Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix and Princepal Singh are the first group of elite high-school-age players in the U.S. to take the NBA G-League route to the NBA in lieu of going to college or playing overseas. The five prospects are spending the current season in Walnut Creek, California, playing for the NBA G-League Ignite—a developmental team affiliated with the NBA’s minor league. The group is undoubtedly gaining an education on the court (they play exhibition games against G-League clubs and international teams). But the one-year development program entails more than just basketball training. Nikeia Marks (director of player development, NBA G-League Ignite) explained the participants are also receiving life skills training—including financial literacy education classes—as they prepare for the 2021 NBA Draft. “The baseline is taxes, pay stubs and just knowing where [their] money is and where it is going,” she said. The goal is to provide the players the information, resources and tools they need to successfully make the transition into their professional basketball careers.
Our Take: To be clear, financial literacy training is not limited to those playing for Ignite. Every G-League player has “access to the same consultant [the development guys] work with,” Marks said. That consultant is Michael Haddix Jr. But because of their young age and relative lack of professional experience, those playing for Ignite are required to take classes. Haddix developed a custom program specifically for Green, Kuminga, Todd and Nix. Singh, who aims to be the first NBA player from India, speaks limited English, so his off-court training is different from the others.
Initially (March ‘20), the Ignite players would take financial literacy classes as a group, twice a week over zoom. The frequency dropped to once a week after they arrived to train back in August. Now that the G-League season is in full swing, classes are taking place more on an as-needed basis. But Marks says the players meet “at least once a month, maybe twice a month” to revisit important topics (like taxes) or to dive into subjects of interest (like cryptocurrencies).
Because each player comes in with a different knowledge baseline, Haddix’s financial literacy program starts with the basics, Marks said. “Once they get their first check, we have them look over [their pay stubs] and discuss gross pay versus net pay.” While that might sound like common knowledge, none of the Ignite players referenced knew the difference prior to taking the classes. “They [were] all pretty shocked when they hear the number they are ‘supposed’ to receive and then see something else [on their check],” Marks said. A deeper dive into the various payroll deductions reflected on their checks (think: healthcare) helped the players to understand exactly why their net pay is what it is.
Showing the players how to access their bank accounts was another important lesson within the Ignite players’ financial literacy curriculum. “A lot of [the guys] didn’t have their bank app on their phone [before arriving in Walnut Creek]—even though they are millennials and they have tons of apps,” Marks said. By seeing “everything that is being taken out or what is being put in,” the players can manage their finances more responsibly.
Part of being responsible with money is planning ahead. Marks said she has tried to hammer home “how certain endorsements or sponsorships won’t take taxes out of their checks and [how the players] will have to put something to the side so that when tax season comes around, they will have the money [to pay the IRS].”
The NBA G-League Ignite’s player-development director has also warned the players “a zillion times” there is going to be an extended stretch between when they receive their last paycheck from Ignite and the time their first NBA check arrives. “They need to have some savings to hold them over with all of their expenses, because they won’t have the housing that we provide [them with] either,” Marks preached.
Beyond the basics, Marks and Haddix tackle topics the players express interest in. “A lot of them are interested in stocks,” Marks said. “So, we did an [introductory] stock session.” The four Ignite players opened up Robinhood accounts and got their first stocks. G-League personnel/consultants are not advising the group on which equities they should be buying or providing any other investment advice. It is simply an education in “how to conduct research and what to look out for,” Marks explained.
All four of the young Ignite players envision entrepreneurship in their future. So, Marks said the group has held discussions on how to go about setting up a corporation. Jalen Green has taken that information and put it in to practical use. The projected top-five selection said he formed an LLC (JG4 Corp.) in the State of California. While he’s not sure what he’ll end up using it for—he’s currently focused on basketball—he knows he wants to open a business someday. It should be noted that a quick search for JG4 Corp. on the California Secretary of State website did not turn up any records.
Ultimately, Ignite’s financial literacy training is about helping the players be smarter with their money–and it seems to be having a positive effect. Marks said there has been a noticeable difference in the way the young players, armed with some basic education, are approaching their finances. “In the beginning, they were just spending, spending, spending.” Now, more cognizant of their true income and expenses, the players have pulled back on the lifestyle. At least Green has. The Ignite leading scorer (17.6 points per game) recently told Marks he forgot the players had been paid because he simply isn’t spending money.
While it seems unreasonable to suggest a player would choose the G-League route because of the financial literacy program in place, “It’s definitely a point of emphasis during conversations [with prospective players and their families],” Marks said. Green indicated he would tout the benefits of the off-court training he’s received to younger players seeking feedback on the experience. “I would say I’m a step ahead because [financial literacy training] is part of our tools, in our backyard, that they are giving us to get ahead of the game.”