Markus Carr: Ballin and Business in Europe
A former Cali college star makes big moves overseas.
by Slav Kandyba
NBA vets Earl Watson and Matt Barnes probably would rather forget the night of Nov. 22, 2000, when their 15th-ranked UCLA team hosted unranked Cal State Northridge Matadors. The Matadors had beaten Fresno State and Oregon in the previous season, but never in their history have they taken down a ranked team. UCLA, in turn, hadn’t lost a home game to a nonconference Southern California school in 15 years.
All that changed that night as the Matadors upset the Bruins, 78-74. Running the point for the Matadors was athletic senior guard Markus Carr, whose steady distribution, playmaking and wise shot selection helped the Matadors make history. The win set the tone for a great season for Carr and his teammates, which ended in the first round NCAA tournament in a defeat to Kansas.
After the season, Carr flirted with the NBA but ultimately wound up playing overseas. Instead of just collecting a check and returning home year after year, however, he’s made the most of his opportunities there, with a budding business empire that includes products as diverse as children’s books, live music events and original jewelry. SLAMOnline.com recently discussed business and basketball with Carr.
SLAM: Set the scene for me. Where are you?
Markus Carr: Vienna, the capital of Austria.
SLAM: How long have you been there and why?
MC: I come here every summer, started four summers ago when I was asked to organize a music event for a business owner here. As the summers went by, I kept coming and doing other events. Met a lot of people out here from various businesses and entertainment. They all wanted to do something with me but I never really had the time. When I come here, it is mainly for business but this is Europe and there are plenty of events that make it pleasure. The fact that I am not from here makes it much more of pleasure in general.
SLAM: That’s pretty deep, when you say that “the fact that I’m not from here makes it much more of pleasure in general”. So travel, exploring new cultures and living amongst the new cultures is something that you enjoy?
MC: It is much more than something that I enjoy. There are some places in which I don’t enjoy [playing] at all but the experience I gain from simply being a part of the given culture is something that becomes a true experience.
SLAM: Basketball is definitely big business, especially in Europe, wouldn’t you say?
MC: Basketball has became a part of popular cultures throughout the world as with certain forms of music. I come across kids in Poland who eat and breathe basketball. They are more in tune with this hip-hop/streetball lifestyle than they are with their own cultures. It is really unbelievable. As far as basketball being a business, when a person becomes a professional he or she becomes [similar to] a product. And part of what we have to do as products is to market ourselves. Even though it’s a simple thing and very much expected of us, we are marketing ourselves and in some aspects can be viewed as business-minded.
SLAM: That’s a very high level of self-awareness. Often times, you’d expect to hear this kind of talk from Sonny Vacarro or a NBA executive. Who were the people that helped you transition to playing professionally in Europe?
MC: To be honest, the people who helped me the most in playing here in Europe are the Europeans. Although traditionally every culture is different in some ways, when you are among these cultures you get the feeling that ‘these people are just like me.’ I realized early that if I allow myself to open up and be real, they will do the same. Poeple are people no matter where I go.
SLAM: So you took the initiative all along to go overseas? Take me through what happened after your college career at Cal State Northridge ended?
MC: I went through the draft process with expectations to be taken by Detroit Pistons in the 2nd round. Never happened. My agent at the time was Jerome Stanley. He was basically an NBA agent at the time with players such as Baron Davis on his roster. He sent me to the NBA’s development league. I was the 5th pick in the 6th round by the Mobile Revelers, but never got to play a game because I was frustrated with the politics and being played not by my talents but rather my resume. I decided that Europe would be a good start. I have to give credit to Mr. Stanley for getting me looks with the Lakers, Clippers and the Nuggets. But I was not ready mentally for the NBA game and took my skills overseas. My first overseas job was in Austria, in a small village called Oberwaltersdorf, about a 20-minute-drive from Vienna.
SLAM: When you say you weren’t mentally ready for the NBA game, what do you mean? Do you mean the politics of getting into the NBA?
MC: The NBA is a man’s game. There is no room for inconsistencies. I was physically ready and talented enough to play in the NBA and most people would agree, but what I could offer was not enough. The NBA has plenty of talented and most certainly athletic players. I was not able to commit to the demands of being a star in the world’s greatest basketball league. I would say that I was a bit intimidated.
SLAM: So here you were in Oberwaltersdorf. What’s that like, is the game even the same? What’s the competition like?
MC: When I first walked into the gym for my first practice, I thought to myself, “I am really in Europe now.” I saw guys with tiny basketball shorts, funny looking basketball shoes and still shooting the sky hook. It was a funny sight at first. But as soon as we started to play, all these funny thoughts went out the window and that’s when I knew it was serious business. The game is much more different in Europe. Each country has its own philosophy of the game. Some countries feel that big stronger guards are the key to success while others rely on the big men who can shoot 3-pointers.
SLAM: You have played for a number of teams over the years. In which countries have you been?
MC: I’ve had the pleasure of playing in Austria, Hungary, France, Poland, Bosnia with short stints and tournaments in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. I spent a season in beautiful Venezuela. With this team we traveled to Equador, Argentinia and Brasil.
SLAM: What’s interesting is that it seems like more and more NBA players come from these countries. You ever stop and think about this export/import of talent?
