Overtime Elite: Inside the Basketball League Paying Salaries to High Schoolers

Most high school hoops players across America—if they’re lucky—travel to their games in a yellow school bus. They might—if they’re lucky—compete in front of the local junior college scout. Overtime Elite’s new professional basketball league is for players aged 16-19 years old. Overtime Elite members arrive dressed to impress and play in front of a much larger audience.

Two dozen professionals from Overtime Elite (OTE), who earn at least six figures, got off a stretch limousine bus in Atlanta on a cold autumn morning. The players entered the brand-new 103,000 sq.-ft. facility built by Overtime, a five-year-old digital sports media startup that developed a huge following after posting Zion Williamson’s high school dunks on Instagram. Waiting for them at OTE’s inaugural “pro day”: some 60 pro scouts, including reps from 29 out of 30 NBA teams, sitting along the sideline and behind the baskets. OTE had provided them with a detailed scouting pack, including information about each player’s wingspan, hand width, and performance in preseason scrimmages. The group rubbed shoulders, exchanging gossips, and deciding which one they would like to see.

As the league’s coaching staff led players through NBA-style drills, the scouts eyed Amen and Ausar Thompson, a set of rangy 6-ft. 7-in. Twins from Florida, who left their senior year at high school in order to get OTE. After making clever dribble moves they drove down the lane and threw down powerful dunks. “The Thompson twins are obviously top talents,” says ESPN draft guru Jonathan Givony, who was also in Atlanta for the OTE pro day. “Those guys are ready to be seriously considered as NBA draft picks.”

OTE had a positive first impression. However, the evaluators unanimously acknowledged that not all 26 OTE athletes in the gym would be going to the NBA. The limited supply of talent from around the world to pursue that dream and the very few available spots make it unlikely. Elementary math also suggests this outcome almost impossible. It was high-level coaching. Anton Marshand, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ scout, plans to frequent Atlanta in this season. “For us to be able to evaluate them now and see their growth over time, that’s the key,” says Marshand. “It’s a pro environment.”

OTE’s launch is an historic moment in American sports history. Talented teenagers who excelled in music and acting could make a living by signing life-changing financial deals. However, athletes were prevented from making the same financial decisions due to archaic attitudes and rules. They could not cash in on their talents until they made it into major professional leagues such as the NFL or NBA. These limitations are being replaced by the peach basket. These shifting beliefs about athletic amateurism were captured by the Supreme Court in June. The ruling prevents NCAA from caping education-related benefits. In a scathing concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the business model of the NCAA, an organization that has long kept college athletes from being paid—despite the millions in revenue many of them generate for their institutions—would be “flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.” About a week later, the NCAA, with public opinion and the highest court in the land turning against its outdated notions of amateurism, relented, and allowed college athletes to profit off their names, images and likenesses.

Continue reading: Why The NCAA Should Be Terrified Of Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh’s Concurrence

Naturally, businesses—many of them upstart tech platforms—have stepped into the fray, hoping to turn a profit by helping young athletes cash in on new opportunities. PWRFWD and INFLCR are promising new sponsorship opportunities for college athletes. They also plan to increase their social media reach and sell their merchandise. A company called Opendorse aims to connect athletes with sponsorship opportunities—not unlike, say, how Uber connects drivers with riders, or Airbnb matches hosts and vacationers. Opendorse plans to increase its annual revenues by more than quadrupling in 2021, thanks to the removal of NIL restrictions on name, image, and likeness. Tim Derdenger from the Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business estimates that college athletes could have a NIL market of more than $1B in just five years.

However, overtime bets on high school basketball’s popularity and is taking an even more radical approach that could prove transformative. Overtime’s pitch to players: forget college basketball. OTE claims it will pay pro-level salaries, offer high-level training and coaching in an academic setting and provide access to proven talent development. OTE is also looking for teachers and administrative staff to assist players in obtaining their high school diplomas. The operation has financial backing from an All-Star investor lineup, which includes Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions fund, Drake, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and a slew of NBA players like Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Trae Young. Overtime received $80 Million in March.

Signing with OTE isn’t a decision players take lightly. OTE contract athletes are considered professional basketball players. This is according to NCAA regulations. The OTE program, even with all its faults, has proven to be a viable path to lifelong education and the NBA. If an OTE player does not make it to the NBA or secure a professional gig overseas, Overtime is pledging to kick in $100,000 to pay for a student’s college education. “You can’t beat that,” says Bryson Warren, a would-be high school junior from Arkansas who’s eligible for the 2024 NBA draft. “At the end of the day, I can still be a doctor and make NBA money.”

