What now? That’s the question asked to me daily. Worse, it’s the question that I ask myself daily. What’s next? Is there a more frustrating thing a lifelong overachiever can ask himself?
My path for the last 25 years was clearly defined. Make a shot, stop your opponent. Rinse. Repeat. It was a simple formula I followed from my driveway at 2220 Yorkshire all the way to the NBA Finals.
Make a shot, stop your opponent.
This mindset allowed me to attain every last one of my goals in basketball. High school state championship. National high school player of the year. NCAA championship. National collegiate player of the year. 13 years in the NBA. NBA world championship. I managed to check each of these goals off my list.
And while that measure of success was hard to imagine as a kid, my progression to get there was not. It was laid out before me on a daily basis. Thanks to scoreboards, records, media, fans, coaches, I always knew where I stood. As the ultimate creatures of habit, athletes rely on these metrics like a security blanket. At any given moment, I could look at a score or at the standings and know if I was winning, losing, helping, hurting. There was always a metric.
Not to say all of this was easy. My achievements were the culmination of a lifetime of hard work, preparation, and dedication. You don’t get to get to the top of the hoops mountain without total and complete focus, but at least there was a rhythm to my daily life, and that rhythm is the steady drumbeat of so many athletes’ lives. Without it? Well…
“So, what are you doing now?”
My typical response of “Er, um, I don’t know” is usually an awkward experience. What’s especially tough for me is that I have been constantly told since I started having success that basketball was merely a stepping-stone, a stepladder to a greater life’s purpose. Maybe I’d be a CEO, a Senator, the next Oprah.
“He’s going to the top! There’s no stopping Battier once he gets that basketball career out of the way.”
What if everyone was wrong?
Somewhere along the line, as I began to feel and live the success of my basketball journey, I maybe started to believe some of the external b.s. about me. And as I got closer to the end and started to think about the unexplored wilderness of my post-basketball life, I felt something completely new. It was anxiety, fear, the pressure of expectations. As a basketball player, I never paid attention to what the outside world thought. Now I needed to think about what my purpose and path in life would be post-basketball and if it would be enough.
What in the hell was I going to do?
Transitions in life are difficult. There are no manuals. No coaches. It’s almost taboo to talk at all about the fears, anxieties, and concerns about ending one venture and starting a new one, let alone when you’ve had success at a high level in your last endeavor. No one wants to hear anything about your self-doubt or pity. They’ll just say: Retire! Play golf! You got it made!
Or the natural inclination is to assume that new success will just happen if you apply the old formula. But how can you define success and goals if you don’t even know the direction you want your next ‘first step’ to lead you?
I have travelled the country in search of anyone who can give me insight into my transition after basketball. I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, but I’m hopeful I will stumble onto an idea or a person that will provide some clarity on my future path.
Investor David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group provided me with this simple, poignant way to look at my life: He told me that there is a certain demographic, including professional athletes, that have parlayed talent and hard work into great success in the first third of their lives. They have ‘won’ the first third. Many people in the demographic seem content to rest on those accomplishments and don’t grow as individuals. The question he asked me is, can I reinvent myself to win the next two thirds of my life in a completely different way than the first?
I have thought about this question, this challenge, often. I have asked myself if I am ready to leave the comfort of a championship legacy, to make myself vulnerable, to invite failure in the name of personal growth? Am I willing to try things and fail?
And what actually makes me happy and passionate? That is a universal question, but I find it tougher to answer every time I think about it. I know I am passionate about my family. I’m passionate about my charitable endeavors. As a player, I was passionate about winning and interested in advanced analytics and statistics. But I don’t think I was ultimately passionate about the game of basketball, which may sound shocking coming from someone like me.
“While I’ll always love basketball and the experiences it gave me, I do not want it to define my entire life”
For me, it was about the journey, the training, the preparation, the camaraderie, the feeling of accomplishment. But the game itself? I don’t know. Basketball was merely the vehicle. Unless I had friends playing, you would not find me trying to make time to watch a basketball game like I try to make time to watch a football game. Weird. Maybe that has to do with burnout, but by the end of the line for me in basketball, I was just tired. Tired of the routine, the same patterns, the same speeches, and the same scenarios.
While I’ll always love basketball and the experiences it gave me, I do not want it to define my entire life. I think this is the challenge I’ve felt all along, and the one David Rubenstein articulated for me. Basketball was a comfortable fit because it was easy to measure the win. I had the talent and dedication to be in that rhythm of success. The next challenge, which I can’t even name yet, will require much more creativity and a new type of dedication. By leaving my comfort zone and tackling the unknown, I’m accepting a dare to be the best version of myself in a totally new way.
I spoke with Elton Brand—my college roommate and friend—who recently retired as well, and he said it best: he feels like he’s been a kid for the last 15 years. As you get closer to the end of a life stage like this, you see that it’s time to stretch the brain in a different direction, to ‘grow up’ again. It’s scary and uncomfortable, and entirely common. But I realize now the alternative for me is to remain in a comfort zone, focus on the past, and rest—and that’s not how you win the next third. You have to win the transition game, grow, push yourself, and possibly fail in the process.
So, “What am I going to do?” As I write this, I don’t have a specific plan, but I do know that it will be consistent with an overarching theme in my life: helping others. I hope to take the Battier Take Charge Foundation to new heights. It would be a dream to make our modest foundation one of the premier educational based charities in the country. Maybe I’ll mentor. Or maybe become a mini-Tony Robbins. I’ve yet to find a microphone I didn’t want to pick up. Maybe I’ll follow in the footsteps of the greatest coach I’ve ever played for, Ed Battier (sorry, Coach K). The lessons he taught my childhood teammates and me are as relevant today as ever.
Making people better is what I tried to do on a basketball court, and I’m sure it will lead me to where I need to be off of one.