and a business person?” In constructing the plans, players considered their personal brands, who they are as business people, who they are as individuals and what changes they can make to improve those. It stressed the personal excellence they can all accomplish off the court and allowed them to see the smaller steps they can take to achieve greater goals.