Pelicans forward Solomon Hill enrolled in Harvard business class in offseason, preparing for life after basketball

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

As Solomon Hill faced a lengthy rehabilitation from the torn hamstring injury he suffered in August, he wondered how he might spend all of the unexpected free time. Initially, he thought he might find himself in front of a screen more than he’d ever been, playing video games like “Call of Duty,” as a way to help get through the boredom, with an injury that required time to heal more than anything else. A conversation with a representative from the NBA Players Association quickly redirected his thought process.

“I told him about my injury and how long I was going to be out,” the New Orleans forward remembered. “He told me, ‘Man, you’ve got a lot of time to read books.’ That kind of changed my mind, in terms of thinking about how I really wanted to spend my time.”

Hill, 26, a father of a toddler daughter, had already started the process of pondering his post-playing future. He’d enrolled in a unique Harvard Business School program that connects MBA candidates with a group of NBA players, allowing the athletes to learn more about a variety of topics. For two-plus months in the offseason, Hill joined retired and active NBA players such as Chris Bosh, Caron Butler, Al-Farouq Aminu and Lance Thomas in being mentored by Harvard students. As an article on Harvard’s website described, the motivation for the program came partly from the reality that “Athletes have no shortage of hangers-on eager to solicit them to invest in business ideas or fast-talking acquaintances offering to become their financial advisers. What can be in short supply are experts with sophisticated business expertise willing to share their time and knowledge to teach athletes how to make more-informed business moves.”

From ESPN’s alarming documentary “Broke” – which retold many horror stories of mismanaged finances by pro athletes – to the recent cautionary tale of Hall of Fame power forward Tim Duncan suing his ex-financial adviser over losing $20 million-plus in investments, NBA and NFL players have never been more aware of the pitfalls that come from not being informed about their money. Part of Hill’s motivation to participate in Harvard’s program was to become more educated on every aspect of the financial world.

“The biggest thing with me, as an NBA player, is to see what really goes on,” he said. “There are certain questions you need to ask your financial adviser, and you might have other people who do your taxes. As NBA players, we are put on kind of a hamster wheel of paying other people to do work that you could be doing for yourself. That’s money that could be saved by you.

“That got me thinking that I want to be more involved in this process of knowing where my money is at all times. You see what happened to Tim Duncan – he is one of the greatest to ever play the game, and it still happened to him. What makes you think it can’t happen to anyone in this league?”

Hill has a degree from the University of Arizona in general studies and wants to pursue an MBA.

“This is my first step in that direction,” Hill said of his Harvard class.

Regardless of profession, it’s not always common for someone in their mid-20s to be thinking about decades from now, but Hill has already started envisioning what he will need to do to be successful when his NBA career eventually comes to an end. Starting a family also influenced his mindset in terms of long-term planning.

“I want to always provide for my daughter, and not just on what I make now,” Hill said. “When you have a daughter, things change as far as how you want to live and what you were expecting. I always want to show her not just that Daddy was an athlete – no disrespect to anyone who played the game, I’ve played it my whole life – but I also know other things that I want to keep pursuing. I have a long life ahead of me after basketball. I don’t want to tell my daughter to do something as far as schoolwork, but Daddy didn’t do it himself. I don’t want to be a do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do (parent).

“When you’re in the NBA, sometimes you can get into a mode where you’re not worried about life after basketball or thinking about different opportunities. I’ve come to realize it’s about who you know, not what you know. What you know doesn’t hurt, but it’s also about networking and business. (At Harvard) I was able to shake hands with people who are very informative on what I want to do. I hope to continue to do that every summer.”

Hill also has several short-term project ideas, such as improving recycling by Pelicans players themselves at their practice facility, or working with local elementary schools to teach recycling concepts to children. He plans to apply much of what he learns in real-life practice to continuing to become more knowledgeable about the business world, and hopes to enroll in an NFL Players Association-backed, fully-online business-degree program with Indiana University, possibly this summer. The program allows athletes to take courses during their offseason, while being able to stay home with their families.

“I majored in basketball in college,” Hill said, emphasizing how much Division I athletes must focus on their sport to be successful and be in position to start a pro playing career. “Up until I got in the NBA, I was just worried about getting there. Now that I have a chance to take a step back and look at it, I can really start to focus on what I want to do in the future.”