Zaza Pachulia has had one of the unique careers in NBA history on and off the floor.
The 6’11” 270 lbs native of the country of Georgia played 16 seasons in the NBA. Before that, he played professionally as a 14-year-old in Turkey. He is now a front office member for the Golden State Warriors, wearing many different hats, he says, and ultimately would love to be an NBA general manager.
“Basketball is a business to me,” Pachulia told me in a phone interview. “It’s entertainment; it’s a business, it’s very serious.”
Within the Warriors, he has spent time on the business side and the basketball side. This past month he spent time helping the organization prepare for the NBA Draft and free agency. Sixteen years in the NBA gave him plenty of intel to run and operate a team from a player standpoint. In addition, on the business side of things, he is just as adaptable. Over the years of his playing career, he took the time to educate himself through college courses and invested in many companies of his own.
“That’s why I was taking business classes because I wanted to learn, I wanted to meet the people,” he said. “That’s why I went through Harvard three times.”
This past summer, he says he spent time at Stanford learning from George Foster, an influential sports business professor and took his classes. While he played with the Hawks in Atlanta, he took business courses at Emory University. Pachulia has been building for life outside of basketball nearly as long as he has been in basketball.
“Since childhood, my mind was wired like that,” he said. “My mindset was I want to be a businessman.”
Some of his investment portfolios include hotels in his native country of Georgia and Shoot360, which gives youth basketball players an all-new way to practice basketball. He wants what he invests in to make money and help millions of people through a product or a service.
“In every investment, before I get involved or invest, I always see what the mindset of the founder the CEO is,” he said. “Is your interest only about making money?”
He takes the role of being a help to people seriously, as illustrated in his real-estate holdings in Georgia’s small country. During the pandemic, they kept all 300 of their employees retained. Also, his basketball academy did not have to worry about their job security during the pandemic. All of the coaches remained employed.
“When you’re talking about growing, you need to develop your employees too,” he said. “It’s important to have motivated employees that are willing to sacrifice, willing to commit, they’re willing to learn and grow with you.”
Being savvy with his money is not something that happened overnight. In Turkey, he made what he considers pocket money, but he started understanding value. Coming over to the NBA, he secured a 4-year $16 million contract by his third season with the Atlanta Hawks. As with most young people coming into a lot of money, fast has its pros and cons. He says he bought things that were not needed just because he could.
Yet, the most crucial lesson came not from wasting money on objects but from a failed investment.
As a 24-year-old, Pachulia took on a courageous journey in starting two restaurants in Atlanta. In his home country of Georgia, the culture revolved around going out and having a good time.
“I was always dreaming; I want to have my own restaurant,” he said.
The Buckhead Bottle Bar ultimately failed, and while there was a time when it was a known spot to go to, there was not enough of a plan to keep everything going.
“Everything was colorful; I was not as prepared as I was supposed to be before I started investing in the restaurant,” he said.
Thankfully, the losses that came from the failed business venture did cause that big of a dent in his overall financials because he was still playing basketball in the NBA and had a long career ahead of him.
“I’m so glad that it happened,” he said. “I’m glad it happened when I was young because I was lucky, I was playing basketball, and I was still getting an income. I learned my lesson there.”
Following the food business failures in Atlanta, his on-court success continued, and he landed several more lucrative contracts. Therefore, the lessons took him to greater heights than he would have been before. His hotels have been a success in Georgia, a known country for its wine and historical places. The business plan was more precise, and the venture worked.
“Hotel came after restaurant experience,” he said. “It opened my eyes, and I started thinking more.”
In the NBA, he played over 1,000 games and won multiple NBA championships. Pachulia always made himself a useful veteran. Every team he played for, he brought toughness and grittiness that is rare these days. While he never averaged double-digit rebounds or over 20 points per game, his presence was vital. If someone met him off of the court, they would think he is one of the nicest people they’ve ever met; he is a family man, an investor in companies to help people.
However, there were allegations that his on-court play was dirty. When the Warriors played the Spurs in Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Western Conference Finals, Pachulia accidentally contacted Spurs’ star Kawhi Leonard as he was shooting. The fall from the impact led to a lengthy injury to Leonard.
Allegations against Pachulia were ruthless after the incident but did not define the person he is in the eyes of anyone who knows him.
“If you want to know who Zaza Pachulia is and you don’t know, talk to any of my teammates,” he said. “Teammates, coaches, I played over 1,000 games.”
No one from the outside truly knows what happened in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
“That was an unfortunate moment whatever happened against San Antonio,” he said. “That was a freak moment. That’s a freak accident.”
The man he is off of the floor can be seen by the Warriors not only signing him to play for them during their championships runs but after his retirement bringing him into their front office. In his second year of having an advisor role in one of the premier organizations in sports history, he is only proving more of his worth not only as a player but as a person.
“Give your 100%,” he said. “Give your maximum either it’s on the court or off the court, and you live with the results. I’m a huge believer of that. My mentality is not going to change.”
In the future, he will continue building his business portfolio, spending time with his family, and continue working with the Warriors in many different facets.