Brooklyn Nets starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, 26, has a career that many people might envy, but his path to basketball fame was fraught with setbacks early on. Today, Dinwiddie's success both on and off the court can be credited in part to the savings mentality he learned while overcoming some of those challenges.
By the time he turned 24, Dinwiddie's career ups-and-downs included an injury that nearly derailed his NBA draft prospects, two cuts to the NBA's minor league, and wild fluctuations in his paychecks.
"The opportunity was not guaranteed for me," Dinwiddie says of his NBA career. Knowing that, he stayed diligent in regards to what he calls "the process": Doing everything he could to keep his basketball game on point and, at the same time, saving aggressively and being prudent with his money. He also learned the importance of diversifying.
So while these days, Dinwiddie has a $34.4 million contract with the Nets, that isn't his only source of income. The NBA's 82-game regular season — from training to practice to actually playing — remains his primary focus, but his side projects include venture capital, blockchain technology, and philanthropy.
"Some people like their 9-to-5, some people don't. I happen to really love mine, but you know, there's other aspects that do intrigue me," Dinwiddie says. "Understanding how finance as a whole works really interests me."
Video by Jason Armesto
Here's how the Brooklyn Nets star is planning for his financial future and pursuing two very different career paths simultaneously.
Today, Dinwiddie's career is on an upswing. In late 2019, he was named the Eastern Conference player of the week for the first time. And in the current NBA season, Dinwiddie is on the court about 65% of the playing time each game, scoring 21 points on average, according to figures compiled by the NBA.
Just a few years ago, Dinwiddie's hoop dreams were in doubt. Dinwiddie was drafted in 2014 as the number 38 pick by the Detroit Pistons, but he didn't see much playing time in his first two years in the league. "I understood that that might be the end of my NBA career," he recalls.
In 2016, the Pistons traded Dinwiddie to the Chicago Bulls. Then that franchise cut him from the team two different times, and Dinwiddie started playing full time in the NBA's minor league (today known as the G League, but previously called the D League). That's when he saw a "drastic change" to his salary, as well.
As an NBA rookie, Dinwiddie had earned about $13,000 per paycheck after taxes. In the minors, his paychecks were about $700. "That was a very transformative time in my career," Dinwiddie recalls. "It was really make-or-break time."
It was during that time that Dinwiddie got an offer to play in Europe. He knew he could earn a six-figure salary, but his chances of returning to play in the U.S. would decrease. Staying in the G League, on the other hand, would mean sacrificing salary in the hopes of moving back up to the NBA, or what's known as a call-up — something that happens for less than 10% of minor league players each year, according to NBA data analyzed by Grow.
Video by Jason Armesto
That's when Dinwiddie's savings mentality proved its worth.
"I felt like if I really believed I'm an NBA player, I should take that chance and withstand these $700 checks to try to realize my dream," he recalls. "If I have to sacrifice one year's worth of earning potential to really get back to where I really want to be, then I need to do that and I owe it to myself to do that."
Gambling on himself paid off. In late 2016, Dinwiddie signed a three-year, nonguaranteed contract with the Brooklyn Nets. Two years later, he signed a three-year, $34.4 million contract extension with the team — one day after scoring a then-career high of 39 points in a game.
Dinwiddie is six years into his pro career and has already experienced plenty of ups and downs in the NBA, where the average career lasts about 4.5 years. These experiences have reminded him to stay focused on saving for the future, even at an age when it could've been tempting to spend that money elsewhere.
"My first and only real big purchase my rookie season to start, I got a property in Detroit," he says. "Because my wants and needs were very much still in that 21-year-old, college type of mentality — and I also had a vision for the future, in terms of where I wanted my family to be set up — I was able to save the money because I had stayed focused on what I wanted."
While Dinwiddie has had ideas for other ventures — he's been drawing sketches of shoes since he was a kid, for example — "I wasn't capitalizing on them because I was so focused on getting into the NBA."
Dinwiddie's arrival in New York, and of course that multimillion-dollar contract, meant his NBA future was more solid. That opened him up to begin pursuing passion projects, mostly in the technology industry. Today, Dinwiddie describes himself on Twitter as "just a tech guy with a jumper." His job description on LinkedIn goes in the following order: venture capitalist, entrepreneur, and NBA athlete.
Off the court, Dinwiddie summarizes his three primary side projects as follows:
- Expanding partnerships in the venture capital industry by investing in companies, like a gaming studio in New York
- A line of custom shoes that he wears for every game
- A blockchain-based venture called Fan Shares in which fans can invest in the success of their favorite athletes
"When I go home, I do prefer to listen to podcasts on blockchain technology and things like that, which I understand probably aren't the most sexy thing to do," Dinwiddie says, laughing. "I play basketball; that's the main thing that I do. But in a lot of ways my mentality and how my thinking could be defined is a lot more in line with a tech entrepreneur."
There's an increasingly well-trodden path from NBA fame to tech entrepreneurship, and Dinwiddie says that "at a high level" some conversations about off-the-court pursuits are happening among players today. As for whether this is all some sort of Plan B?
"That's always the most interesting question, because I work so hard in the NBA, and to make the money I've made," Dinwiddie says. "But this is also another area I'm finding to be a passion place, and it's fun for me, so it'll be interesting to see when I'm done playing basketball if I truly gauge this as completely passion or if it starts to feel like work."
For now, Dinwiddie finds ways to learn from lessons in both of his careers, where a comfort for taking risks and overcoming a fear of failure are common themes. "Being in the NBA, it's a high-stakes game," he says. "And entrepreneurship, in a lot of ways, is a high-stakes game because there's such a high failure rate with start-ups."
In 2018, Dinwiddie became a father. His son, Elijah, will turn 2 this April. Starting a family has also been a motivator for Dinwiddie to diversify his skills beyond basketball — even though he's aware that start-ups have a high likelihood of failure, he says. "Because I've already set aside the safety net, if these do hit, now you're talking generational wealth outside of NBA salary."
Flashy spending still isn't Dinwiddie's thing. Instead, he remains focused on ensuring his financial security.
"My retirement's going to be from 35 to 100 instead of 65 to 100, so I have to plan for 70 years," Dinwiddie says. "If i'm not doing that now, you're going to be hard-pressed to squeeze two years worth of savings into a 70-year time frame and expect to be comfortable."
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