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Zaza Pachulia Is All Business

The newest Warriors front office member talks business lessons, sneakers and more

Zaza Pachulia uni
Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

As a player, it’s easy to put Zaza Pachulia in a box. His NBA career fits the journeyman archetype to a tee: 16 seasons, six different teams, a couple of standoffs with opposing franchise players and rebound averages interchangeable with scoring. 

 

But the center—known more for enforcing than finesse—has now secured the two holy grails of post-playing career titles: a front-office consultant gig with the Golden State Warriors and becoming a partner in a business he believes in: the Georgian shoe line Crosty.

 

But unlike being the face of a high-fashion American sneaker brand, Pachulia’s commitment to getting in the trenches shouldn’t come as a surprise. During his two years with the Warriors, he occasionally sat in on team President Rick Welts’ meetings with corporate sponsors, which he parlayed into summer classes at Harvard, Northwestern and Emory universities in addition to a two-week immersion at the NBA offices in Manhattan.

 

A proactive opportunity to learn about the business side that Pachulia credits to the Warriors’ top-down culture, “So I asked him [if I could sit in on his meetings]," Pachulia recalls, sitting in a conference room at ONE37pm's office in New York City in early October. "First of all, it's always great to have a boss and CEO and COO as Rick Welts, and it's always great to hear what goes on in those meetings. You can at anytime approach him, talk to him, his door is open. As a player, it's amazing. It’s a privilege.”

 

 Pachulia has fully committed himself to his team. Earning unconditional love from his teammates, colleagues and countrymen has become the defining theme of his adulthood.

 

There’s no better example of this than the populist surge of All-Star votes for Pachulia in 2016. Without soliciting for himself, his native country of Georgia—population of 3.7 million—campaigned more votes than NBA royalties like Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins.

 

“It was madness. Craziness,” Pachulia said. “Without me saying anything, you know? I didn't say one word. It was like natural, it was very authentic. That's why I was enjoying the process and even though I was thinking I'm not an All-Star-caliber player, I said, ‘Of course, let it be.’"

 

Ultimately though, Pachulia and Georgia fell short of an All-Star nod that year, but their loyalty for each other materialized following a championship with the Warriors in 2017.

 

After receiving a seemingly innocent surprise & delight consisting of white sneakers from the Georgian sneaker line Crosty—Zaza loves white sneakers—and a note that read ‘#freedom’, Zaza became infatuated with the brand.

 

 “It's not about the sneakers, it's not about the product or quality, we're not talking about that," Pachulia said. "Just the story. I mean, it was amazing, very inspiring.”

 

And just like the Warriors returned Pachulia’s commitment and professionalism with a job offer, Pachulia reciprocated the loyalty of Crosty and Georgia by becoming an investor and partner with the brand. 

 

Check out the rest of our interview with the Georgian NBA mogul below, where in addition to both of his new roles, Pachulia discusses the anarchy that ensues after winning a ring and what he learned from failed business ventures in his 20s.

ONE37pm: How’d you get involved with Crosty? 

 

Zaza Pachulia: So after winning the first championship with Warriors, I got a lot of calls and messages. I was thankful because it was one of the biggest moments of my career, but I couldn't respond to all of them myself. My wife helped me respond. She was getting voice messages and stuff from total strangers. 

 

I just found out later that there was a gift from a company called Crosty. It's a Georgian company, a new brand. And they wanted to send me a pair of shoes. So they asked what size I was—16—and I get a box shortly thereafter.

 

I pull out these pretty cool shoes. There was a note, too, but what would you do: Open the note first or open the product? I open the box, and it’s a pair of white shoes, my favorite color. I start imagining, thinking I'll be wearing this, but I had no idea where they’re from.

 

So I opened the note. It said something like, "You represent the country by winning the Championship with the Warriors. This is a small gift from our brand as countrymen who like to rock in the Crosty's." And at the end, it read #freedom. I thought, wow.

 

So you ended up meeting with the Crosty founders while you were in Georgia. Why did you decide to invest?

 

ZP: I loved their story. I had no experience with fashion before. I was a money spender, you know? I would buy clothes, accessories and stuff. But I believed in myself and have always believed in the power of learning. And this summer I went to Bocconi University in Milan and did a one-week program. I learned a lot and met a lot of great people. 

 

I learned so much about the fashion industry. After Bocconi, I went back to Georgia and shared my experience with my partners. Crosty is growing more, and more people work for Crosty now. Brand names are important, but I think the story is the number one seller.

 

What was it like taking the trophy back to Georgia?

 

ZP: We had a big rally back in Tbilisi, my hometown. I flew from San Francisco to Tbilisi, and I wrote the speech on the flight. I ended up speaking for 45 minutes. I was wearing Crostys.

 

It was a full house. It was decorated, organized and featured live singing. From government officials to friends, family, fans, kids—I mean, everyone was there. So it was truly, truly a special moment for me because I knew even though I knew I was staying with the Warriors next year, I said, "It's one and done." 

You mentioned that you learned some business lessons the hard way in your 20s. What were those? 

 

ZP: I opened two restaurants in Atlanta. That was my first business—and it’s one of the toughest businesses. Being a foodie—and a European—we like to go sit down, have nice food and espresso after the game. So I felt like it would be a good concept and a pretty cool thing for me to own a restaurant and take teammates there. Fans would love it!. So I opened two restaurants, and we couldn't reach the two-year mark and I had to shut it down. Around that time, I signed with the Milwaukee Bucks and left Atlanta, so it was never going to work. 

 

I learned that a business like that is difficult to make work as an investor unless you actually work there. It takes all of your time, it's a 24-hour job, literally. Especially the concept we had. We wanted music, so we had a DJ at night, and then the volume goes up and that means they close late. But the next morning, you’d have a delivery at 7 a.m. Get ready for breakfast, lunch, all the fresh ingredients and stuff. 

 

It was a very difficult, competitive business.  

 

What do you think has changed about NBA business culture since then? 

 

ZP: Players all have different interests. Some people like to travel, some people like business, some people like coaching or broadcasting. But the point is, it’s good to have something.

 

I took advantage of the NBA’s programs. I went to Harvard a couple of times, went to Kellogg at Northwestern and went to Emory. I was learning and meeting a lot of great people and was learning a lot. And everything started after the restaurant, after the failure. It was a huge motivation to me.

 

As an athlete, I didn’t want to fail again.

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