OTE seems almost too good to true for many. At pro day, the same scouts who looked up to the ceiling of OTE’s airplane-hangar-size structure in wonder, asked the same question: How is OTE going to survive? There are many failed professional sports leagues littering the landscape. Overtime spent millions to build a school and coach basketball operations, as well as a performance team that rivals the NBA.

Dan Porter, Overtime’s CEO and co-founder, has heard all the skepticism. “Everyone wonders, What’s the business model?” he says. Porter points to OTE’s late-October opening weekend of games as a sign of the league’s promise: he says OTE content generated 23 million views, and 8.8 million total engagements, across social media.

What’s more, now that top prospects can sign lucrative sponsorship deals while at proven collegiate powers like Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas, OTE may have to increase salary offers, further driving up its costs. And if Overtime’s marketing prowess helps the players build enough of a social media following to make OTE profitable, will that focus on building brands deter from their athletic development? OTE’s bottom line alone can’t thrive; the company needs to produce NBA draft picks. “We told kids when we recruited them,” says OTE director of scouting Tim Fuller, “our national championship is when you shake [NBA commissioner] Adam Silver’s hand.”

A lot is riding on OTE’s fate. OTE’s success has the potential to provide economic empowerment for many young Black athletes, who have for too long been funneled into an organization that mostly benefits white administrators and coaches. It could spawn copycats across sports (with the unintended consequence of further igniting the hyperspecialized, hypercompetitive $19 billion youth sports feeder system that often offers parents a false sense of their kids’ pro potential). OTE’s failure, however, might not cost just Bezos and Drake a rounding error of their overall wealth. This disruptive idea may even ruin dreams.

The new model

OTE sent its spring recruiting call to Troy Thompson at the right time. Troy’s twin sons, Amen and Ausar, had just played nearly 30 games over five weeks on the AAU circuit, where overuse injuries are becoming more common. They were both from Florida and had been to Illinois, Wisconsin. Arizona. Missouri. Georgia. While they could show off their abilities, the twins had to be resolute in practicing the common travel sport grind. Are they improving? “OTE called right when my mind was going, ‘O.K., I’ve got to find a way to slow this thing down,’” says Troy.

The OTE offer—a six-figure salary, plus the emphasis on player development in an academy setting—sounded attractive. “It’s like we’re getting to fast-forward their dreams,” says Troy, who works in security. Ausar was also onboard. Amen needed some convincing. “He’s hardheaded,” Ausar says of his twin brother, who was sitting next to him during an OTE post–pro day brunch of pancakes, shrimp, lobster, grits and potatoes, served at a Georgia Tech off-campus apartment complex that houses the OTE players. The complex overlooks a greenbelt and features a swimming pool and a courtyard. Amen looked forward to winning another high school title. He had always dreamed of playing college basketball, even as a “one-and-done” player who enters the NBA draft after freshman year. Kentucky reached out to Kentucky after Alabama, Florida and Alabama offered twins basketball scholarships. “It’s just what I’ve known,” Amen says of college basketball. “And it’s shown to be proven.”

After “a million conversations,” says Amen, he was on board. He thought that scholastic competition was overrated. TIME reports that the Thompsons in Atlanta have missed their last high school reunion. But Amen insists he’s still going to prom. “I’m just going to walk in,” says Amen. He quickly realizes party crashing won’t be so simple. “As soon as I left the school, they didn’t let me shoot in the gym anymore,” says Amen. “So, actually, I will need to have a date [from the school] to prom.”

The adjustment to Atlanta was not easy. Troy claims that his sons initially complained about OTE’s curfew. According to OTE’s dean of athlete experience and culture, former 10-year NBA veteran Damien Wilkins, during the week players must be in the residence building at 10 p.m., and in their apartments at 11 p.m. Amen, Ausar, have become accustomed to OTE’s rules. They insist they are not regretting forgiving their senior year in high school.

Troy is convinced of their belief. “I guess they’re loving it where they are,” he says. “Because, guess what? Dad hardly ever gets a phone call.”

The OTE weekday starts around 9 a.m. when the players arrive—on the limo bus—at school. (Starting in early November, classes will be held at the OTE facility; before then, while building construction was being completed, the classes took place at a WeWork space in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood.) An October day sees one class of students solving radical expressions for math. In social studies, three people listen to an English colonial labor history lecture. The science teacher reviews anatomy while a skeleton is standing in common. Students work on their “persuasive essays,” which they must turn into a 30–60 second commercial spot. Ausar, reading from a marble notebook, touts the benefits of water aerobics: “Who doesn’t love fun times in the pool?” Amen has picked stretching. “Remember, stretching over stress,” Amen says, snapping his fingers and pointing to the camera.

