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Metta World Peace: From locker room to boardroom

Butter Cloth/TieBreaker illustration

Metta World Peace certainly had one of the more colorful careers in the NBA. While the player formerly known as Ron Artest will likely always be remembered for his role in the “Malice at the Palace” brawl in 2004, his story is one of redemption. World Peace actually befriended the fan that threw a water bottle at him and later won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010. After retiring, he appeared in Ice Cube’s BIG3 basketball challenge and works with the Lakers as a player development coach.

Now, World Peace is setting his sights on a new challenge: being an entrepreneur through his Artest Management Group company. His first product is XvsX Sports, which can best be described as the Airbnb of pickup basketball games. World Peace created the platform alongside a slew of tech entrepreneurs and fellow NBA players Al Harrington, Nick Young, Chris Copeland, Jermaine O’Neal, and Stephen Jackson. 

Using a subscription model, XvsX Sports offers on-demand, competitive open runs for all levels of players, including professionals, semi-pros, competitive, and recreational players. That last demographic may prove to be the most important of all — with 23 million Americans fitting the “recreational” bill, it’s a great opportunity for growth. 

The initial early access beta launch will roll out in the Los Angeles area, with additional cities throughout the United States joining the game after that. Players can meet others at their skill level, build up points, and participate in showcase games.

“There’s so many ways to get basketball to the consumer. Playing in the NBA for so many years, I’m used to playing a certain way — in front of people, getting paid, branding, endorsing,” World Peace says. “When the NBA’s gone, you don’t have that system, the people, or the machine in place. You become irrelevant. With XvsX Sports, I’m trying to revolutionize the game for people like myself. We love basketball and still want to play at a high level.”

It’s not World Peace’s first foray into business; he’s also an adviser for Butter Cloth, a men’s clothing company. In six months, the brand did $500,000 in sales. After an appearance on Shark Tank last October, which saw the company secure a deal with Robert Herjavec, Butter Cloth has now made more than $4.5 million.

As he moves into his second career, World Peace has learned three key lessons along the way.

Build a strong team and culture

The need to develop a strong culture is paramount for World Peace. He acknowledges building that culture can take time, and it can be frustrating to invest so much in overhead, particularly if you don’t have a lot of excess capital. But getting that foundation in place — especially when that team knows how the business should operate because they’re so heavily invested — will pay off in the long run.

“Culture and teamwork are the biggest things. You need to have a place where you trust your co-founders. Some people try to do everything on their own,” he says. “There are so many different types of entrepreneurs. Some have the background to operate or design, others are more focused on business. Building that team around you is super important.”

NBA player Metta World Peace speaks at the BET NEWS CONVERSATION: Mental Health in the Black Community panel

Jerod Harris/BET/Getty Images for BET

Creating XvsX Sports has presented several challenges, too. World Peace and his team have worked on obstacles like gaining market share, the logistics of setting up games across gyms, and developing customer personas while identifying which ones to target first.

“It’s a lot. I’ve been doing this for about four years, and you need a lot,” he says. “You need data scientists, chief revenue officers to figure out where the best locations will be at. You need digital marketing, you need to acquire players — you have to tell them why they should play on your platform. It’s not as easy as you would think it is to find games for people. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s challenging but it’s also fun.”

World Peace credits the strength of his team with keeping things running smoothly. And developing a basketball product is the right move for him, as he’s following his passion.

Invest in what you know and believe in

With a pro career spanning nearly 20 years, World Peace knows the game of basketball inside and out. He’s identified a problem area within the sport — an overabundance of players and unused courts, plus a strong desire for people to find quality competition. World Peace believes XvsX Sports can change how we view and play basketball.

“This will be like how fantasy sports revolutionized things,” he says. “We’re hoping to create a marketplace in the next year or two that will offer people a new type of playing experience. Whether you want to just have fun, or in case you’ve never played in college or professionally, we want to be the platform.” 

Similarly, World Peace’s involvement with Butter Cloth stemmed from a chance fashion show while he was studying new trends in the advertising space. And once again, the passion for the product shone through.

“I was at (Los Angeles ad agency) MuteSix, learning about integrated and programmatic marketing,” World Peace says. “They told me, ‘Hey, put this shirt on.’ I put the shirt on and I melted from the love.”

It was love at first sight (or wear, in this case). And World Peace saw an opportunity because of how the shirt fit into his day-to-day schedule. He believes in products that he can actually use and benefit from.

“Business attire is not comfortable. I’d be at an investment meeting and be too hot, sweating under my armpits. This shirt made me feel different because I could actually add a business suit and be very comfortable.”

World Peace’s involvement with Butter Cloth has also enlightened him on running his own business.

Butter Cloth

Learn from your experiences

When Butter Cloth founder Danh Tran appeared on Shark Tank to pitch his company, he had an assist from World Peace, who made a cameo as the “in-house long-fiber cotton scientist.” A dunk while wearing a Butter Cloth shirt may have been a selling point for investor Robert Herjavec, but World Peace took the whole experience as a learning opportunity.

“The whole process taught me a lot about business and running a company. There’s a lot of number crunching, a lot that goes into it,” he says. “We went on the show and got a lot of returning customers. They don’t buy just one shirt. They buy 15 different shirts, which is amazing.” 

Perhaps World Peace sees some of himself in Tran, as well. The Butter Cloth founder has also had a colorful career, with an ultimate tale of perseverance.

Tran grew up working in his family’s small tailor shop in Vietnam and was designing clothes by age 10. His family emigrated to the U.S., where he took fashion classes at a California college and landed a job at Mattel, designing clothes for Barbie.

He eventually enrolled at the Otis College of Art and Design, his dream school. Tran was recruited by several companies, landing at Affliction Clothing. He served as the company’s head designer for ten years before making a huge decision: He quit his job, sold his house, and cashed in his 401(k) to start Butter Cloth, going all-in on following his dream.

Tran’s story was instrumental for World Peace and is part of the reason he’s involved with the company. If World Peace has his way, his business book will follow a similar arc of success.

“Danh built Butter Cloth up from nothing, and it shows the confidence he has in his abilities. I want to be somebody like that as an entrepreneur.”