In September of 2005, I landed in Johannesburg, South Africa to work with the American owned firm Miles and Associates International, a company owned by Georgia native and University of Virginia graduate, Michael Finley. At the time, Finley had an established partnership with South African businessman Russell Kwong Hing and the pair operated Str8 Sports, which owned the rights to distribute AND1 shoes and apparel throughout southern Africa.
With distribution in formal and informal retail outlets, Finley and Kwong Hing connected with Myke Scholl (currently an assistant men’s basketball coach at Long Beach State University) to market the brand through Miles and Associates’ business of developing Africa’s basketball industry.
Later in 2005, I ended up visiting the east coast, with the Durban High School (DHS) boy’s basketball team, having coordinated a 10-day U.S. tour with DHS coaches at the time, Myles Delport and Craig Gilchrist. Spending a day at my alma mater, The Central High School of Philadelphia, seeing a 76ers game courtesy of the Mike Goings, and visiting the AND1 headquarters during our time in Philly, it was my first trip home since moving to South Africa.
I communicated with AND1’s Nate Jaffe, who graciously coordinated our time at the office space which was filled with basketball shoes, apparel and accessories along with a basketball court for the company’s die-hards. I can’t recall if AND1 co-founder and CEO Seth Berger was there, but I was aware of him and Jay Coen Gilbert (we’ll revisit this connection at a later date).
Fast forward some ten years later, in January 2015, my daughter and I check out a Westtown School boy’s basketball game, excited to meet one of the school’s board of trustees, Amy Taylor Brooks. A former Haverford College student-athlete that was coached by my then-supervisor, Ann Koger (from 2011-2016 I was Koger’s assistant women’s tennis coach), Brooks extended an invitation to meet at a game.
Taking a seat in the small gymnasium, unbeknownst to me, Villanova University men’s basketball head coach, Jay Wright, was walking behind Lauren and I. We took a seat next to a gentleman who was an avid fan of high school basketball and worked at the historic Merion Cricket Club. An affable Wright sat on the other side of us.
After meeting and greeting Taylor Brooks, I went to speak with Berger who was busy with post-game activities addressing his team, engaging parents and his family. To my surprise, Berger’s wife – Christelle, was a former pupil of mine when I instructed tennis at the Upper Main Line YMCA.
For a decade Berger has led the Quaker-based school boy’s basketball program, earning a 70.5 percent winning percentage and winning the Friends School League title in four of the last five seasons. He guided the private, college preparatory day and boarding school’s team to the state championship, the only state title in any sport in school history.
Last week, one of Berger’s blue chip student-athletes, Class of 2018 top guard prospect Cameron Reddish, announced he is considering attending Duke, Kentucky, Villanova, Miami, Arizona, Maryland, Connecticut and UCLA. Five-star power forward Mohamed Bamba and four-star guard Brandon Randolph of the Class of 2017 are graduating after receiving Berger’s tutelage.
Berger joined Westtown’s boy’s basketball staff in 2005 after AND1 was sold to American Sporting Goods. Turning the team into a high level athletic and academic program that has helped many student-athletes transition into collegiate athletics, the father of three and guardian of five brothers from overseas was named managing director of the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball in the fall of last year.
“The chance to work alongside the innovative executives at the Philadelphia 76ers and coach ambitious startups and entrepreneurs like Monster Roster and Dylan Elder is a tremendous opportunity,” Berger said in a released statement.
“The speed, flexibility and opportunity for financial support we are offering at the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball is incredibly unique in the incubator space,” said Berger. “Between the Philadelphia 76ers executive leadership and their family of teams and the network surrounding our Innovation Lab Advisors, like StubHub, DraftKings and Kimball Office, we are essentially one phone call away from almost anyone in business.”
Housed at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex Business Operations Facility, the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted By Kimball, in partnership with the Wharton School of Business, is wholly by the Philadelphia 76ers day-to-day. Focused on rapidly growing, early stage companies in the consumer space, the lab emphasizes providing individualized attention and flexibility to residents with potential.
“Owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer and CEO Scott O’Neil are really forward-thinking about ways they can use the Sixers to build businesses—and not just businesses that are directly related to sports,” Berger told Philadelphia Magazine in October. “This team and this organization is so connected in so many different industries that we can help many businesses grow.”
As part of New Jersey Tech Council’s first-ever Jersey Innovation Week, Berger participated in Breakfast with Titans at the Waterfront Lab, an engagement designed to connect people with Camden’s fast-growing community of innovators and startups.
“Seth brings an unmatched entrepreneurial perspective, passion, and seasoned business acumen to our organization,” O’Neil said. “It’s our responsibility and the goal of the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball to provide the industry’s future business leaders with the most accelerated and individualized opportunities to grow.”
“Seth’s journey – from the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton School of Business, to a driven entrepreneur, to a successful founder and CEO of a globally recognized brand – embodies the perfect mixture of focus, grit, vision, and determination to inspire young entrepreneurs,” said O’Neil.
If not inspiring young entrepreneurs and blue chip student-athletes, it has been inspiring to realize the degrees of separation between me and Berger. I’m looking forward to covering Berger and the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball to see if there are any more quirky, cosmic connections. Stay tuned!