The academic day lasts between 3.5 and 4 hours. After that, the students have lunch before heading to practice. The class sizes are very small. A student-teacher ratio of 4:1 is not common. OTE’s academic head, Maisha Riddlesprigger—Washington, D.C’s. 2019 principal of the year—has heard too many times for her liking the assumption that OTE’s academic component serves as window dressing. “I think that comes from this deficit mindset that you can’t be an athlete and a scholar at the same time,” says Riddlesprigger.

Veteran educator Marcus Harden, OTE’s senior administrator for academics and development, admits he worried that these high school juniors and seniors with healthy bank accounts and pro basketball ambitions would tune out classwork. And while some OTE players are more invested in school than others—fighting student phone-scrolling habits in class is an ongoing battle—Harden insists that overall, the students have exceeded expectations. “We would be negligent if we sent them out into the world with fake diplomas,” says Harden. “Even with the short day, I can say we’re doing this with integrity.”

OTE must keep its promise to students who aren’t likely to be successful in basketball. Still, former NBA player Len Elmore, a Harvard Law School grad and current senior lecturer at Columbia University’s sports management program, worries that even if the players who get injured or don’t pan out do return to college, they still might be worse off—savings accounts notwithstanding. “Come on, we’re talking about 17- and 18-year-olds who now have fizzled out at their dream,” says Elmore. “And now you expect them to go to a college that they were recruited by, or that they could have been recruited by, and enroll and go to class and watch other guys playing college basketball, knowing that they could have done that? That to me could also create some mental health issues.”

‘It’s lit’

Porter was OTE’s CEO and Head of Digital at WME in 2016. He saw a shift in Gen Z and younger millennials’ consumption habits. The younger generation was less inclined to sit in front of the TV and watch football or basketball games. These young people craved to hear about their lives and see the highlights. It was important to them that they could access it instantly on their smartphones, especially on social media sites like Instagram. Porter was the co-founder of Overtime, which he initially focused on high school basketball. A proprietary technology allowed videographers to shoot clips in gyms across the country and upload them to the cloud; the company’s social media editors fired off their favorite highlights. Williamson, who despite being built like an offensive lineman could throw down 360-degree slams on his comically inferior schoolboy competition, emerged as Overtime’s first star.

This company created a digitally-literate cult following, which has now surpassed 50 million on Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat. “If you are an ESPN or a traditional publisher, you can’t appeal to a young audience with a bunch of traditional sports programming,” says Porter. “You also can’t go on your accounts, and be like, ‘It’s lit,’ and a bunch of 50-year-old guys who are looking to figure out who they are going to start on their fantasy team are like, ‘I don’t understand what this is.’”

Continue readingYou can find this link: It’s time for college athletes to start earning a paycheck. Entrepreneurs big and small also have their eyes on the prize:

Since then, Overtime has expanded into ecommerce as well as long-form programming like the documentary on current Chicago Bears player quarterback Justin Fields. The video lives online and attracted over 426,000 views. Blue-chip companies like Gatorade, McDonald’s and Nike have advertised on the platform; Rocket Mortgage sponsored a post in which Miami Dolphins rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle looks for houses in South Florida. When Overtime was recruiting former Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia 76ers exec Brandon Williams to run OTE’s basketball operations, Williams, who was previously unfamiliar with the brand, knew he needed to consider the offer when his 10-year-old son gushed over the Overtime stickers that were sitting on his desk—he told Dad Overtime was kind of a big deal. The boy was spotted wearing an Overtime shirt by a small child at an airport. “O”—a reference to the Overtime logo—as if approving Williams’ youth cred.

Overtime Elite was born from a few things. Porter was tired of getting feedback from college basketball program that Overtime gave their recruits exposure at high school, as the schools were able to capitalize on their success. “I’m like, ‘That’s good for you, but that’s not very good for me,’” says Porter. An Overtime-branded league could keep personalities in the company’s ecosystem and give the startup a valuable piece of intellectual property. And the experience of another early Overtime star, current Charlotte Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball, opened Porter’s eyes. Ball spent one of his high school years—and part of the season he would have typically spent in college before becoming eligible for the NBA draft—playing overseas in Lithuania and Australia. He became the third overall pick of the 2020 NBA draft, and won last season’s rookie of the year honors. To Porter, Ball’s experience proved that talented players were willing to try a different path to the NBA.

Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who passed away in January 2020, initially told Porter and Overtime’s other co-founder, Zack Weiner, that they were crazy. Stern was familiar with the challenges of operating a sports league, having seen it firsthand. Overtime had an already strong core business. Stern was eventually open to the idea. His son Eric followed his lead. is one of OTE’s investors. Gatorade, State Farm and Overtime Elite have signed multiyear sponsorship deals totaling multimillions of dollars. Both companies have prominent signage at the 1,100-seat “OTE Arena,” which is also part of the 103,000-sq.- ft. structure in Atlanta. OTE’s showcase court, which hosted its first set of games on Oct. 29, features LED lights and a Jumbotron. Topps is producing trading cards for OTE players; Porter says that “hundreds of thousands of dollars’” worth of cards have already sold, and that they should start appearing in Walmart, and hopefully Target, in December or January. There will be other NFT initiatives. OTE is not live-streaming games yet—Porter wants to create scarcity and buzz—but the content team is creating a mix of highlight packages and an episodic behind-the-scenes docuseries on the players.

Overtime—which has yet to turn a profit—expects annual revenue to reach up to $300 million in five years, with Overtime Elite bringing in about a third of that haul. The company, and its investors, are betting that Overtime’s built-in brand notoriety and audience will differentiate OTE from other upstart sports leagues that have failed. “We don’t have that same kind of cold-start problem,” says Porter.

‘Dunk lines for content’

But the high stakes aren’t limited to Overtime’s bottom line. Players are placing their futures in the company’s hands, which puts the onus on OTE’s basketball development staff to ensure that, at worst, each player receives at least a lucrative pro offer overseas. Players have an impressive arsenal of tools. During one practice, for example, a biomechanical engineering Ph.D. rushes to tuck a microchip into the shorts of a few players: this technology allows OTE’s four-person analytics and data science team, led by applied math PhD. Ivana Seric (ex-Philadelphia 76ers researcher) can track the speed and distance players travel during practice. The coaches can better manage wear and tear by using this data. The OTE practice courts have cameras atop the shot clock that can be used to show how many shots are being missed by players. The players can then adjust their shots accordingly. A 10-person on-court coaching staff, led by former UConn coach Kevin Ollie (who won the 2014 men’s national championship with the Huskies) fans out at four different baskets during practice, allowing players to work on team concepts, like defending screens and pick-and-rolls, and individual skills (they take ample corner threes and floaters, both key tricks of the NBA trade).

OTE is no upstart. However, OTE did experience some hiccups. When Porter came to visit the academic session, a couple of players were unafraid to point out to him that the flimsy boxed roast beef and cheese sandwiches served for lunch—they may have fit it at the Fyre Festival—were subpar nourishment before practice. “This looks scary,” Porter admitted, eyeing the sandwich. “I wouldn’t eat it.”

OTE launched in March, and settled on Atlanta as its home in May, meaning the facility, which comes chock-full of amenities like two oversize bathtubs for recovery and a players’ lounge and NFL-size weight room—as well as classroom and office space—needed to be constructed in five months. A few days before OTE’s opening games Halloween weekend, Ollie shouted instructions at practice over hardhats’ drilling; construction detritus forced one door to remain open, allowing a cool Georgia draft to accompany the players on the practice floor.

OTE is credited with executing its vision quickly. However, OTE could have been trying too hard too soon. “They’re kind of building the parachute after they jumped out of the plane here,” says Dr. Marcus Elliott, founder and director of P3, a southern California-based sports science institute that provides advanced biomechanical analyses of elite athletes.

Ollie was unhappy with this team’s effort at the first practice after pro day—and let the players know it. They were told that the energy level was not up to NBA standard. This scolding didn’t stop some of the players from lining up near a basket afterward, to show off their leaping ability for Overtime’s ubiquitous cameras. “Dunk lines for content,” said an OTE staffer who was looking on.

For content, dunk lines You probably couldn’t find a more fitting phrase to encapsulate the year 2021 in sports media and culture. A more apt reminder is that children are putting their basketball talents in the hands digital marketing juggernauts. “I see the potential of this disruption to lead to a much more just and better world for these young athletes,” says Elliott. “But I also see lots of peril. It’s not about getting paid 100 grand to play as a 16- or 17-year-old. It’s about getting your second or third contract in the NBA. These are complicated and complex blueprints. And so the fact that their DNA has nothing to do with development, that’s concerning.”

Overtime demands that all incentives work together. The company has hired experts like Ollie and the data scientists because the growth of OTE’s business hinges on the Thompson twins, and others, achieving their basketball dreams. Amen, accompanied by an OTE assistant coach, watches practice film. Ausar then participates in a small group shoot that concludes at 6 p.m. Both know they have to improve their outdoor shooting skills if they want to move up in the ranks. “I’m going to be in the gym,” says Ausar. “I have nothing better to do. I don’t do anything in Atlanta. I just chill in my room and watch basketball.” Amen and Ausar have talked to each other about backup careers; they both believe they’d be solid hoops commentators. That can wait. When they are asked about their futures, the brothers don’t hesitate to answer. The OTE players are also open to discussing their futures.

“The NBA.”

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