Genius presents itself in many different forms. That statement is especially true in basketball, where strategy, athleticism, and awareness combine to produce incredible results on the court. From the alley-oops of Lob City to the Grit-and-Grind of Memphis all the way to the new triangle offense in New York, NBA teams look to take full advantage of the skill sets at their disposal. However, it takes much more than a catchy name to get players to buy into a system and reach their full potential.
Translating this intelligence and skill into victories is an incredibly difficult challenge that coaches face on a daily basis. Most NBA players, even ones occupying the last bench spots, are millionaires with an extraordinary amount of free time. Aside from daily shootarounds, practices, and games, players are mostly free to pursue their interests. Many choose to improve the communities they live and play in through charity, while others attend classes to enrich their minds.
In recent years, the NBA has come under fire for allegedly failing to warn its athletes of potential financial pitfalls. However, the NBA also has a rich history of enhancing the lives of its athletes and helping them find success off the court. Former NBA players have gone on to serve in the United States Senate, become the CEOs of international brands like Jordan, and become billionaire business moguls. The geniuses on this list are next in line to join the ranks of Bradley, Magic, and Jordan.
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15 Steve Nash
After graduating from the University of Santa Clara, Steve Nash developed into a trailblazing NBA star, becoming the first Canadian to win the NBA MVP Award. His philanthropic efforts were on display throughout his career, but his business acumen was hiding just beneath the surface. Nash is now part owner of the Vancouver Whitecaps of the MLS, Spanish soccer club RSD Mallorca, and is the head of his own production company, Meathawk. Nash also expressed interest in the Phoenix Suns head coaching job recently, but it remains to be seen if he will take his talents courtside.
14 Pau Gasol
As the son of a doctor and nurse administrator, Pau Gasol ditched the family business of medicine in favor of the life of an NBA superstar. The ambidextrous 7’ star initially wanted to be a doctor to contribute to searching for the cure for AIDS upon hearing Magic Johnson’s diagnosis in 1991. He taught himself Italian and French to bring his total number of languages spoken to five. Pau is also a skilled keyboardist, capable of playing many classical compositions. Pau is a cosmopolitan with a wide variety and interests that make him far from another dumb jock.
13 Gordon Hayward
After earning ESPN Academic All-American Third-Team honors during his time with the Butler Bulldogs, Gordon Hayward has transitioned nicely into the life of an NBA star. Despite the uncertainty of his parents, Hayward declared for the NBA Draft in 2010. Hayward has also been ahead of the curve by defending eSports athletes from criticism and is an avid player of Starcraft II and League of Legends. He’s gotten in on the booming industry by streaming on Twitch and being the first traditional athlete to join the IGN Pro League.
12 JaVale McGee
JaVale McGee is known for his freakish wingspan and size. Unfortunately, he’s also known for his on-court gaffes, often being labeled as “dumb.” McGee is far from that, however. Battling ADHD and asthma throughout his life hasn’t stopped him from becoming a decent NBA contributor. He earned a 4.5 GPA during his senior year of high school and initially wanted to attend film school at USC. He decided to pursue basketball instead, which seems to have worked out for the best. Still, McGee was able to find the camera, starring in his own reality show with his former WNBA star mother, Pamela.
11 Thaddeus Young
NBA journeyman Thaddeus Young may not be a household name throughout America, but he has been a solid contributor throughout his NBA career. Going into his freshman year at Georgia Tech, Young was a Top 10 recruit, member of the National Honor Society, and had a 4.3 GPA. Mitchell High School Principal, John Ware, described him as “the most remarkable student that I’ve ever been involved with.” While he may have been a one-and-done in college, Young is now having a career year in his ninth NBA season.
10 Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook didn’t start for his high school basketball team until his junior season, which put him low on some recruiting charts. Considered undersized, Westbrook remained academically focused with a 3.9 GPA and excelled in both math and basketball. Despite this dual threat, his preferred school, Stanford, did not offer him a scholarship. This led to his stint at UCLA. Despite attending his safety school, things have worked out well for Russell, whose next smart move may take him to New York.
