19-year NBA veteran Udonis Haslem partnered with FTX to award two $50,000 small-business grants … [+]
Photo courtesy of the Udonis Haslem Foundation
Earlier this week, Miami Heat veteran Udonis Haslem awarded the winners of his Minority Small Business Grant Initiative. Launched in April 2022, the Initiative was a partnership between Haslem’s foundation and FTX US, the cryptocurrency exchange partner of the Heat. The purpose of Initiative, per the foundation’s website, is to “invest and accelerate the success of minority owned small businesses.”
The grants, each in the amount of $50,000, were granted to Kazmaleje, a provider of hair care tools, and Lil Greenhouse Grill, a restaurant located in the historic Overtown neighborhood near downtown Miami.
Haslem, the Miami native who grew up in Liberty City, played locally for Miami Senior High School and has spent his entire 19-year career with the Heat. Haslem is the team’s all-time leading rebounder, as well as a 3-time NBA champion.
And while Haslem might conceivably return for a 20th season with the Heat, his off-the-court interests include owning several businesses, as well as finding ways to be an active member of the community in which he grew up and remains closely connected to.
In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Haslem spoke about the importance of supporting local minority-owned businesses, his shared philanthropic views with FTX and his active role in helping choose the recipients of the two awards.
What was it that led to this idea of reaching out to small businesses and helping support them?
Being a business owner myself, I kind of understood the impact of the pandemic. Nobody could have prepared for the pandemic, first and foremost, the impact when it comes to [managing] employees, and different things like that I, personally, as a business owner struggle with and there’s no way that I would have been able to recover from if I didn’t have the means or the platform that I’m on. So it just got me to thinking how a small business owner, people that have family-owned businesses, how would they recover? And how would they be able to handle things like that. So just understanding the impact of that, personally, I just knew it had to have been 10 times worse on small-business owners and minorities, people of color, being in those situations.
What are some of those impacts to your businesses? And what have you seen are the impacts to small businesses in South Florida?
Well, it’s hard to get people to work back after the pandemic. People were staying home and even if you were open, it was hard to get people to come into restaurants, obviously, if they didn’t shut down completely. So, you know, as a business owner, you know, Dwyane [Wade] and myself at one of our particular businesses, we started giving out gift cards, and different things where we could supply groceries and just try to help some of our employees as much as possible throughout the pandemic to continue to pay people. But we just tried to keep people afloat as much as possible. But, once again, as a person that has the means. As a small business owner, I don’t know how you would be able to help your employees or yourself through something like that.
And what led to the partnership with FTX when you were starting to form this idea?
For me, FTX really aligned with my goals. It’s not a coincidence that I had to go to France and all the way around the world just to end up back here in Miami. I think I’ve probably come to a point in my life where I understand it’s been bigger than basketball the whole time. And as I started to pivot in different ways, I understood the platform that I have, and also the power that I have to change people’s lives and use this platform. So the partnership with FTX is about being authentic. Sam [Bankman-Fried, CEO] and FTX, they’re known for their success in the crypto world. But you know, the thing that stood out to me is what they do with charity and how they give back and how they try to impact people’s lives. If you look back at the story of why Sam started FTX and what he wanted to do with the money was to give back, giving back to communities and different things like that. And, you know, as I started getting to know Sam a little more,, I found out that they kind of use it or computerized statistic system, about how to help and where to go and different things like that, and my conversation with Sam directly and the whole FTX family, was, ‘Hey, you don’t need a system. You don’t need a computer. This is my city. I’ll take you to where your money should go. I’ll take you where your money can have the most impact because I’m on the ground moving and I know the people.’ These are people I still hear from every day, people who I’m still in contact with. And I’ve been able to impact on a small level. But I think with the help of FTX, we can impact even more people. You know, it was a very exciting time in South Florida, an exciting time in Miami. So anytime we talk about being one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Or you can talk about the crypto effect, or the financial effect. You can almost compare it to Tech Valley and New York combined. But there’s also people that have been here their whole lives that are not benefiting from those exciting times. So with this grant, we’re able to help those small businesses, whether it’s to employ more people, or whether it be, helping with getting your business model together, or focusing on your marketing strategy. Those are things that we can help with, as your neighborhood is being gentrified. You know, these are different things that a lot of people just don’t understand, or a lot of people aren’t impacted by. But I hear and understand what they’ve going through and I have true compassion for them.
One of the stipulations of the award is that they’re willing to accept cryptocurrency in their small business. Is this something that you think small businesses will be able to accept or lean towards? Being a proponent of yourself, how likely are they to say, ‘Yeah, this is something we can do.’ Or maybe they’re just completely ignorant about how to incorporate that into their business plan.
I think they should be willing. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if they’re not comfortable with cryptocurrency. But I think it’s our job to educate them about it. And I think that’s why I can be a platform for that, because I’m someone that’s come from those neighborhoods, that has been in those types of situations. And this is something that I understand, something that I trust. I’m coming back to these neighborhoods to help and also educate you on it so you can understand it yourself. It’s a new way of currency. It’s a new way of financing. If you’re talking about building your business, this is another way to be able to build income.
As a successful business owner yourself, do you plan on being an active participant in the award selection process?
For sure, I want to be as involved as I can be. I want to go through the process of looking at these businesses, and when it gets down to, maybe, the final couple of businesses, I want to sit down with the owner. Have conversations with them, just to understand what they went through to get to the point where they’re at, and what they’ve been affected by. Also, what’s your why? Everybody has to have a why?
In the application, it was noted that your Foundation will be following up with winners, to see how the awardees and businesses have been impacted. Was the plan to ensure they’re actually benefiting from the grant?
For sure. I think we have the resources to be able to do that because I think we can definitely help point them in the right direction with the resources that we have. With the people that we’re connected to in the City of Miami. Throughout my career, I just planted seeds all around, treating everybody the way I would like to be treated. So I have relationships with a lot of people that can help a lot of businesses.
It seems like other athletes and even some teams have made it a priority to reach out to minority business owners. Is this a trend that you think is starting to move forward, especially when it comes to NBA philanthropy?
I think it should be, I think when you’re in a situation where you have the platform that we have, you understand that you can really help people coming from your neighborhoods. People that truly have the right intentions, that are putting their heart and soul into something in the same way we’ve put our heart and soul into playing basketball. You really should use your platform to help those people and educate those people. I think for us, we weren’t businessmen at first. We were basketball players. We had to ask somebody to help us. Teach us. Somebody had to be patient with us. Somebody had to lend a hand to us. So I think now we have the opportunity to do that for those people as well. And I think if you could do that, in your particular neighborhood, it’s that much more special because I know the person. To be able to do that…it’s just amazing.
To hear you describe it, we’re not just talking about business. It also feels like it’s a passion of yours. How important is it that you’re able to give back to your community?
Of course. These are the restaurants that I go to, and I see how they’re impacted by certain situations. And I know these business owners, and I love the food and I want these restaurants to last forever. This opportunity is just a start to give these grants to businesses. And we grow from there. Every time I go to these places, I just enjoy myself. And to me, it’s no different than sitting down at Prime 112 on the beach. I get just as much fulfillment being at the local restaurants I like to go to. This is how I can help these people.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.