MC: I never hated on the game. The NBA would be crazy not to get players from Europe. There are plenty players in Europe that have the potential of playing professionally in the States. I think the NBA is doing a good job of finding some of these talents.
SLAM: Given the economic reality, it seems like playing overseas would be of more economic value to you. Would you say that’s true?
MC: Not really. Economic problems are everywhere and now making their way to the European basketball market. I think this has caused a division between expensive players and not so expensive players. The players who fall in between these groups such as myself are caught in the economic struggle. Teams don’t have space in thier budgets to add us. Either a team has a very low budget or extremely expensive budget, and they are [pursuing] ex-NBAers or major college stars.
SLAM: Do you adjust by focusing more on your other business opportunities, and taking them as seriously as hoop?
MC: I have to tell you a little about the history in order to completely understand how this all started. I would say that my basketball career has much to thank for this. About 2003, I injured my knee and was out for that season. It was after my first professional season in Austria. I started up a basketball program [back home in Los Angeles] with a few friends to make some extra cash, which included organizing and running basketball leagues, tournaments, training and camps for youth ages 6-15. This was around the first time I ever began to use basketball in a business.
At one of my camps I met a person who happened to be the president of a company that specialized in fundraising for capital enterprises and nonprofit organizations. This person began to help me advance my youth program and reconstructing the business plan. This was my first exposure to business plans and the idea of running a business for success. I developed my youth basketball program and somewhere in-between that mission, I developed this hunger to return to the professional game. At the time I could have settled for a position with 501club Inc. or my youth program, but I decided to hand over my youth program to my friends and reject the offer to work for the company to come back to Europe. It was a major pay cut but a decision I felt would benefit me in the future. So, now I’m back in Europe. During this [most recent] season I was playing with a team in Sopron, Hungary, which is only a 40-minute drive from Vienna.
Many people recognized me and some even called me “that guy from LA.” I began to recognize others without much knowledge of what they did as a profession. Come to find out, some of these individuals were people of high positions. It was almost as if we were friends before we knew what we were all about. So, I knew people who were graphic designers, musicians, athletes, sales and just about every profession. They would come to me with plans or projects and in the beginning I would not act because I felt I never had time. It was only one event in which I felt like I could something in regards to time. A friend of mine who works as a hip-hop clothing store owner here in Vienna approached me about doing a music event. After we successfuly organized and held this event, doors opened up.
SLAM: What was that event?
MC: I brought in a R&B singer from L.A. We held the event at a popular restaurant/club called the Volksgarten here in Vienna. It was a nice turnout and any time there is a “special” event all people turn out.
SLAM: What about this movie script you are working on?
MC: Part of what I do here in Europe in my free time is record and engineer music. I started making music on my computer on GarageBand. The quality is not so good on there but it still allows me to make some hot songs. I began putting this music out on the Internet and began to get a good response – mainly from Europeans. I began to collaborate with other musicians here. My experiences with the music industry sparked the idea for this script, which is a comedy about an American traveling to Europe and going through crazy events and ultimately finding himself in the process.
SLAM: And the children’s books?
MC: I was in Austria visiting some friends. There was a kid in the house who was in school and really was trying to learn English. She asked me if I would tell her a story in English so she could try to understand. So I made up a story and titled it Tomy Taxi. Tomy Taxi is a story about a young man named Tomi who loved to drive the world, but did not have money to do that. Ultimately, what happens is so many people desperately needed rides to places and offered Tomy money to do it. And since Tomy loved to drive around, he would always [do it]. At the end of the day, Tomy decided to make yellow cars for people all over the world to pay money for rides. Other stories I have written are Booboo n’ Fart, Where is Stevie, The Old Car on the Nice Street.
SLAM: Have these been published?
MC: No. I am actually having artwork added by a friend of mine in Germany and then the stories will be submitted. I have plenty of work to do.
SLAM: So what is M. Carr Collection, what’s that?
MC: M. Carr Collection is my most prized idea, it’s actually the umbrella of my collection of ideas. I designed a high-fashion jewelry collection for men and women. Another idea is my Internet business site that is currently being worked on. I have developed a system that centers around sports and entertainment including fashion. All of which is part of my M. Carr Collection. I decided to post M. Carr Collection on my Facebook and MySpace pages as a form of branding. I have an extremely diverse list of friends and connections on these sites.
SLAM: What’s coming up for you as far as basketball?
MC: I expect to be in a uniform soon. I am enjoying this moment in Europe. As I continue on with my professional career as a basketball player, I will also continue on with my passion in business. I expect everything to go just fine.
SLAM: I guess the last thing i wanted to ask is do you still think about that game against UCLA? Or maybe keep in touch with Earl Watson on Facebook, LOL?
MC: The night we beat UCLA will always live in my heart. I’m sure the UCLA players got over it soon after. For us it was just special only because we knew we were going to do it. I saw Earl a few times after and we spoke vaguely about it. Sometimes when I see those guys on TV playing in the NBA I think about it.
Slav Kandyba is a Los Angeles based journalist who has contributed to the The Source, AllHipHop.com and Vibe.com. He maintains a blog at FreestylesWrittens.com.
For some highlights of Markus in action, go here.