MIAMI -- Rodney McGruder had a backup plan. He was going to coach if the chance to play in the NBA never arrived, and spent his high school and college years preparing for both scenarios.
He's hoping kids today follow his lead.
The Miami Heat guard has founded what he calls the Rodney McGruder Sports Business Initiative , a program he developed for middle schoolers in an effort to show them that sports can be their career - but the emphasis is on everything but playing. He's exposing them to all the other options they would have in sports, everything from being an agent to a financial planner to working in media.
"There's different ways in life to be successful in the sporting field, basketball, football, baseball, tennis, track and field, whatever," McGruder said. "There's ways to be involved in sports and not actually play."
McGruder and his team, including agent Joel Bell, are working with about 25 kids right now for the program's initial year. They'll get together for about a half-dozen seminars where students can meet people from all walks of the sporting life and ask questions. The kids aren't asking about NBA life, or the latest Heat result, or how McGruder's rehab from the broken leg that has kept him off the court so far this season is going.
They're asking about saving money, about investing, about how to get involved.
"People who love what they do are going to be the happiest," financial planner Jim Hart, who runs a highly successful AAU program in upstate New York and who also is part of McGruder's team of advisers, said during a recent meeting with the students. "People who have made it usually like to give back. Rodney's a busy guy in the NBA. He could be doing a lot of things today. But he's here."
McGruder is only in his second season with the Heat, but he's wasted no time in getting involved with various causes - doing the overwhelming majority of his off-the-court work quietly and looking for no accolades. He's also hosted families for some Heat games, including those dealing with health challenges and other difficult things.
It took McGruder a long time to reach the NBA. Undrafted out of Kansas State, he needed to spend time overseas and what's now known as the G League before getting his shot. The Heat have raved about him since they got him, and McGruder went from an unknown to someone who started 65 games last season.
"I always dreamed as a kid about giving back to people and just trying to reach as many as I can by using basketball as a platform," McGruder said. "You have to give back."
The primary idea, of course, is that the kids get something from this.
He's also hoping some of his friends who are struggling can benefit from hearing of it as well. Some of the people who McGruder grew up with and played basketball with as a kid didn't see their hopes of making it as a pro player come true, and are now seeking another option. He also has plans to add schools to the program in the years to come.
"I want kids to know their options now, at an early age," McGruder said. "We've got to get them thinking about what they want to be in life now. I want to give them a head-start so they can start preparing now. If we do that, we're going to help them do whatever they want."
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