Clark University students studying partnership marketing in Professor Lawrence Norman’s Marketing to You course received real-world advice from one of the best in the sports industry during Winter Intersession when three-time NBA champion-turned-businessman B.J. Armstrong dropped in for a virtual visit.
Armstrong, executive vice president of basketball at Los Angeles-based sports marketing and talent management company Wasserman, played 11 seasons in the NBA, where he — alongside Michael Jordan — helped the Chicago Bulls win three championships. During Wintersession, he made a virtual visit to Norman’s class, speaking with the cohort of 50 students about his career and sharing some of the lessons he learned along the way.
“Playing in the NBA, I quickly realized it wasn’t sports — it was a business of sorts,” he told the class via Zoom. “When I went to an arena, I realized there was a reason the Gatorade sign was there. There was a reason the Adidas sign was there. There was a reason the game started at 7:30 p.m. I began to understand the business of sports.”
Armstrong, who began playing professionally in 1989 — before most games were televised nationally — saw the business side of basketball evolve tremendously during his career. A growing interest in that aspect of the game led him to join the Chicago Bulls’ front office in 2000 after retiring as a player. Five years later, he became an analyst for ESPN and soon transitioned to his current role as one of the country’s top sports agents. Since joining Wasserman in 2006, he has represented top players like Bulls point guard Derrick Rose and Warriors forward Draymond Green.
“Truthfully, I learned there’s only one thing to focus on, and that’s performance. Performance is the trump card to all of this,” he told students. “A company may see potential or a certain market they want to target, but if your player performs, you can actually do something. Then it’s up to the company and that team to figure out how to tell the story.”
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As a child, Armstrong says, his dream was always to play basketball professionally. Once he achieved that goal, he began to reflect on how he got to where he was. What was it that made him different from the next player, he wondered? When Armstrong began working in the Bulls’ front office, he started answering those questions and realized the key to success is persistence and confidence. As a player, he says he never worried about the results, but instead focused on the process.
Now, in his role at Wasserman, Armstrong says he looks for players that can make a career in a business where the average NBA lifespan is two-and-a-half to three years.
“I have an eye for talent — and I define talent as anything you can do on a consistent basis. Not only can you do it over and over again, but you have to be able to do it in a hostile environment,” he said. “What do you do day in and day out? Once you identify that, you have the opportunity to be the best version of yourself.”
When it comes to hiring employees, Armstrong told the class that he looks for candidates who hold themselves accountable, are responsible for their actions, and are good listeners. He also stressed the importance of understanding that you’re not always going to get things right the first time. Instead, he said, success comes down to having the courage and confidence to self-reflect and move on.
“I had a mentor tell me once that self-correcting people are always going to do best in life, and I took that to heart,” he said. “I’ve always tried to have the courage to understand that I’m going to make mistakes, but I can correct those mistakes. I try to never repeat them.”
During the session, Armstrong also did a Q&A with the class, answering students’ questions about everything from his former coaches to his transition into the business world.
Marketing to You, now in its second “season,” has grown from 42 to 100 students, becoming the largest Winter Intersession course offered at Clark. The class, which filled minutes after registration opened, teaches students the fundamentals of marketing to the influential youth demographic.
Taught by Norman ’94, MBA ’95 — a former Adidas executive — Marketing to You brings in numerous well-known guest speakers throughout the semester. In addition to Armstrong, Intersession speakers have included Nick Tran, head of global marketing for TikTok; Lauren Lamkin, vice president of communications and public relations at LA2028; and others.