Sometimes in college and professional basketball, having an understanding of the right opportunity and fit is as important as having the talent to succeed.
For Greg Burks, a Flint Northern standout and Prairie View A&M Hall of Famer who had a productive professional career in Germany, understanding how to not pass up an opportunity also played into his decision to retire from basketball. Burks retired in 2011 despite still having offers to play, but had a chance to get started in his post basketball career as an agent at New York Life Insurance Company. Now, he’s able to use what he’s learned in that business to help guys still playing professionally and give advice about managing wealth and setting themselves up for life after basketball.
“It sounds cliche, but the ball doesn’t bounce forever,” Burks said. “Even guys like Kobe Bryant, who might have close to a 20-year professional career, will still only be about 36 or 37 when he retires. The majority of his life is still ahead of him. That’s what I try and tell guys, that even if the money is good when you’re playing, you have to make that money last for you a long time.”
This career path was something Burks wanted to get into to help people in general with financial and life planning, but his experience in basketball gives him a unique expertise. Professional sports are filled with cautionary tales of athletes who simply run out of money, don’t have enough experience managing money or don’t put the right people in charge of helping manage their finances, causing them to be in dire straits shortly after their playing days are over.
“I look back on when I was playing and think, ‘Man … if I knew then what I know now, I would’ve been better off,’” he said. “Now, I work with guys and get to talk to them about it on the opposite side of the desk and I just try and share what I’ve learned with them.”
Burks has grown comfortable in his new career, although the attire is a bit of a change — “People were used to seeing me in gym shorts and a t-shirt, now I’m in a suit and tie every day, so that’s an adjustment,” he said — but much like basketball, where experienced players often help younger players learning the game, Burks has benefited from the experience of others in his new line of work.
“A lot of people have really helped introduce me to this business,” he said. “I work with experienced people, including someone with 37 years of experience, so that has really helped me with the transition.”
Although he’s working full-time in his new line of work, Burks, who was always known for working out with and giving advice to young high school and college players in the summers when he was home from Germany, continues to work with youth. Burks hosted a high school combine that featured many professional players from Flint in July. At the combine, they ran high school players through drills, gave advice on what it takes on and off the court to make it as a college and professional player and are currently in the process of adding bios and video of the players who participated to the Chris Wilson Foundation website. Wilson, a NFL player, organized a football combine and then partnered with Burks on the basketball combine as a way to both give back to youth and to pass on information about college possibilities and succeeding in sports and in life.
“When I was young, it was a really big thing for me when I made it into ‘Prep Spotlight,’” Burks said. “It made me feel good seeing my name in there with other great high school players, so that’s what we’re trying to do — both work with these kids to help prepare them for the next levels, but also let them see their names out there and feel good about themselves and maybe help college see them.”
Burks was also an assistant coach at Flint Southwestern last season. Head coach Nate Perry stepped down after the season, so Burks isn’t sure at the moment what his future coaching possibilities are. He said he enjoyed working with the team, but his career also makes taking on a head coaching job full-time difficult at the moment.
“If I were going to take a head coaching job, I’d want to do it the right way,” Burks said. “And to do it right, you have to be able to do more than just stand on the sidelines. It’s hours and hours of continuous preparation, watching film, being there to give advice to players. I’d love to coach someday, but I have to be sure I can make the commitment to do it right.”
Whether he’s officially coaching or not, Burks still plans to spend a lot of his free time working with young players and staying around the basketball scene in Flint. And, now that he’s moved onto his post-basketball career, he has valuable advice to give to players about not only what it takes to be productive players, but what it takes to be productive after the playing days end as well.
“Being a former athlete now, I have an understanding of the pitfalls people can run into financially,” Burks said. “I also know about the importance of having a plan for after basketball. It’s gratifying to be able to explain those things and help give advice.”