How to increase the international impact of NBA players by studying brands

The NBPA launched the One Court Milan platform at SDA Bocconi during the 4th edition of the International Business Academy


The atmosphere is typical of a match at the highest level, although this time the top players are not there to challenge each other but to play together. And it is not just a metaphor. The players in question are some of the stars of American basketball to whom the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) offered the opportunity to meet some champions of Made in Italy fashion, luxury and craftsmanship, and their world-famous brands. Together with a basketball team made up of youths whose families have immigrated from Africa, to talk about the issues of diversity and inclusion.

All this happened, this year. within a broader framework called One Court Milan, which aims to mark the presence of the NBPA in Italy and Europe in order to transfer its values to the international arena. The “playing field” was SDA Bocconi’s Campus, which hosted the International Business Academy for the fourth time since 2017. The Academy is a top-notch educational and networking experience for NBA players, that results from the partnership between the School and the NBPA on the subject of “Branding in the Global Economy”.

The International Business Academy is a program with a strong inspirational slant, coordinated by Emanuela Prandelli and Dino Ruta. It is designed and built to support participants in their international investment decisions and the development of their personal brand, by sharing experience in three areas – sports, fashion and the digital – which have something important in common: individual talent and intuition make the difference but these qualities must be supported and enhanced over time by specific managerial skills and choices.

US Basketball champions – Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Bismack Biyombo, Luguentz Dort, Danilo Gallinari, De’Andre Hunter, Corey Kispert, Chimezie Metu, Jusuf Nurkic, Mason Plumlee, Michael Porter Jr, Immanuel Quickley, Jonas Valanciunas – actively participated in the sessions by sharing their off-pitch experiences. Each player was joined in the classroom by a guest – their agent, a business partner, or a family member – to elaborate together on their story.

The participants engaged with top names in the fashion and luxury industry. They are the founders or leaders of successful brands, such as Flavio Girolami, founder of Common Projects and SAAM, Andrea Grilli, CEO of Off-White, Federico Marchetti, founder of Yoox Net-A-Porter Group, Giacomo Missoni, Ceo of Missoni USA, Ottavio Missoni Jr, Chief Sustainability Officer at Missoni Group, Livio Proli, CEO of Missoni Group, Carlo Rivetti, President and Creative Director at Sportswear Company, Gianluca Toniolo, CEO of Dolce & Gabbana Beauty.

“Twenty-five percent of NBA players are not American and all 450 players are part of a global brand, the NBA, which is expanding its impact in Europe and Asia and more recently in Africa,” Ruta explained. “These players are well known and admired all over the world and have the potential to achieve important goals even outside the sports context, in the economic and social field. To do this, they should start while they are playing and have broad access to several resources. The NBPA chose SDA Bocconi,” Ruta continued, “because it has identified particularly our Sports Knowledge Center, founded in 2013, as a center of international excellence for the development of business and management topics concerning sports, and increasingly specializing on the career of athletes. And it is aware that Milan is a dynamic and stimulating context regarding the issues of creativity and intangible values associated with great brands.”

A top team has discussed the following topics over three days:

  • Building and developing premium brands, i.e., attracting and retaining high-end customers through greater value for money.
  • Enhancing the customer experience, that is, taking care of every aspect of the relationship, even if it is short and does not result in purchase.
  • Developing a personal brand, that is, build a strategic process for creating, positioning and maintaining one’s reputation and public image, even from the social point of view.

The aim of the program is to provide an all-round perspective on how to build a successful brand that has an international reach, “especially considering that NBA players are international brands in themselves,” Emanuela Prandelli pointed out, “and for this reason they need proper management training to support them in managing their activities.”

“The International Business Academy allowed us to lay the foundations to the first edition of One Court Milan,” said Matteo Zuretti, NBPA’s Chief of International Relations and Marketing. “We want to elevate the offering for our players and give them the chance to have a unique experience.”

In addition to on-campus training, One Court is also a social project. The NBPA Foundation hosted the “More Than a Game 3.0,” in partnership with SDA Bocconi. The initiative is part of the multi-year SDA Bocconi for Growth project, launched in 2012, where the School shares its experience and knowledge free of charge to concretely support young people, microenterprises and small nonprofit organizations.

Twenty youths from the sports association TamTam Basketball Academy, based in Castel Volturno, attended a training program at SDA Bocconi. They are mostly of African descent and almost all were born and raised in Italy. They had a unique opportunity to learn about the link between basketball, identity, careers and wellness in order to implement change in their own lives and communities.

Classroom learning was complemented by on-field training. The twenty youths had a training session with the NBA players. “A specific and intense training opportunity that leveraged the educational power of sports and helped make the young athletes aware of their potential and of the opportunity to become drivers of real change,” program coordinator Luca Antonelli pointed out.

“The players have proven to be drivers of change and are setting an example in their communities,” NBPA Foundation’s interim Executive Director Lyzz Ogunwo declared: “The opportunity to have One Court Milan as a platform to integrate our project with TamTam Basketball Academy is great to amplify and support both the growth of young people who can become change-makers and our players as leaders on a global scale.”

“SDA Bocconi is fourth in the world in Custom Executive Education rankings,” said Giuseppe Soda, Dean of SDA Bocconi. “This means that we know how to build unique projects for our international-profile partners. Our new Sports Center and our expertise in sports broaden this concept, allowing us to carry out parallel projects with a strong emotional and cultural impact.” Really much more than a training course or a basketball game.

SDA Bocconi School of Management

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