Through hard work and surrounding yourself with the right people, anything is possible. Those are the two factors that were main drivers of success for Tony Delk, whose resume boosts a NCAA national championship, 10 years in the NBA, and a multitude of entrepreneurial endeavors.
In my interview with Tony, he shared the life lessons he learned from legendary coach Rick Pitino and how that help him not only become a basketball star, but also prepared him for creating a star life after the NBA.
If you want to learn the lessons that helped Tony achieve uber-success in multiple differing fields, read on.
You played college basketball at the University of Kentucky, and then went on to have 10 successful years in the NBA. Out of all your coaches, which one had the biggest impact on your career?
Coach Pitino while I was at UK. He taught me the game – the mental aspect and the physical aspect. But most importantly, he prepared me for life after basketball. In fact, as a senior, Coach Pitino set me up with a really good business manager who’s been with me since 1996.
What’s an important lesson from Coach Pitino?
The most important thing that he taught me was to not let money define who you are, and to always stay humble. Because of that advice, once I began making a lot of money, it didn’t change who I was as an individual.
The money that comes in, in tandem with the fame from being on TV, results in an extreme pressure to change and let it go to your head, but my foundation in which Coach Pitino helped to create kept me grounded and humble.
What did this foundation consist of?
Mostly, it was surrounding myself with a good circle of friends, which was something else Coach Pitino provided. His circle of friends became our circle of friends. That’s one of the things I enjoyed most about him. He didn’t allow us to go out and meet new friends that that could take us away from being who we were, or give us money or some other thing we thought we wanted.
What characteristics should we as entrepreneurs look for when determining whether or not to accept someone into our circle of friends?
If someone is in my circle of friends, it’s because they’re an asset and not a liability. Liabilities are the people that when you go out, they never get the check. They’re always mooching. They want free clothes, free gear, and never pay for gas. In other words, they like everything if it comes for free.
An asset is a friend that I know is willing to get out and work, and it’s someone I don’t need to take care of as if they were my kids. Assets are the friends that rarely ask you for anything, but when they do, you know they’re either going to give it back or are in a desperate situation.
Also, it’s important that they are truthful, offer constructive criticism and feedback, and hold you accountable.
Does this asset/liability concept also reflect your overall business philosophy?
Absolutely. Coach Pitino used to say “when something is given, it can be taken away. But when it’s earned, it’s yours.” I’ve always taken that dictum with me wherever I’ve gone, and it’s the motto I pass on when offering advice to others, especially when I speak to kids. I always tell them – listen, the most important thing is hard work. You have to put so many hours in, and when you put those hours in, it’s earned, not given to you. So, it’s important to not only surround yourself with assets, but to also be an asset yourself.
Tactically, how do you apply this concept when screening investment opportunities or partnerships?
Well, initially, I didn’t. When I was in my 20s, if someone brought me an exciting business opportunity, I would jump on it without conducting much research. Or if it was a friend, I would invest to just help them out.
For example, in 1996, I gave my brother $15,000 for a business idea. I knew that it wasn’t going to pan out, but I made the investment because he was my brother. He had mentored me growing up, so it was sort of a payment of gratitude. However, the business idea flopped and I never got that money back. So, I also learned a valuable lesson – don’t invest with family or friends.
How did your approach to business opportunities evolve as you got older?
For my early investments, a common thread was that the only money invested in the deal was my own. So, now there needs to be an alignment of interests financially.
I also conduct a lot more research, specifically on the other people involved in the deal. I want to know if they’ve ever gone bankrupt. And if they have pursued other business endeavors, and if so, if they were successful. And to have an understanding of their business careers and where they are to this day.
And then of course, I study the business itself. But not just the financials. I want to get to know the employees, and the family and friends of the owners. You want to have that financial alignment of interest, but you also want to know if they are family-oriented and treat their friends and employees properly. If they don’t take care of their employees, they won’t take care of your clients.
Based on your successful NBA and business career, what is your Best Ever Advice for real estate investors and entrepreneurs?
When you’re investing in a deal or in a business, have equity. That way, you will personally benefit from any financial gains, but you are also creating generational wealth for your children and grandchildren.
Also, I would advise to only pursue opportunities that you love. If you love it, you’re going to be all in and want to see the project grow.
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