Sometimes you don’t get it right the first time. Or the second time. But when you do land on the correct move, you just know.
In 2018, Darius Bazley was a five-star budding basketball phenom with a decision to make. And he had options. The conventional route had endless possibilities, like going to Syracuse for a year before making the leap to the NBA. He committed to play under Jim Boeheim before changing his mind.
The less conventional route was skipping out on college altogether and starting a professional career in the NBA’s G League. This was Bazley’s intention after deciding that he wouldn’t suit up at Syracuse, but it wasn’t quite right.
The unheard-of route was to become a trailblazer and team up with a major sportswear brand that was focused on re-entering the basketball world. Bazley had a lot to learn about himself, life, basketball and the sneaker world.
So he became an intern. A million-dollar intern.
“Gap Year” is an upcoming documentary focusing on the unique story of the now-Oklahoma City Thunder forward, who, in one year went from high school senior to millionaire intern to professional basketball player.
The idea to spend a year without playing basketball on a team level was cleverly manifested by player agent Rich Paul and his team at Klutch Sports. Bazley joined the roster at Klutch and his life started to change almost immediately. He signed a million-dollar deal with New Balance, which was fresh on the basketball scene after a long hiatus and looking to make a splash.
Bazley was the first athlete to sign with the brand in its re-launch.
“[Rich] brought this idea up and I thought it was good,” Bazley said about first hearing of the internship idea. “So when I heard it I was all-in from the jump.”
The idea was innovative and captured him, but Bazley had more questions than answers at that point given how unfamiliar he was with the brand in which he was about to intern for.
“Zero. I knew nothing about New Balance. I didn’t know anything at all,” Bazley said. “It wasn’t until I got to my internship that I really started learning.”
It wasn’t until Bazley went to Boston and toured the New Balance headquarters that he started to learn about the company that would change so much of his life. His first day at the internship gave him first-day-of-school vibes like if he was trying to find his way to a new class and get to know his teachers.
The internship, unlike what detractors assumed it would be, was very much real. There was a demand of professionalism from Bazley and he was trusted to contribute. He was a part of meetings, he ran a focus group, he learned the intricacies of sneaker production on a level few outside that business understand.
Bazley lived across the street from the office during the three-month internship. He reported into the marketing department and would spend time with the social and digital teams. It was an in-depth approach to have Bazley learn what it took to see a sneaker go from an idea to a product on a shelf. He worked closely with New Balance Design Director of Basketball Jonathan Grondin on the process of designing sneakers and was a big influence on the OMN1S low top sneaker the brand released, it’s even his go-to shoe on the court.
With a narrow scope of the day-to-day work, it might’ve been hard to see what Bazley, a certified future pro hooper, would gain from it. His team at Klutch knew, New Balance knew and Bazley knows it all too well now, too.
“Just like basketball, everyone wants to get to that moment where you’re like that finished shoe and you’re in your prime and you’re rocking out and doing your thing,” Bazley said. “But it takes time to get there just like it does to make a shoe. I understand that.”
The high-risk, high-reward move to make a five-star prospect an intern was set for a permanent evaluation on June 20, 2019, the evening of the NBA Draft. This was the moment everyone involved had anticipated for a long time. It was the night where the decision to skip college and the G League would either pay off or prove costly.
The first round saw 22 players get called and none of them was Bazley. But then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver took the stage and announced that with the 23rd pick in the first round the Utah Jazz had selected Bazley. He was promptly traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, where general manager Sam Presti took an interest in the matured prospect and cited his internship with New Balance as a big reason for the move.
“I bet on myself and did what was best for me in my situation. I would do it all over again if I could,” Bazley said. “It’s kind of like some high school or college memories that you know you’ll never be able to get back. Sometimes you wish you can go back just to be able to feel some stuff twice.
“Gap Year” features interviews with ESPN’s Jay Williams and Jay Bilas, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts, New Balance global marketing director Patrick Cassidy and rapper Dave East. The hour-long doc will release on Dec. 1 across all major streaming platforms.
Published: 2020-11-29 16:48:30
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