How Grant Hill built his post-NBA business empire

Former NBA superstar and Duke Blue Devils icon Grant Hill has amassed over $100 million in career earnings. He has invested in several huge real estate projects, including a $5 billion development in Atlanta. He has a stake in an NBA team and a new partnership with multinational conglomerate Philips.

Now his net worth is estimated at $250 million.

But the 1994 Detroit Pistons first-round pick is still concerned about money — an attitude that carries over from his time on the NBA court.

“I’ve always thought about when it’s game over,” Hill said of his budget during his playing days looking towards life after retirement. “And I think that’s been good for me.”

Hill, 49, spoke to CNBC on Tuesday to discuss his new advertising agreement with Philips shaving products around the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which begins March 17. He also works as a basketball analyst for Turner Sports’ NBA and NCAA games.

The interview was only meant to last 15 minutes, but stretched to 45 minutes as Hill spoke about his investments, his continued involvement in the NBA, and his never-ending curiosity about the business in general.

That’s how Hill navigated his finances and built a promising business portfolio outside of court.

Think like a CEO

After his draft, one of Hill’s most notable decisions was not to hire a sports agent to negotiate deals. Hill said he doesn’t believe in paying an agent a percentage of their contracts to speak on their behalf. Basketball agents can charge players up to 4% for completing contracts and earn more by luring branded deals to customers.

Hill, who played for four teams over the course of 19 NBA seasons, recalled that his first contract in 1994 was an eight-year, $45 million deal. This was negotiated by attorney Lon Babby, who had experience as general counsel of the Baltimore Orioles, and Phoenix became Sun’s president of basketball operations.

“Essentially, we are CEOs of our own companies,” Hill said, referring to professional athletes. “And CEOs don’t typically hire agents and pay them a percentage. They work with lawyers and they have lawyers to help them negotiate and review deals for you. And to protect your interest in contracts. So I went that route with representation.”

Babby, who charged Hill an hourly rate, helped negotiate a $93 million deal with Orlando Magic in 2000 and built a marketing department securing deals from brands like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola’s Sprite. Sportswear company FILA signed Hill to a lifetime deal in 2018.

Grant Hill #33 of the Detroit Pistons stands at the line to take a foul shot on the Washington Bullets during a 1994 NBA basketball game at the US Airways Arena in Landover, Maryland. Hill played for the Pistons from 1994 to 2000.

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By taking control of his company early in his career, Hill said he learned by “sitting down with the executive team, going through marketing campaigns — visiting ad agencies to come up with a strategy.” He also studied the business section of newspapers to learn about money and “kept things simple” when it came to spending.

“I haven’t changed my lifestyle,” Hill said. “I didn’t go shopping. I didn’t buy a car. I had a relationship with General Motors and they gave me a couple of cars.”

Hill, who played until he was 40, was elected to the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018 and serves on the organization’s board of directors. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the NBA Retired Players Association. In January 2021, Hill was named the new general manager of the United States men’s national basketball team.

In Hill’s portfolio

Hill said he first became “paranoid about money and losing money” after watching athletes struggle with money after their careers ended. Hill’s father — former Dallas Cowboys running back Calvin Hill — played in the NFL from 1969 to 1981, so he saw some players struggling with financial problems up close.

When asked if he remains concerned about similar financial results, Hill said, “There’s constant paranoia. I guess that’s a little bit how I’m hardwired.”

I haven’t changed my lifestyle. I didn’t go on a shopping spree.

Grant Hill

Retired businessman and NBA star

This thinking is reflected in his involvement in real estate investments.

“I believe in hard assets, real assets,” Hill said.

Hill praised his parents for showing an interest in the sector. He recalled stepping into space in 2000 while at Magic. Hill invested in apartment buildings and office buildings in central Florida, a region he described as “prime for growth” that has since grown tremendously.

Through his marketing and management company, Hill Ventures, the former NBA All-Star has invested and developed over $200 million in projects across Florida in North Carolina.

In his most recent venture, Hill joined commercial real estate investment firm CIM Group to invest in Centennial Yards, a $5 billion mixed-use development in Atlanta. Hill said the downtown project would take seven to 10 years to complete. He compared it to LA Live, an entertainment and residential facility outside of Los Angeles’ Crypto.com Arena.

Tetra Pictures | Brand X Pictures | Getty Images

Hill is one of the many athletes to benefit from real estate investing after their careers.

Basketball Hall of Famer and Pistons legend Isiah Thomas has a real estate business at his company ISIAH International. Former National Football League running back LeSean McCoy is growing his portfolio through Vice Capital.

Several top athletes invest in cryptocurrencies, but Hill is skeptical about the sustainability of the asset class. Again, it’s hard assets at stake for Hill.

“There have been great fortunes that have developed through real estate and that’s part of asset allocation,” he added. “I think it’s a safe bet, but I also think it’s a profitable bet compared to some of these types of new digital currencies that are out there.”

Ball boys wear gloves as a precaution before an NBA game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on March 9, 2009.

Todd Kirkland | Getty Images

Investing in sports teams and black arts

Hill also has sports properties in its portfolio. He is an investor in the NBA’s $1 billion Africa business and a minority shareholder in the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.

Hill took on an equity stake and the role of vice chairman in 2015 when he joined businessman Tony Ressler to buy the team for more than $800 million. According to Forbes, the Hawks are now worth $1.6 billion.

Hill has not disclosed his overall stake in the NBA franchise. “It’s an investment and Tony Ressler can treat me like an investor, but he treats me like a partner,” he said. “That’s something I really appreciate and appreciate.”

Previously, Hill and other investors’ $1.2 billion bid for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 could not match former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion bid for the team.

Another asset in Hill’s portfolio: black art.

Hill began collecting the black artworks in the 1990s. Hill told CNBC he owns artwork by Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, painter Norman Lewis and Hank Willis Thomas. And as acceptance by the mainstream art community has increased, black artwork has increased in value.

“I think if you buy good art, have a good eye and know what you’re doing, you can make a lot of money,” Hill said.

Hill still relies on his NBA brand

Celebrity Net Worth, a website that follows and celebrates athletes, estimates that Hill has earned around $120 million from advertising. Hill also has experience in the consumer goods sector as a board member of New Jersey-based Campbell Soup.

Hill is also helping Philips attract new razors with its Norelco OneBlade line. Terms of Hill’s support with Philips were not provided. Philips is traded on the New York Stock Exchange and has a market capitalization of $28 billion.

“They’re looking for companies that have credibility,” Hill said of how he approaches endorsement deals with brands. “Companies that have a track record of success that ultimately embody the quality and attributes that they stand for.

“They (Philips) have a product that I believe will identify and serve young college basketball fans,” Hill added. “I think of it because I was a young college basketball fan.”

Hill played for legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. The legendary coach is retiring from the program after 42 seasons and five NCAA Division I championships. Two of those title teams, in 1991 and 1992, featured Hill.

The retired superstar attended Krzyzewski’s last home game at school last weekend and called the moment “bittersweet”.

“Celebrating him, celebrating his legacy – to see players from multiple decades coming back was special,” Hill said.

And he thinks the Blue Devils will go all the way this year. Duke won his last NCAA championship in 2015.

“We’re due,” Hill said. “Hopefully we can send Coach K off with another championship.”

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