It’s pretty common to see professional athletes as pitchmen for sports apparel. It’s rare, however, that they actually own the brand they’re selling. Former Lansing Everett and University of Detroit star and professional basketball player Desmond Ferguson wanted to change that, launching his own company, Moneyball Sportswear.
“What inspired me to start Moneyball Sportswear is that us as athletes really don’t own anything within the athletic sportswear business, but yet we dominate the game and generate a lot of money for businesses through sports,” Ferguson said. “At a young age, I didn’t know what business it would be, but I have always wanted to be a business owner.”
The fact that Ferguson started his own business isn’t surprising, considering his stated desire to do so. What was out of the ordinary, however, is the fact that he launched Moneyball Sportswear just a couple seasons into his professional basketball career in 2002. That career was not only its own full-time job, it often took him out of the country for long stretches as well.
“It was definitely tough and a challenge for me (to start the business when he did), but it was a challenge I wanted and accepted,” he said. “I just had to make good use of my down time from practicing and playing to spend time on building Moneyball Sportswear.”
Ferguson started off in college at Missouri before transferring to Detroit for his final three seasons. As a senior in 2000, he averaged 14 points and five rebounds per game. He was a great 3-point shooter, hitting 40 percent of his threes in his four-year college career. Professionally, he played for 11 seasons, retiring after last season. He played his final two seasons with the Halifax Rainmen in Canada’s PBL and also played in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the CBA, among other places.
“Some of the craziest experience are some of the bus trips, some bad hotels, crazy fans, a little bit of everything,” Ferguson said. “You see the good and the bad. When I was in high school and college, I never thought that basketball could take me all over the world and back a few times. I’ve walked the streets in some cities and countries that I could never have fathomed before. It has truly been a blessing for me to experience different cultures and to live in different countries.”
In 2004, he played seven games in the NBA for the Portland Trailblazers, an unforgettable experience.
“Everything (about the NBA) stuck out to me,” Ferguson said. “The venues we played in, the hotels we stayed in, the private planes we flew in, the teammates I had, the players and teams we played. The whole experience of the NBA was a dream come true for me! Portland is a great city to play in because they are the only pro team in town, so the fans are unbelievable!”
Ferguson has been a fixture in the Lansing community both during and after his playing career. Not only is his business there, but he also does youth camps and clinics, hosts the Moneyball Shootout AAU tournament (NOTE: The entry deadline for teams wishing to play in this year’s Shootout is May 4. Follow this link for details) and hosts the Moneyball Pro-Am, a summer league featuring professional and college players from all over the state.
Although kids he works with are certainly interested in his basketball career, Ferguson also tries to impart to them the importance of being well-rounded and having other skills besides just sports.
“I’ve never seen myself as just a jock or a basketball player and never wanted others to view me that way either,” Ferguson said. “I always knew that the actual playing of basketball on the professional level would really only be a small portion of my life, so that was never my only focus. I like to talk about education and things outside of basketball when I speak to the youth because more times than not, they will not be a professional athlete. Both my professional basketball and business experiences have allowed me to share many stories and lessons learned about life in general.”
Working with kids and seeing them progress through his camps over the years has been a rewarding experience for him.
“The best part is seeing them take what you give them and apply it to basketball and in life,” Ferguson said. “The learning process and development is what I enjoy.”
When asked if Ferguson ever sees himself coaching in a more full-time or permanent role, he said, “I do see myself possibly coaching at the high school level. Stay tuned and we shall see.”
This summer will mark the ninth year of the Moneyball Pro-Am. Last summer, the Pro-Am featured Division I and Division II college players from all over the state and some of the top professional players from Michigan who were home for the summer from overseas gigs.
“We are expecting to improve on it from last summer, which was our best summer to date,” Ferguson said. “When I first started the Moneyball Pro-Am, I had a vision of making it one of the best summer leagues in the country. I feel if we keep doing what we are doing and the players continue to come, it will be just that.”