I write this as I fight back tears, reading a tweet that Andrew Smith has passed away. Yet another person snatched away too soon by cancer. I didn’t know Andrew. Never met the guy. He’s nobody to me. But I sure as hell watched that magical Butler run to the National Championship game just a few years ago. And because he’s a basketball player, we share a common bond that transcends time and space. That’s what sports does. It brings together people who would probably never otherwise meet, talk, or give each other a high five, and puts us all on an even playing field. Andrew Smith was my brother, even though he has no idea who I am. Put us in a gym together, and I guarantee you, we would have got along famously.
I write about sports today (for the 10,000th time) because of an internet meme (well really I don’t even know if it qualifies as a meme) that I found in a family whatsapp group this morning. I don’t know how Americans do it, but Indian families have this annoying habit of adding all 700 family members into one whatsapp messaging group, and then bombarding it constantly with texts. I’ve had to mute mine, otherwise my phone would literally never stop buzzing. I maybe scroll through the messages once a week to make sure everyone is still alive. Anyways, I digress. The family was discussing the fact that I had launched a new sports focussed venture fund called Courtside ventures, and there were congratulations all around. But the message that stuck out to me the most was this image that one of my many uncles had posted:
His point was that from the time I’ve been able to walk, there’s truly only one thing I’ve ever cared deeply about, and that has been the game of basketball. It’s why I get up in the morning, it’s why I go to work, it’s why I have now started 2 companies that revolve around it. This post got me thinking about all the personal relationships I’ve had over the course of my life, and looking back (and forward as the tweet below shows), the only meaningful ones have been with people I’ve met on the basketball court. Come to think of it, I might not even know any people outside of work, that I didn’t meet on the hardwood.
The truth of the matter is, I’d probably be working a dead end job somewhere if it hadn’t been for sports in my life. If I hadn’t clung on to one thing – the game of basketball – all day, every day since I was 3 years old and not cared a damn about anything or anyone else, then it’s probably pretty unlikely that I’d be doing what I’m doing today (working 120 hours a week that is…since I’d only be working 40). But I love what I do because it’s as close as I get to the action and making my living actually shooting hoops. It’s why I named my venture fund, Courtside Ventures – being courtside is as close as you can get to being a player, without actually being one.
And that’s why the first question I ask entrepreneurs when they come to pitch me is “Why are you doing this?” Too many people today want to start a business because they are tired of their 9 to 5, and think it would be fun to start a company and work for themselves. Others think maybe they’ll strike it rich. The only great businesses are the ones that are born out a real pain or need, and a passion to fix that problem. The journey of being an entrepreneur has to be the reason you jump down the rabbit hole – not the riches or the fame, but simply the joy of doing something you truly love, every single day.
Andrew Smith didn’t make it long enough to start a company, and I while I don’t know for certain if he would have been good at it, I know he would have been a resilient sonofabitch. What he did pack into his 25 short years though, was a passion for the game that I love, a cinderella run to the Final Four, being dead for 22 minutes and coming back to life, and a romance with a high school sweetheart that too few of us will ever get to experience. In my book, Andrew Smith made it to the final chapter, and filled all the pages in between with the stuff that dreams are made of.
RIP Big Man.