9 Tyler Zeller
In high school, Tyler Zeller was not only excelling on the basketball court and breaking Indiana State Championship records, he was also excelling in the classroom. Zeller won Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, Parade All-American Honors, and graduated third in his class with a 3.97 GPA in 2008. During his time at North Carolina, Zeller was named first team Academic All-American while majoring in business administration. In the NBA, Zeller expresses his intelligence on the court by running the court and spacing well in addition to taking great shots. Zeller is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this summer and will surely be putting that business degree to good use.
8 Jeremy Lin
A few years removed from the Lin-Sanity phenomenon, Jeremy Lin has developed into a consistently contributing NBA point guard. The former Harvard man now sports a spiky new haircut, but showed wise decision making by getting out of a bad situation with the Los Angeles Lakers. Lin signed a multi-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets last summer and has them on the verge of a playoff berth. While the hype surrounding Lin may have died down, he remains a mainstay in the NBA and should be for years to come.
7 Festus Ezeli
After graduating high school in Nigeria at the age of 14, Festus Ezeli initially set out to pursue a career in medicine. He began playing basketball after moving to America and was found to be a natural talent who earned a scholarship to Vanderbilt. There, he majored in biology before switching to economics. Since being selected in the first round by the Golden State Warriors in 2012, Ezeli has added to his resume with an NBA Title.
6 Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo may struggle to say the correct thing at times and his mouth has gotten him into trouble this season. However, beneath the surface Rajon Rondo is a quiet genius with a knack for mathematics. Not only is he a bonafide Connect 4 powerhouse, Rondo has also taken time in his career to teach math to students during his stint in Boston. Unfortunately for his coaches, Rajon has also had a particularly tough time getting along with teammates and staff, which have made him an object of scrutiny.
5 Kelly Olynyk
Kelly Olynyk is much more than a beautiful head of hair. Before Olynyk was impressing crowds for the Boston Celtics, he was the quarterback for his Canadian high school team and an AAU star. During his three years at Gonzaga, Olynyk focused on his academics, earning a Bachelor's Degree in accounting in the middle of his junior year with a 3.53 GPA and Academic All-American First Team honors. He followed that up by enrolling in their MBA program before foregoing his senior year to pursue his NBA dreams.
4 Chris Bosh
Chris Bosh was the third-member of the Big 3 Heat team that won two NBA Championships. Bosh spent his early career campaigning for All-Star votes with funny YouTube videos, but Bosh’s computer skills transcend social media. Bosh is actually an avid computer programmer and has even taken time to speak about the importance of these skills. Bosh published an op-ed in Wired and appeared in a public service announcement promoting coding for children in schools.
3 Danny Granger
Danny Granger’s unique skillset extends beyond the basketball court. Granger is in all likelihood the only player in the league capable of wiring circuits through his house, which he did to save himself about $30,000 on his home stereo setup. Granger has a degree in Civil Engineering, which he pursued at Bradley and New Mexico after he and his sister pledged to become engineers. Aside from engineering, Granger is also a cinephile, who claims he has watched over 2,000 movies.
2 Tim Duncan
Whether he is the boring centerpiece of the San Antonio Spurs or the best power forward of all-time is up for debate. What is not up for debate is that Tim Duncan is a genius. Duncan graduated from Wake Forest University and coauthored a chapter in the social psychological journal Aversive Interpersonal Behavior. In addition to his two MVPs and five NBA titles, Duncan has the greatest personal website name ever, SlamDuncan.com.
1 Chris Paul
Joining the NBA after a successful career at Wake Forest, Chris Paul has become one of the most recognizable and personable players in the NBA. He earned ESPN All-Academic honors in college, but in the professional ranks his genius on social media and in marketing truly became apparent. Paul is now a spokesman for State Farm, appearing in national ad campaigns alongside his son, little Chris. The pair have nearly five million followers on Instagram.
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