Ever heard of the Gwinnett Gwizzlies? They’re not the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics, but the former Atlanta-area American Basketball Association franchise once gave Jeremiah James the avenue to fulfill a dream – playing professionally.
“I made the team through an open tryout and played three or four games (in 2010-11),” said James, a 6-foot guard who played at Heritage High in Conyers, Ga. “I started and played well in a couple of them. The reason I stopped playing is because I don’t think the team was actually legitimate.”
Uh-oh. “The history of the ABA has many teams that disband or just don’t last because of money reasons,” he added. “After a 7-plus hour long car drive to Pikeville, Ky., in my own car along with two teammates to play immediately upon arriving, plus several other situations, I realized that things weren’t adding up.”
So James traded the ABA for an MBA. The 2012 Harbert College MBA grad looks forward to a long finance-related career path with either a sports organization or in the entertainment industry. After all, he has already worked as a VIP services intern with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, a finance and administration intern with the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and most recently as TV production finance coordinator at NBCUniversal in Los Angeles.
For seven months in 2014, James played a behind-the-scenes role at NBCUniversal, tracking expenses and transactions while serving as a liaison between filming locations for such shows as “Odyssey,” “Parenthood” and “Law and Order SVU,” and its corporate office.
“One portion of what I did was buying stuff for the sets,” he said. “Once the show started, I handled everything from getting the offices set up, making sure the license agreements are paid up, make sure everything is paid for, processing invoices, opening credit cards for some of the writers and producers who have already moved to the location.”
Time spent in Harbert’s MBA program prepared him for working at NBCUniversal, and for the rest of his career. “The entertainment business moves very fast with many moving parts,” he said. “The MBA program was very similar: lots of reading, individual/group projects, test, presentations, homework, job prep, etc. Initially it can be stressful, but then you figure out how to manage and prioritize what’s most important and sustain. That’s almost exactly how my experience was with my first entertainment finance job. There were times that I was responsible for eight to 10 shows at a time, along with having production accountant responsibilities for some that hadn’t yet started shooting.
“I had a corporate finance class with Dr. (Claire) Crutchley where we did several financial spreadsheets and group projects. My partner, Brandon Crain, really helped me with the focus that was needed for that type of work because I initially had been a big picture guy. I was thinking about much of the accounting work that includes payroll, millions of dollars’ worth of wire transfers, network billing, rights purchases, etc. If you make a small mistake, it can be a lot of stress and possibly costs your job.”
Five years from now, James sees himself doing something “challenging and having fun.”
Despite his accounting experience, he hasn’t given up on basketball. “It’s something I still have a passion for,” he added, noting NBA Development League teams are worth a try. “Any time I’m not working, I’m looking for opportunities to play.”