Trevor Booker is trying to build an empire.
A lot of NBA players have side hustles or endorsement deals that supplement their league income. But the Sixers reserve forward isn't just dabbling in small side ventures or planning for a stable life after basketball.
Booker is a serial entrepreneur who with his college roommate, Jonah Baize, owns more than 12 companies, has shared interest in a half-dozen more, and is constantly looking to expand the portfolio.
From a venture capital firm, to accredited private high schools and basketball academies, to real estate investments, and promising start-ups, Booker and Baize have no intention of slowing down.
The goal is plain and simple: Booker wants to be a billionaire.
Booker and Baize were teammates and roommates at Clemson from 2007-10. They hit it off right away and knew that eventually they would want to be business partners. It wasn't clear what that would look like, but when Booker was drafted 23rd overall by Minnesota in 2010 (and quickly traded to Washington), a plan started to form.
Building a financial safety net was the first step for Booker, and an NBA salary gave him that safety. Once he felt comfortable with his savings, he decided to build capital that could be used toward investing.
In 2011, Booker and Baize started a basketball academy in Charlotte, N.C. Baize already had some experience in this arena, and it was the kind of thing that didn't require up-front money.
"We actually started it with little to no money," Booker said. "I think the only thing we really invested in was the website, which was huge for recruiting, and that was about $2,000. But after that, the money came from the kids and families up front, so we would house and feed them off that."
From there, the ideas started expanding. Fast-forward seven years and what was once a small basketball academy is now a group of private high schools called Combine Academy that has campuses in six states.
"When it all started out, we thought, 'How can we make this scalable?' Then it just took off," Booker said.
"With Combine Academy, we were housing the staff and we were renting, and we thought about it and it was just dumb," Booker said. "We knew Combine was going to be here for a while, so why not just buy and own? So we just started buying real estate wherever we saw the opportunity for it."
Booker's real estate investments include the residential and commercial Combine buildings, other commercial and residential spaces in multiple states, and a resort in Puerto Rico currently being rented by FEMA.
"It was one of the only properties down there that actually withstood the hurricane," he said.
Booker and Baize are owning partners of Combine Enterprises, the parent company of their academic investments, and JB Fitzgerald Venture Capital — JB for Baize's initials; Fitzgerald is Booker's middle name — a firm that boasts the motto "We fund and support small companies with big ideas."
"The venture capital firm started because it seemed like we were having a ton of great deals come our way, like all the time," Booker said. "But I was still the sole provider of the funds. I didn't want to be super risky; I wanted to be smart with my money. So we decided to start the venture capital firm so that we could bring in other people that would have the capital and be interested in the opportunities that were being presented."
When JB Fitzgerald is presented with a company, a product, or an idea, nothing is too broad or small. For example, Booker has invested in real estate, clothing, record labels, and an eco-friendly shampoo, Last year, he invested in D.C United FC of Major League Soccer,, and most recently he has been looking at a newly developed sleep-apnea mask.
While Baize is president and runs the day-to-day operations, Booker remains extremely hands on. When presented with the sleep-apnea mask, Booker wanted to make sure there would be a real market for it, so he asked for a handful of the masks to give to people he knows to try it out, including a Sixers staff member.
"We had a two-hour meeting in New York and they showed us the product and everything looked great, the numbers, the projections, their background and everything," he said. "So now, let me get a couple machines and get people that I know, see what they think. Every deal that comes through, you have to be critical. It's necessary when I'm investing mine or other people's money."
Booker, whom the Sixers acquired from the Nets on Dec. 7, says that he employs about 100 people, but that he is sure that number is going to grow very soon.
He is working on adding to Combine Academy by building a college. What would seem like a daunting task for most — with the need to be accredited, hire professors and administrators, and provide well-rounded curriculum — does not seem to faze Booker.
"We already know how to do it," he said. "We've been successful in the high school sector. So we're in the process right now of growing that idea into a college."
Additionally, Booker is always looking for young and inspired people to add to his team. He read an article online about a young guy, Swish Goswami, who was the recipient of Startup Canada's Young Entrepreneur of the Year award and reached out to him.
"We got in contact to see what he had going on and if he would like to join the team, and he was down," Booker said. "He's been a tremendous help. He's brought a couple of nice deals our way."
One of those deals is the eco-friendly shampoo product, Nohbo, which has another big name investor: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
Becoming a billionaire
Booker talks about a huge endeavor, such as creating a college from scratch, the same way someone would talk about buying a new car. But the calm demeanor Booker has is based in his knowledge and experience.
"I always do my due diligence," he said. "With some of the riskier investments, you have to realize that it's going to take time. We see the potential, and we're not worried. When you're an investor like I am, you have to be aware that some deals might go sour."
And Booker, 30, says he has made bad investments, lost money, learned from his mistakes and continued to stress that everything takes time. Time actually might be Booker's largest investment.
There's the NBA career, which takes a lot of time, and then there are the meetings, the everyday phone calls with potential partners and updates from Baize, and most importantly, Booker's family — his wife, April, and four children: Kairah, Trevor Jr., Jaxon, and Trece.
"April knows this is a passion of mine, but she gets frustrated sometimes 'cause I'll be on the phone a good bit more than she would like but she understands. Jonah handles most of the stuff, which is huge. He is the one that's over there stressing out most of the time," Booker said with a laugh. "I trust him completely, and he works his butt off."
Is Booker seeing the fruits of his labor?
He said that there is definitely profit, mostly on the real estate side of things, and that the business investments have great projections, but again it all takes time.
How much time? When does Booker expect to see the nine zeroes that would make him a billionaire?
Booker took a long pause before answering confidently.
"Maybe 30-35 years. I know I can get there," he said.
That would make Booker a billionaire when he's 60 or 65. Not a bad way to spend retirement.